Pregnant homeless woman forced to sleep on hard floor of empty flat after asking London council for help

Watchdog criticises Tower Hamlets council for failing to comply with homelessness laws after pregnant woman left in unfurnished flat located far from her support network for three months

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 07 January 2020 14:43 GMT
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The woman, who cannot be named, was left in the flat for three months, and did not even have a bed until she was awarded a grant a month into the tenancy
The woman, who cannot be named, was left in the flat for three months, and did not even have a bed until she was awarded a grant a month into the tenancy (Getty/iStock)

A pregnant homeless woman was forced to sleep on the hard floor of an empty flat due to multiple failings of a London council, a government watchdog has found.

The woman, who cannot be named, was left in the flat for three months, and did not have a bed until she was awarded a grant a month into the tenancy.

The council failed to comply with homelessness laws and subsequently caused her unnecessary distress and anxiety, said the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which investigated after receiving a complaint from the woman.

The woman had appealed to Tower Hamlets Council for help when her father gave her notice to leave the family home.

But delays in assessing her case and demands for her to provide extra evidence meant time ran out to prevent her becoming homeless.

The month after she approached the council for the first time, the woman found out she was pregnant and contacted it again. Instead of immediately providing her with interim accommodation, it demanded extra evidence from her.

A week later, the woman provided her 12-week scan, and she was given the unfurnished interim accommodation in another London borough the following day.

The watchdog said the council failed to take into account her medical needs and the fact that the accommodation was far from both her support network and hospital. The council was said to have refused to consider her individual needs when she continued to say her accommodation was unsuitable.

She eventually moved into private rented accommodation three months after approaching the council.

The local authority has since agreed to apologise and pay the woman £1,000 to recognise the time she spent living in unsuitable accommodation, and also agreed to consider service resources and the changes it needs to make to work in line with the law.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “In this case, because of the council’s faults, the woman was left in unsuitable temporary accommodation for three months, causing her unnecessary distress and anxiety at a time when she was most vulnerable.

“I welcome the efforts the council has made during our investigation to help the woman and hope its commitment to learn from its errors will help ensure other people are not affected in the same way in future.”

He said he had decided to issue the report in part because it highlighted to other councils the duties they have under the new homelessness prevention laws, and the steps they can take to learn from the errors highlighted.

In a separate case published by the watchdog, a young family, including a disabled child, had to leave their home following a miscalculation of their housing benefits by London Borough of Haringey.

The single-parent family had been living in privately rented accommodation, but were asked to leave by their landlord after the council incorrectly told him the family owed more than £8,000 in backdated benefits.

The ombudsman said the council had failed to calculate the mother’s benefits properly, and wrongly told the landlord she owed a significant debt, as well as not properly applying the rules that limit benefits to a family’s first two children.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “We deeply regret the hardship caused in this case and we accept the findings of the ombudsman’s investigation.

“The resident has now been supported to find appropriate accommodation but the council recognises that errors were made. We have apologised to her and taken steps to ensure that our processes are improved so that similar mistakes do not happen again.”

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