Woman Moved Two Hours Away from Disabled Son's School

Wandsworth Council made to pay compensation after string of failures

Wandsworth Council customer services

January 26, 2024

Wandsworth Council must pay a homeless woman almost £14,000 after moving her two hours away from her disabled son’s school. A watchdog said the family were forced to live in unsuitable properties for 19 months, from September 2021 to May 2023, due to a string of failings by Wandsworth Council.

The mum, named Miss X in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report, said the long journey to school affected her disabled son’s sleep and put him at higher risk of seizures. She added the family were far away from their support network and relevant hospitals for appointments.

Miss X sent a homelessness application to the council in September 2021 saying she needed to leave her home as her relationship had broken down and she was on the verge of a mental health crisis. She said one of her children had significant disabilities, while she also had mobility issues.

That month, the council placed the family in a third-floor flat in another borough which could only be accessed using external metal stairs. The woman slipped down the stairs with her baby in December 2021. The council’s children’s services team described the stairs as ‘treacherous’ and asked housing officers to consider moving the family.

The council moved the family to a property in a different borough, which was two hours from her children’s primary school. The report said Miss X had to make the journey at her own expense with her children, including her disabled son and younger child in a pushchair, when the council was under a duty to provide transport as they were eligible. The authority did not offer her any support with home to school transport, despite her raising concerns.

The school reported concerns to the council about the impact of the long commute on Miss X’s disabled son in June 2022. It said his attendance had reduced and he was often late and tired, which meant he missed out on learning.

The council accepted the main housing duty towards Miss X in November 2022. It offered the family a more suitable property in Wandsworth that month, but it was not ready to move into until May 2023.

The ombudsman found the council failed to properly assess the family’s housing needs and did not ask about Miss X’s disabled son’s special educational needs or his education, health and care plan when it considered her homelessness application. It found the authority failed to properly assess whether either property was suitable for the family and whether it had considered the distance to the children’s school, or the impact of the boy’s special educational needs, on the journey.

The watchdog said the council took almost a year longer than it should have to accept the main housing duty towards Miss X. It found that neither properties were suitable for the family.

The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise to Miss X and pay her £13,800 in total – including £10,000 for the injustice caused by its failings and £3,800 to reflect the extra costs she had by getting her children to school. It also must backdate her priority on its housing register to November 23, 2021, when it should have accepted her application.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said, “In this case, I am particularly concerned about the lack of joined-up working between the council’s homelessness and education teams. While I appreciate suitable accommodation is difficult to find for families, particularly in London, at no point did the council consider offering the family transport to get the child to school, which may have gone some way to alleviating the pressure on them. And in fact, when the mother did apply, the council refused to consider her application because she was living in another council’s area.

“I am pleased the council has accepted the recommendations in my report, and hope the valuable lessons gained from this family’s poor experience will help ensure other homeless families’ situations are considered more holistically in future.”

A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said, “We have accepted the ombudsman’s findings, are implementing his recommendations and are fully committed to learning the lessons of this case.”

Charlotte Lilywhite - Local Democracy Reporter