Council ‘loses’ homeless teenager over service failure

Ombudsman says councils need to recognise the separate duty they have towards children when their parents are made homeless.

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A council ‘lost’ a homeless teenager after officers failed to support her when she called on them for help.

Now that a housing ombudsman has ruled against the council, officers are unable the contact the young woman – with her current whereabouts unknown.

In his ruling, Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said the council’s failures in this case led to a situation where there is a genuine concern for welfare as the council can no longer make that contact.

London Borough of Islington was found to have failed to separate the teenager’s need for help from her mother’s homelessness application, wrongly telling her it owed her no duty.

The teen and her mother had initially been placed by the council in a neighbouring borough when they approached Islington as homeless.

But when officers decided the mother was intentionally homeless, the council failed to recognise its separate duties to the girl.

The council told the family they should access children’s services at the neighbouring borough – even though it may have owed a duty under housing legislation.

The ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for failing to provide services to the teenager when she was at risk of homelessness as it should have carried out an assessment to find out what duty it owed her.

Since the ombudsman’s investigation, the council has tried to contact the teenager to offer her assistance but has been unable to do so – with her whereabouts unknown.

King said the case showed how councils need to recognise the separate duty they have towards children when their parents are made homeless.

“Where a council believes a neighbouring council is responsible under the Children Act 1989, it should work with it to resolve any disputes – the teenager should not be disadvantaged by any disagreements and the council should provide any necessary services until the disputes are settled,” he said.

The council said it had since paid the girl £400 via a relative for the distress caused as a result of its failure to support her, and told the ombudsman it has held a complaint learning meeting and disseminated the lessons across the relevant department.

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