Man and son forced to sleep in car after council failed to process homeless application

A man left homeless was forced to sleep in a car for almost a year with his 16-year-old son after Liverpool Council failed to deal with their housing issue.

In the summer of 2021, the landlord of a private rented property used by a man known as Mr X, and his four children, changed the locks while the tenant was abroad, letting it to someone else and disposing of his possessions. A Local Government and Social Care ombudsman’s investigation found that despite numerous attempts by Mr X, charities and family members to resolve his case, Liverpool Council failed to act.

This led the father-of-four to get ill from sleeping in his car for eight months. Documents released by the ombudsman said the authority’s delays in resolving the issue – in which a teenage boy was also forced to sleep rough – caused “serious distress, uncertainty, and difficulties.” The council has since apologised.

The report outlined how Mr X had lived in the city since 2012, but did not speak or read English, relying on his sons and brother to translate for him. As a result, this made communication with the council difficult.

When he was evicted in 2021 his daughter went to stay with her grandmother while he and his three sons initially stayed with his sister. After this arrangement came to an end, Mr X contacted the council for support in June last year.

Liverpool Council records said it attempted to contact his sister a month later but did not receive a response. There is no record of attempts to contact Mr X.

The man’s son contacted the local authority to chase a response on 18 July last year, requesting a call back. There is no record of the call back taking place.

In September 2022, an advice service contacted the council on Mr X’s behalf. They said Mr X was now sleeping in his car and that his children were staying with numerous family members. 

The ombudsman’s inspector’s report said attempts had been made by officials to contact Mr X by phone and email asking for details of his situation. An officer also asked for details of his and his family’s medical conditions and when his sister had asked him to leave.

Mr X told the council he had been sleeping in his car for three months and that his 16-year-old son sometimes had to sleep in the car with him. He said he had been removed from the housing register and could not rejoin and could not rent a property privately as he received Universal Credit.

He contacted Liverpool Council again in November 2022 and said how occasionally a friend would let him spend the night with them. Mr X said he took medication for depression and pain in his back and legs and that his eldest son also had health problems.

There is no record of any further action until February this year when the council closed the case. This was done automatically as it had been incomplete for more than three months.

A new homeless application was logged in March and a charity contacted Liverpool Council on Mr X’s behalf. The council’s record says its outreach service attempted to locate Mr X on March 21 but he was not parked on the road where he said he had been sleeping and he needed to contact the Housing Options Service in core hours.

Mr X contacted the council two days later, with his son acting as an interpreter. He repeated that he was sleeping in his car and that his children had been staying with their aunt but she had advised they could not stay any longer.

Mr X’s son said the council did not contact his father and his medical condition was deteriorating from sleeping in his car for so long. A telephone assessment was arranged in which Mr X was told if the authority did not receive relevant medical information within 28 days, it would assume he no longer required assistance and close his case. 

Council officials sent this request to an incorrect email address. Mr X asked for interim accommodation, but this was refused. The council noted Mr X’s children were still staying with Mr X’s sister and that there was no evidence Mr X was sleeping in his car as the outreach service had not been able to locate him.

In June this year, Mr X made a formal complaint to the council. He also asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint who exercised discretion to consider Mr X’s complaint even though he had not completed the council’s complaints process.

In its decision, the Ombudsman said it was clear there were delays in accepting and considering the homelessness application by Liverpool Council, as well as failing in its communication.

It said, “The council did not carry out an assessment, provide advice or take any other action before closing Mr X’s case in February 2023. The council was aware at this stage that Mr X was living in his car and that on occasions his 16-year-old son also spent the night in the car with him. 

“I recognise communication with Mr X was not straightforward but am not persuaded the council took sufficient action to advise or support Mr X, or to ensure he understood what was required to progress his homelessness application. The council’s delays and communication failings have meant that Mr X has potentially had to live in his car, separated from his family for longer than he otherwise would have.” 

As a result, the Ombudsman ordered Liverpool Council to pay Mr X £500 in recognition of the distress, uncertainty, and difficulties he has experienced as a result of its delays and poor communication.

In a statement, a Liverpool Council spokesperson said, “We are sorry for the distress that was caused in this case and have abided by the recommendations of the Local Government Ombudsman.”

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