Council moves pregnant homeless domestic abuse victim into studio with blood-stained walls

By Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter

8th Jul 2024 | Local News

Kingston Council took more than four months to house the woman despite her elgibility for emergency accomodation. (Photo: Oliver Monk)
Kingston Council took more than four months to house the woman despite her elgibility for emergency accomodation. (Photo: Oliver Monk)

Kingston Council moved a pregnant homeless domestic abuse victim into an unsuitable studio flat with blood stains on the wall and no space for a crib, a watchdog investigation has found. It took the authority more than four months to suitably house the woman, who was also placed in a mixed-sex hostel with shared facilities where she suffered panic attacks.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report found the council initially delayed offering Ms X emergency housing and then failed to properly consider the suitability of the accommodation it offered. The authority agreed to pay her £1,000 as a result of its failings, after the ombudsman told it to pay £750 more than it originally offered.

A council spokesperson said it is committed to providing 'quality housing for residents' and making sure they have a 'safe and comfortable place to live'. It added it is supporting nearly 1,000 families in temporary accommodation while facing a national housing crisis, with demand for properties 'increasingly outstripping supply'.

Ms X approached the council as homeless in July last year and said she was fleeing domestic abuse as her wider family had threatened her because they disapproved of her pregnancy. The authority accepted she was eligible for help, the report said, but failed to properly consider her circumstances or offer her emergency accommodation for 17 days.

This meant Ms X had to find accommodation herself using another council's out-of-hours service on a nightly basis. This was a mixed-sex hostel where she felt unsafe and had panic attacks, according to the report, and chose to sleep on a bench one night as she was so worried.

During this time, a domestic abuse charity asked the council to place Ms X in emergency accommodation as it said she was at ongoing risk of domestic abuse and certain areas were unsafe for her as people had threatened to kill her. Ms X provided the council with a statement about the domestic abuse in late July, which did not name the perpetrators.

Ms X repeatedly called the council in early August to ask whether it had accepted her statement. A legal charity, who also contacted the authority on her behalf, said the council refused to house her unless she provided the names and addresses of the perpetrators, which she had not done for fear of retaliation. The ombudsman said the council focussed too much on Ms X naming the perpetrators and failed to respond to the domestic abuse charity's request, which made her feel it did not believe her.

The council finally placed Ms X in a hotel for a night after her representative threatened legal action, 17 days after her initial request, and then moved her to a mixed-sex hostel with shared facilities for nearly eight weeks. The watchdog said the authority did not consider whether the hostel was appropriate for Ms X, who suffered panic attacks while living there.

The council placed Ms X in a studio flat in another borough in September. A council officer visited the property in November, after Ms X requested a review of its suitability, and found it was 'highly unsuitable for bringing a new baby into'. The officer reported blood stains on the bathroom wall, the oven was not working, there were no electric sockets in the kitchen for a steriliser or microwave and there was not enough space for a Moses basket.

The council moved Ms X, while heavily pregnant, to another property four days later. She accepted a private rented property early this year.

The council apologised to Ms X, offered her £250 and agreed to improve its domestic abuse services ahead of the watchdog investigation, but the ombudsman said this was not enough. It told the authority to pay her £750 more, bringing the total to £1,000, and provide evidence it has improved services.

A Kingston Council spokesperson said: "We are committed to doing all we can to provide quality housing for residents and ensure people in the borough have a safe and comfortable place to live.

"We are currently supporting close to 1,000 families with temporary accommodation and the national housing crisis is a critical situation, with demand for properties increasingly outstripping supply. Across London, there has been a 40% drop in landlords letting their properties to councils.

A Kingston Council spokesperson said: "We accept the ruling of the ombudsman. We apologise to Ms X for the time spent in unsuitable accommodation and the additional payment of £750 has been made to her.

In addition, we have carried out compulsory refresher training on how to handle domestic abuse cases and since late March 2024 an independent domestic violence advocate has been engaged to work one-to-one on a weekly basis with housing advisors in the preparation of personal housing plans. We have also completed a review of and amendment to procedures for assessing the suitability of accommodation.

"Kingston Council is currently undertaking a major regeneration in the borough to provide 2,170 new homes, with 871 new council homes on the Cambridge Road Estate. This includes an extra 104 council homes announced this year over and above the original plan and will deliver 254 council homes in the first phase of the project. We are also delivering a small sites programme which will have a further 101 new council homes, these are the first new council homes built in the borough in almost 40 years."


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