The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised the London Borough of Haringey after a young, single-parent family, including a disabled child, had to leave their home after the council miscalculated their housing benefits.
The LGO said Haringey had incorrectly told the family’s landlord that they owed the council more than £8,000 in backdated benefits. The landlord then asked the family to leave.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the family had to stay in unsuitable accommodation while the council put right its mistakes and recalculated the mother's correct entitlement.
The LGO concluded that Haringey was at fault for failing to calculate her benefits properly, not using the mandatory ‘underlying entitlement’ rule to work out her overpayments and not referring her case to the appeals tribunal.
The Ombudsman also criticised the council for:
- wrongly telling the landlord the mother owed a significant debt;
- not properly applying the rules which limit benefits to a family’s first two children (it said she should have always had the allowance for her third child because her youngest son was born before April 2017); and
- the way it handled her homelessness application once she was evicted.
Following the LGO’s investigation, Haringey has contacted the woman to take a homelessness application.
“It should now continue to do what it can to help find suitable housing for the family,” the LGO said.
The council has agreed to pay the woman £1,000 for the distress caused, a further £1,300 to recognise she was in unsuitable accommodation for six months and £500 for storage costs she incurred when she had to leave her rented property.
The LGO said that if the woman still wants to submit her case to the tribunal, the council should submit her application immediately.
Haringey will also:
- investigate why it made calculation errors;
- audit cases where it calculated overpayments applying the two-child restriction;
- report its findings to the Ombudsman;
- where mistakes were made, correct those mistakes; and
- if the audit reveals the council calculated incorrectly in the majority of cases, complete a further review or consider what other steps it should take to detect and remedy any systemic problems.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The miscalculation of this woman’s benefit entitlement has had a significant impact on her family’s life. To compound that problem, the council did not deal with her homelessness application properly and failed to refer her case to the appeal tribunal as it was obliged to do in law.
“I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, and hope the review it has pledged to make of past cases, and the improved policies and procedures it will put in place, will help it to understand what has gone wrong and ensure other people are not placed in the same difficult position as this family.”
A Haringey Council spokesperson said: “We’re sorry for the mistakes we made in this specific case and have taken steps to fix them. The wellbeing of residents is a priority for Haringey Council as it is for all local authorities and we’re determined to learn lessons from this to ensure similar situations are not repeated in the future.”