Bristol City Council have been criticised after a family, including children with disabilities, was forced to share a single hotel room for more than three years.
The family were evicted from their private tenancy flat and had to stay in single hotel rooms with no cooking facilities. They were also often forced to move rooms and hotels at short notice.
At no point, according to an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, did the council step in to help, even when the father told it the family had a new baby with disabilities.
A number of council departments were aware of the family’s problems, including Children’s Services, but nothing was done about their housing situation until the Ombudsman got involved.
‘During our investigation, the council followed our recommendation and registered a housing application from the family,’ said LGO Michael King.
‘That they found a home within two months of being on the register suggests just how desperate the family’s situation was.’
The family first contacted the council in 2014. Children’s Services became involved because the children, who have visual impairments, were being schooled in a hotel room. However, they were not referred to the housing department.
The father regularly tried to register for housing, but the council failed to accept these applications due to confusion over past applications.
Bristol CC also said it had previously found the family to be intentionally homeless and so would not have used its discretion to house them. However, the Ombudsman said, the family had an urgent need to be housed and the council could and should have considered this.
The Ombudsman’s investigation also criticised the council’s use of a ‘pre-application checker’ for its online housing application. This checker prevented people from registering if they met certain criteria.
This was unlawful, concluded Mr King, and prevented people using their right to apply for a review of their housing application decision.
Children’s Services were also found to be at fault for failing to carry out a full assessment of the children’s situation sooner, and for failing to address the accommodation needs of the children.
In a joint statement, Cllr Paul Smith, cabinet member for Homes and Communities, and Cllr Helen Godwin, cabinet member for Women, Children and Families, said: ‘We would like to apologise for any hurt caused to the family and for any failures that led to them living in unsuitable conditions for such a long time.
‘While we recognise that the situation was unacceptable for a family with young children, we do believe that we tried to do our best for the family on a number of occasions.
‘This includes making discretionary housing payments available on two occasions, to help the family find private rented sector accommodation.
‘In March 2017 we took a new homelessness application and accepted the family’s application for social housing. In June 2017 the family were allocated a three bedroom council house.’
‘The welfare of families is a priority for the council and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of vulnerable young people is something we take very seriously,’ the statement continued.
‘We recognise however that on this occasion we did not live up to our usual high standards.
‘This has been a particularly unusual case due to the length of time since the application and the difficulties in being able to make meaningful contact with the family.
‘The council will be complying with all recommendations set out in the report, and has already addressed most of the issues raised and learned some valuable lessons from this case.’