Public Policy Editor
The London Borough of Lambeth has been told to pay pounds 6,000 compensation to a homeless family with seven children who were moved 34 times before the council finally found them a permanent home after a wait of more than five years.
Between June 1989 and September 1994 the family lived in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at 34 hotels in eight London boroughs from Hackney to Westminster and Croydon.
Save for short periods, the children received no formal education at all during that period, and Lambeth should set aside pounds 3,000 each for remedial education for the four youngest children, Edward Osmotherley, the Local Government Ombudsman, has recommended.
Mr Porter - not his real name - and his family have suffered "a very serious injustice", Mr Osmotherley said, adding that the loss of education for the children as they moved round London was one he viewed "very seriously".
Lambeth council said yesterday that it would accept the ombudsman's verdict, which includes a finding of maladministration for failing to process four housing benefit claims made by Mr Porter over the two years to April 1992.
The council told the omudsman that the family had to move so often partly because of complaints from hoteliers. But Mr Osmotherley said: "It cannot be any surprise that problems arose when so many children were crammed into bed-and-breakfast accommodation."
Mr Porter - who is illiterate - had warned the council that the repeated moves were disrupting the children's education. Mr Osmotherley said: "It is clear that the very large numbers of moves and the distance between some hotels must effectively have prevented the children receiving proper education."
Had the council tackled the case properly, for example by combining properties or splitting the household, it should have been possible to make the family a reasonable offer within two years, not five, he said.