Watchdog Fines Council for Letting Down Homeless Family

Placed mother with two teenage sons in single room

Wandsworth Town Hall. Picture: Google Streetview

October 17, 2023

Wandsworth Council has been told to pay a homeless family-of-three £900 after offering them four unsuitable properties in just over three weeks, including a home with only one bedroom. The borough has been ordered to pay the mother £900 after a watchdog investigation also found it placed her family in one bedroom in a hotel with no cooking facilities for nearly five weeks.

The mum, named Miss X in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report, said the council placed her family in a hotel with no cooking or laundry facilities when she became homeless in August 2022. She said sharing a room for five weeks was “very difficult” and particularly affected her eldest son, who has autism. Miss X has severe anxiety and depression and said the unsuitable offers of accommodation and time spent in the hotel caused her mental health to deteriorate.

Miss X and her two teenage sons lived in a two-bed private rented flat in Wandsworth. The report said that by the end of June 2022 the council knew Miss X had received a Section 21 eviction notice from her landlord requiring her to leave the property by 22 July. By mid-July, the council’s medical adviser recommended Miss X needed a three-bed property as her sons could not share a bedroom due to behavioural issues resulting from her eldest son’s autism. Miss X stayed at the flat until August 19 and the family went on holiday afterwards.

The council placed Miss X and her sons in a hotel which did not have any cooking facilities on 31 August, where they stayed for just under five weeks. The report said the council properly considered the hotel’s location when it placed Miss X and her sons there, but that the ombudsman had not seen any evidence the authority had considered whether “sharing a family room in a B&B hotel was a suitable arrangement when Miss X’s eldest son has challenging behaviour and sleep difficulties because of his autism”.

The report added, “By late July the council knew the medical adviser had recommended separate bedrooms for Miss X’s sons. On the balance of probabilities, if the council had considered this properly, it is unlikely to have decided a shared family room in a hotel was suitable accommodation.”

The council also made five offers of accommodation to Miss X between 25 August and 13 September, according to the report, but only the final offer met her needs as it had three bedrooms and was a reasonable travelling distance to her eldest son’s school. She moved into the property on 3 October.

Out of the unsuitable offers of accommodation, the report said, two of the properties were too small as one only had one bedroom and the other had two. Another was not ready for occupation, the report added, while the final property was out of the borough and too far from the eldest son’s school.

The report said the council did not knowingly make unsuitable offers to Miss X. But it ruled, “Miss X received four consecutive offers of unsuitable accommodation in a little over three weeks. This caused her inconvenience and wasted her time viewing properties which were clearly unsuitable for her needs. It also raised her hopes and caused disappointment. She had to explain to her sons each time a property proved to be unsuitable that they would have to remain in the hotel and this upset them.”

The council has been ordered to apologise to Miss X and pay her £900. A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said, “We accept that the housing offers made to this family did not fully meet their needs and have accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations. The ombudsman does however highlight the ‘considerable pressures’ the council faces to ‘source suitable accommodation for homeless households and ever-increasing demand’ and that it is ‘extremely difficult’ for councils ‘to procure properties in the current competitive private rental market’. This is why the council has embarked on its ambitious building programme of 1,000 new council rent homes for Wandsworth.”


Charlotte Lilywhite - Local Democracy Reporter