A man who lost his job because of Covid spent two months living on the street after Camden Council gave him the wrong advice, a government ombudsman has ruled.
The resident, whose name has been given as Mr X, asked the council’s housing needs service for help when he lost his job in February 2021 after he contracted Covid.
Failings in the way the Town Hall responded to his plight meant he was “reluctant” to trust it and instead relied on night shelters for a temporary roof over his head.
The council should have found him help for at least six months, according to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
Mr X took his complaint to the watchdog and said Camden failed to tell him about any homelessness assistance it could offer when he first made the approach.
He was told he could apply for a discretionary housing payment, which is made by councils when people are struggling to pay rent.
Mr X was later told he was not eligible for the payment.
He explained to the LGO that the council said it could not offer him any more help.
He later learned that it could have given him homelessness assistance. However, “he was reluctant now to receive assistance from the council as he has lost faith in its ability to help him”, according to the LGO.
An investigation by the Ombudsman said the council was at fault for not offering Mr X an assessment so staff could decide whether he was homeless and look into the duty of care owed to him.
It said: “During the time Mr X asked the council for help, he did not have accommodation and was sleeping on the street. Had the council provided him with assistance this would have increased his chances of finding some kind of accommodation.”
What happened meant Mr X was “now reluctant to trust the council’s services but is still homeless and trying to arrange nightly accommodation in shelters”.
The report said that because Mr X did not have anywhere to live it was likely the council would have found that he was homeless and staff should have considered if they should offer him interim accommodation.
The LGO said: “The council would also have had to take reasonable steps to help Mr X secure accommodation that would be available for at least six months under its relief duty.
“The council also would have had to produce a personalised housing plan for Mr X setting out the steps he and the council would take to help relieve his homelessness. The fact it did not do this is [its] fault.”
It also slammed Camden’s failure to accept a homeless application from Mr X when it already knew his predicament.
He was told he had to fill out a form. In fact, the Ombudsman said, “an applicant does not have to complete a specific form or approach a particular council department to make a homelessness application”.
The council was also criticised for not responding to emails from Mr X.
Two months after he first asked for help, the Town Hall contacted Mr X and asked if he wanted to make a homelessness application.
The council upheld a complaint he made and offered him £200 compensation for the time and trouble and distress caused to him.
It said the pandemic caused delays in the service but accepted it was “neglectful in the service” it gave him, according to the Ombudsman’s report.
The government watchdog welcomed steps Camden Council is taking “to improve its communication between housing needs and homelessness prevention to ensure this situation does not reoccur”.
However, it did not think the £200 it offered Mr X went far enough, because he suffered injustice, and told the council it should pay him £650 to “acknowledge the distress and uncertainty caused”.
The council was also told to take a homelessness application.
Mr X said the experience has made him reluctant to trust the council but the LGO said it should still offer help and ensure staff know people who are facing homelessness do not have to fill in a referral form to make a homeless application.
A Camden Council spokeswoman said: “We are committed to supporting our residents in housing need and providing the best possible advice and services. We have carefully considered the Ombudsman’s reviews and will always take action to resolve any issues.”