A council has been fined after it removed a homeless teenager and his mother from temporary housing during the pandemic, leaving them to sofa surf and live in a tent for two months.
The pair were made homeless last July when rough sleepers were being put up in hotel rooms by councils to help stop the spread of Covid. “They slept in a tent for almost two months. This caused them avoidable hardship and distress,” the ombudsman said.
The boy had been placed on the council’s child protection plan eight months earlier in November 2019, when he was 16. Social workers acknowledged he needed stable long-term housing, but nonetheless closed the case in May, forcing the boy and his mother to vacate their social services-funded home.
By doing so the council was in breach of pandemic guidance, the ombudsman said. Although the family – referred to as Ms E and Mr F – were not formally tenants, and so were not covered by the government’s Covid eviction ban, officials had failed to consider whether their removal would cause them hardship.
“It should have been clear to the children’s services department’s funding panel that the family would suffer hardship following the withdrawal of funding as they had no other housing arrangements in place,” the ombudsman’s report concluded. “While we are sympathetic to the pressures on councils, we expect them to consider national guidance issued during the pandemic and the failure to do so was fault.”
The council finally housed the family in September after the ombudsman intervened and asked the council to urgently review the case. Just a week earlier the mother had been refused help by the council and told to find private rented accommodation.
Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said: “Our investigations into issues occurring during the pandemic have to balance the difficult circumstances and the speed at which laws were changing, against what should have reasonably happened.
“Despite these challenging circumstances, the council in this case failed in its duties to a vulnerable teenager who was sleeping rough, and it missed numerous opportunities to ensure he was safe.”
The council was ordered to pay £1,500 each to Ms E and Mr F in compensation. Ms E was awarded an additional £200 to “reflect her avoidable frustration when failing to get a service from the council after reporting her homelessness”.
A Medway council spokesperson said: “We fully accept the recommendations made by the local government ombudsman and we have apologised to the individuals involved, as well as made recompense. We are committed to learning from specific cases such as this to improve the service we provide to those at risk of becoming homeless and in need of additional support.”