A vulnerable young woman left homeless with her baby daughter and was failed by Liverpool Council said she “just wanted somewhere to call home.”
Despite multiple attempts to secure support, the woman – who was pregnant with her second child – was repeatedly ignored by the local authority in her attempts to gain secure housing. As a result, Liverpool Council has been ordered to award thousands of pounds in compensation by the Local Government Ombudsman.
A letter of apology has also been sent to the woman, identified as Ms X, by the city council in April with an acceptance she had been put through “distress.”
Speaking to the LDRS, Ms X, now 28, said she first contacted Liverpool Council for help in March 2021 when her daughter was just a year old. She found herself in difficulty following the breakdown of her relationship and was seeking support from family members.
Her situation was exacerbated by the growing covid-19 pandemic meaning she had to be apart from her daughter, while also pregnant with her son. She said: “I was telling them I was at the end of my pregnancy and I needed to get somewhere.”
It wasn’t until October 2021 that the city council secured temporary accommodation, despite at least eight attempts to secure a response, when Ms X was about to find herself sleeping rough. According to the Ombudsman, Liverpool Council said it assessed her needs at this point.
Ms X said, “We were passed between three caseworkers, I was crying my eyes out constantly. I told them I was suffering with depression and anxiety, I didn’t know what to do.
“It was horrendous.” Ms X told the LDRS how in October she was given temporary housing in a city centre hotel and was left uncomfortable with the experience.
She was left in limbo for a further two months until December 2021, when Liverpool Council finally acknowledged Ms X was homeless and eligible for support. Having made an initial complaint, Ms X sought the help of her MP Dan Carden and Vauxhall Law Centre, who raised concerns about how the case was handled by the city council.
Eventually, an offer of permanent accommodation was made in February 2022, which wasn’t also without delay. Ms X was told despite an initial three week wait, the property earmarked for her was not ready and she may need to be referred back to the housing panel.
It was in April 2022, when Ms X was about to go into labour with her son, that she received the keys to her new home. Liverpool Council responded to the complaint on March 3 last year, accepting delays and a failure to progress the initial approach for help.
Ms X said, “There was trouble from the word go. I was asked to withdraw the complaint after the offer of accommodation.
“I just wanted somewhere to call home. I just wanted help and support.”
The council’s records confirm it formally discharged its housing duty towards Ms X in April 2022, on the basis she had been rehoused. In July, Vauxhall Law Centre escalated the issue to the Ombudsman having not received a response to the initial complaint.
The local authority provided its stage two complaint response in December 2022. It said it had decided Ms X did not meet eligibility criteria to be considered homeless when she first approached but accepted it had not explained this or carried out a homelessness assessment. It said it should have completed an assessment and worked with Ms X to prevent any risk of homelessness.
Siobhan Taylor-Ward, housing solicitor at Vauxhall Law Centre, said, “We are seeing new cases on a daily basis which include some or all of the findings within the Ombudsman’s report. Although this complaint relates to a case that was completed just over a year ago now the situation at the council continues.
We hope this report and the findings against the local authority will lead to real and systemic change in the very short term. We do not want to see people continuing to go through such distress and the council must find ways to work within the current financial and housing crisis to provide the housing, advice and support to homeless families that it is their legal duty to provide.”
A letter of apology to Ms X – from Anne Marie Lubanski, director of adult services, was issued in April this year. It said, “I acknowledge that this caused you distress at what was already a stressful time and I am sorry for the impact this had on you.”
Ms X said: “I hate going out to the shop and into crowded places. I was in that hotel having to look out for my daughter.
“It doesn’t feel like an apology because they were forced to give it.”
In its response, the Ombudsman said Liverpool Council had “multiple opportunities” to respond to Ms X’s requests for assistance and had failed to do so. In addition, it was deemed unclear how Liverpool Council could have concluded Ms X was not homeless, “given it acknowledged it did not assess her circumstances.”
In making the recommendations that the council pay Ms X a total of £2,000 compensation, the Ombudsman said: “I have considered Ms X suffered avoidable distress and frustration during a time when she was particularly vulnerable. I have also considered there would have been an impact on her young child.”
Ms X added, “I don’t want this to happen to any other young woman again, having to be in scary places. There was no help or support, it’s absolutely disgusting.”
A spokesperson for Liverpool Council said, “We accept that our handling of this case fell below an acceptable standard. Unfortunately, the delay in responding to the complaint further exacerbated the issue in helping Ms X to find suitable accommodation, and for this we have sincerely apologised.
“We acknowledge and accept the findings of the Ombudsman and are using this case to develop the service and make the necessary improvements required.”