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23 April, 2021 Open access

Ombudsman criticises Medway Council for leaving vulnerable teenager to live in tent during Covid-19 crisis

Council pays £1,500 each to the teenager and his mother to reflect the distress and hardship they were caused, with further £200 for mother to reflect the fact that she was not listened to

Medway Council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after leaving a vulnerable teenager to live in a tent during the Covid-19 crisis.

Introducing the case, the Ombudsman says that the council initially decided it had no duty to house the 16-year-old and his mother under its homelessness obligations but placed the family in temporary accommodation because of its child protection duties. However, the family became homeless in the middle of July 2020 when the children’s services department asked them to leave their temporary accommodation.

The family had nowhere to go when they left the temporary accommodation, and the teenager called the council saying he and his mother were sleeping in a tent. The mother continued to contact the council throughout July 2020, and 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. In addition, at the beginning of September, the mother contacted the council to say she and her son had been street homeless since 13 July. The council told the mother it would not provide her with temporary accommodation, and she should find her own private rented accommodation.

The mother then contacted the Ombudsman on 8 September 2020 and, following the council's urgent review of the case, the family were moved to bed and breakfast accommodation on 11 September.

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Finding that, in making the family homeless, the council failed to consider government guidance which asked landlords to work with renters who experienced hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ombudsman ordered the council to pay £1,500 each to the teenager and his mother to reflect the distress and hardship they were caused, and to pay the mother an additional £200 to reflect the fact she was not listened to when she reported being street homeless on a number of occasions.

Commenting on the case, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said today -

'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.'

For more information, see Kent teen left to live in tent during Covid crisis from lgo.org.uk