By Sian Bayley, Local Democracy Reporter
A victim of domestic abuse was not supported properly by Wandsworth council when she became homeless, according to a new report.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman slammed the authority for doing “nothing to help her find safe, alternative accommodation”.
It said this left her “frightened and at ongoing risk,” and highlighted the importance of councils considering exceptional circumstances of people fleeing domestic abuse when assessing their housing needs.
The ombudsman found Wandsworth council did not consider relaxing its local area connection criterion when a single mother in a neighbouring borough asked for help in 2018.
It was not safe for the woman to remain in another London borough where her former partner had assaulted her, causing serious injuries.
He had pleaded guilty to aggravated bodily harm and criminal damage and was in custody awaiting sentencing.
However, the ombudsman’s investigation found that Wandsworth council did nothing to assist her with alternative accommodation, even when it knew her ex-partner would be released from prison in January 2019.
The ombudsman concluded: “This left Ms X feeling frightened and left her at ongoing risk of violence.”
The woman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said councils needed to have more compassion for victims of domestic abuse.
She said: “When you’ve gone through something like that, your whole world is completely turned upside down and you’re scared.
“You know, I was fine for a couple of months when the perpetrator was inside.
“But as soon as he was released, it’s scary. Leaving the house is scary, because he’s driven past me in the street, even though I have an injunction against him, he does things that he knows he can’t get in trouble for.
“So he doesn’t approach me, but he’ll drive past me and intimidate me and councils need to understand that.
“People who are in a domestic violence situation, we didn’t ask to be put in that situation, we didn’t ask to be attacked or abused.
“We’re the victims, and it would be nice for them to actually understand that and to show compassion, and to actually take people out of these situations and make it easier for people to escape and to get somewhere safe.
“Because half the time, you can’t leave or you can’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere to go.”
After being assaulted Ms X fled to her mother’s home where she and her child shared a bedroom with her sister, but her former partner knew the address.
She asked Wandsworth for help, but bosses said she was not homeless.
The next day the woman told the council her mother wanted her to leave.
The council told her about its council housing scheme, which she could apply for, but not from her mother’s, as it was not a safe address.
The council suggested she move in with her uncle for 12 months and then she would qualify for its scheme.
Her uncle lived very close to her mother, and her former partner also knew his address.
She moved in with her uncle and chased the council about the housing scheme for many months with several different officers.
Eventually the council gave the woman a Personalised Housing Plan (PHP) which contained no future actions for the council.
The council then told the woman she did not qualify for its scheme because she did not live in the borough.
The council did not investigate the woman’s homeless application, but instead encouraged her to withdraw it and apply to the council where she had suffered violence for help.
The ombudsman’s investigation found Wandsworth council should have considered the woman and her child as homeless when she first approached it and should have offered the woman interim accommodation.
After 56 days, it should have then decided whether it owed her the main housing duty.
The ombudsman said Wandsworth council took at least eight months too long to consider offering the woman interim accommodation, and missed numerous opportunities to tell her about her right to review the council’s decisions, denying her right to appeal.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King said:
“Statutory guidance says councils should not adopt allocations criteria that disadvantage people fleeing an area because of domestic violence.
“This has also been extended to people who have recently arrived in an area because of domestic violence.
“In this case, the woman had suffered a brutal assault and the council’s failures meant she continued to live in an area where she was at risk of violence.
“The council did nothing to help her find safe, alternative accommodation, even when it knew her ex-partner would be released from prison, leaving her frightened and at ongoing risk.
“I’m pleased the council has accepted the faults in my report and hope other councils can take my findings on board to ensure they also appropriately support people in a similar situation in need of their help.”
The ombudsman has asked the council to apologise to the woman and put her in Band A of its allocations scheme backdated to October 2018, as well as provide suitable temporary accommodation in Wandsworth.
It should also pay her £500 for the delays in dealing with her applications and £150 a month for the 12 months she has stayed in relatives’ homes since her ex-partner left prison, because the council now says neither place was safe for her.
It has also been told it should provide information to housing officers about its duties towards people fleeing domestic violence and tell officers the allocations local connection criteria does not apply.
A spokesman for Wandsworth Council said: “We accept the ombudsman’s findings and have apologised to the complainant, agreed to pay her a sum in compensation and place her in the correct category of housing need.
“This was a highly complex case with some unique features but we welcome the review for providing us with important lessons in how we can improve our services in such circumstances.
“We have certainly taken these lessons on board, tightened our working practices and procedures and are working hard to ensure a situation like this does not happen again.”
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