Original article from Kent Live
A council has been criticised for missing five opportunities to house a teenage boy who was left sleeping rough and sofa-surfing for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said that Medway Council has failed in its duties to support the 16-year-old from Kent and his mother during the summer of 2020.
The watchdog said that when the family first became homeless, the council declared it had no duty to house the family but did place them in temporary accommodation.
But in July, the children’s services department asked them to leave, making the family homeless and forcing them to live in a tent.
This went against Government lockdown guidance asking for landlords to work with tenants who were experiencing hardship.
An ombudsman spokesman said: “The mother continued to contact the council throughout July. She filled in a change of circumstances form at the beginning of August explaining she and her son had been on the streets for a few weeks.
“There is no record of the council taking any action upon receipt of the form.
“At the beginning of September, the mother contacted the council with the help of Shelter to say she and her son had been street homeless since July 13.
“The council told the mother it would not provide her with temporary accommodation, and she should find her own private rented accommodation.”
The family were moved to a bed and breakfast on September 11 after the ombudsman asked the council to carry out an urgent review and they were eventually offered a two-bedroom property.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Our investigations into issues occurring during the pandemic have to balance the difficult circumstances and the speed at which laws were changing, against what should have reasonably happened.
“Despite these challenging circumstances, the council in this case failed in its duties to a vulnerable teenager who was sleeping rough, and it missed numerous opportunities to ensure he was safe.
“I do, however, welcome the swift action the council took when we alerted it to the family’s situation, and hope the training it has agreed to provide to relevant staff should ensure cases such as this do not happen in future.
“From what we’ve seen so far, the issues in this case are not indicative of how councils generally responded to public concerns during COVID-19. But we decided this case contained sufficient learning that others could take on board.
“Some of the problems in the case mirror issues we were seeing before the pandemic, but which have been amplified by the impact of COVID-19.”
The council has agreed to apologise to the teenager and mother and pay them £1,500 each for their “distress and hardship” and an additional £200 to the mother to reflect that her repeated requests were not listened to.
A Medway Council spokesperson said: “We fully accept the recommendations made by the Local Government Ombudsman and we have apologised to the individuals involved, as well as made recompense.
“We are committed to learning from specific cases, such as this, to improve the service we provide to those at risk of becoming homeless and in need of additional support.
“Staff in our housing allocations and housing options teams will also be provided with refresher training on identifying information from potential applicants.
“We have ensured that the family are now in permanent accommodation.”