Council Housed Family with Disabled Child in Flat with No Lift

Forced to carry them up 50 steps to third floor

Front entrance of Wandsworth Customer Services

January 2, 2024

Wandsworth Council has agreed to pay a woman £1,000 after it took too long to assess her application to be moved from a flat where she had to carry her disabled child up the stairs as it did not have a lift. A watchdog found she waited almost seven months for the council’s first decision on their priority band for rehousing, which was then reassessed twice.

The woman, named Ms X in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report, is a council tenant and lived with her partner and their four children in a three-bedroom flat on the third floor of a block without a lift. Two of her children are disabled, including her youngest who can’t walk.

The mum said she or her partner had to carry their youngest child up more than 50 steps to the flat while living there. She said she experienced shortness of breath and chest pains, while her chronic back pain was made worse by carrying her child.

The ombudsman found the council took “far too long” to assess Ms X’s application to join the housing register and to reassess her priority when she provided more evidence about her family’s medical needs. It said this caused her “avoidable frustration and uncertainty” but she did not miss out on an opportunity to be rehoused sooner as a result.

Ms X applied to join the housing register in January 2022 and said the flat was unsuitable for her family due to their medical needs. She did not hear anything else from the council until 7 August, when it accepted her application and placed her in band D on the tenants’ transfer queue, the lowest priority, and decided she needed a three-bed property.

The council later reassessed its decision on Ms X’s request and accepted her two disabled children could not share a bedroom with their siblings in February 2023, meaning the family needed a five-bed property. This changed Ms X’s priority to band B.

Ms X escalated her complaint later that month and provided a letter from a social worker describing the “severe impact of the lack of space and overcrowding in the flat”, according to the report. It also raised concerns about the “risk of family breakdown due to the severe strain they were under and the impact on Ms X and her partner’s mental health”.

A senior manager reassessed the council’s decision in March 2023 and Ms X’s priority was changed to band A, which is the highest. He said he was satisfied the family’s medical needs were of “major relevance” to their housing need.

Ms X was allocated a four-bed home in May 2023 and the ground floor living room was converted into a fifth bedroom. The family moved into the property that month and Ms X said it meets their needs, while the move has “significantly improved their daily lives”.

The report said Ms X ultimately waited almost seven months for the council’s first decision, while the ombudsman expected councils to process applications in four to six weeks. It added the “unreasonable delay in this case was fault which caused Ms X significant uncertainty and frustration”.

It said there was then further delay as the council took eleven weeks to reassess Ms X’s priority, but that the final reassessment was completed within a reasonable timeframe. It added the family did not miss out on an earlier offer of suitable accommodation as, even if band A priority had been awarded sooner, they would still have had to wait until May 2023 for a property which met their needs.

The council offered to apologise to Ms X and pay her £1,000 in response to the ombudsman’s enquiries.

A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said, “As the ombudsman points out this family was provided with a five-bedroom property at the earliest possible opportunity and there was no actual delay in the time it took to arrange that transfer to a new home.

“However we do accept there were delays in fully assessing their housing needs and while that didn’t mean the family missed out on an earlier move to a more suitably-sized home, some decisions took longer than they should have and so we have apologised to the family concerned and agreed to pay compensation. We have also strengthened our procedures and resources to reduce the likelihood of similar delays in the future.”

Charlotte Lilywhite - Local Democracy Reporter