Law student wins case against council for catalogue of mistakes

A homeless family’s complaint that Maidstone Borough Council was responsible for their unlawful eviction has been upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman after their case was taken up by the Kent Law Clinic at the University of Kent.

Instead of telling the accommodation manager that their eviction would be unlawful, a Council officer had told the family to leave their accommodation straight away.

The Ombudsman has ordered the Council to pay total compensation of £4,170 and apologise to the family for the unlawful eviction that resulted in them having to spend 11 weeks in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Kent Law School student Samantha Harris, working with Kent Law Clinic solicitor Vivien Gambling, filed a written complaint about the family’s treatment which began when they applied for housing in Maidstone.

In a highly critical report, the Ombudsman has decided that the family (referred to as Mr & Mrs A) suffered injustice from the Council and avoidable distress and inconvenience. The Ombudsman’s findings include:

  • being told to leave the Council’s offices on 9 March 2015 and waiting outside for a further two and a half hours for temporary accommodation was humiliating and caused distress to Mr & Mrs A and their small children
  • the Council was responsible for an unlawful eviction committed by the temporary accommodation owner’s son when the housing officer sided with the owner’s son and told the family to leave their accommodation immediately
  • being given no time to pack up their belongings and being forced to leave a property without lawful notice caused avoidable anxiety to Mrs A and her young children. It was grossly unfair that Mrs A had to pack up all the family’s belongings immediately, with her two young children present
  • being told they were lucky to have temporary accommodation was humiliating and disrespectful to Mr & Mrs A, when it was a legal right
  • the Council failed to deal with Mrs A’s complaints through the Council’s complaints procedure, until Mrs A later sought legal advice from Kent Law Clinic.

Vivien Gambling commented, ‘the striking thing about the case was not only the catalogue of mistakes on the part of the Council but also its apparent reluctance to listen to complaints and put things right. If the complaints had been dealt with properly the unlawful eviction and untold distress to the family could have been avoided. Mr & Mrs A have demonstrated that people can challenge unlawful decisions and win’.

From April 2018, the Homeless Reduction Act 2017 will place wider duties on local authorities to help people at risk of becoming homeless. Vivien Gambling said ‘there needs to be not only more resources and more affordable accommodation but also a change in attitudes towards vulnerable homeless people if the Act is to live up to its name’.