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Haringey Council ordered to pay compensation to family who lost home in benefits blunder

PUBLISHED: 10:24 08 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:49 08 January 2020

Haringey Council is now investigating housing benefit cases from the same period to check for other mistakes. Picture: Ken Mears

Haringey Council is now investigating housing benefit cases from the same period to check for other mistakes. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

A young family was made homeless after Haringey Council wrongly claimed they owed £8,000 in housing benefit - when in fact, it owed them money.

The council wrote to both a private landlord and his tenant about her housing benefit The council wrote to both a private landlord and his tenant about her housing benefit "overpayment", which was a miscalculation.

A young family was made homeless after Haringey Council wrongly claimed they owed £8,000 in housing benefit - when in fact, it owed them money.

The local authority has apologised and paid more than £5,500 to the family, a single mother and three sons, after a damning report by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The council incorrectly told the woman's private landlord that she owed more than £8,000 in backdated benefits.

The family were then evicted and had to stay with a family member while the mistake was corrected.

The Ombudsman confirmed Haringey had miscalculated and to make matters worse, had gone on to not handle her homeless application appropriately.

Haringey is now reviewing all similar housing benefit cases between January 2017 and March 2018 to correct any other mistakes.

Ombudsman Michael King said: "The miscalculation of this woman's benefit entitlement has had a significant impact on her family's life.

"To compound that problem, the council did not deal with her homelessness application properly and failed to refer her case to the appeal tribunal as it was obliged to do in law."

In May 2017, the woman, Ms X, had her housing benefit payments stopped and was asked to provide Haringey with information about childcare costs.

During the period Ms X's landlord did not receive any rent and issued an eviction notice.

Then in October 2017, Haringey decided it had overpaid her and wrote to her to say she owed £8,638.57, and notified her landlord.

Although Haringey later paid the outstanding rent the woman, the Ombudsman noted, "felt she had no choice" and was made to hand over her keys.

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The family made a homelessness application but by July 2019 had still not received any support and she had to fight to keep their case open.

Twice in 2018 the council "recalculated" what she owed, reducing it to £4,337.93 and then to £3,693, before finally writing it off.

It later acknowledged she had been entitled to a third child allowance from April 2017 onwards - and in fact, Haringey owed her £1,809.

Ms X repeatedly complained that her case should have been taken to a first-tier tribunal. This did not take place until summer 2018, and her appeal was upheld.

Investigators ruled that Haringey's actions "caused Ms X an injustice"; firstly by miscalculating, and then by telling her landlord what it thought she owed.

They added: "It is likely that because he was told she owed the Council the significant sum of over £8,000, this information persuaded him to press for eviction.

"She presented to the Council as someone who was homeless. As someone with three children, one of whom was disabled, she should have been recognised as someone who was in priority need and been offered accommodation immediately."

The Ombudsman ruled Haringey Council should pay £1,000 to Ms X for the distress caused, £1,300 for not recognising she was in unsuitable accommodation and £500 towards the cost of storing her furniture when she was evicted.

Since the case the family has been paid £5,587 in compensation and Haringey has apologised to them.

They were finally placed in interim accommodation in August 2019 and had their council housing register application backdated to January 11 2018.

A review of other housing benefit cases during the same period is due to conclude by March 31 and the findings will be sent to the Ombudsman.

Mr King added: "I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations and hope the review it has pledged to make of past cases will help it to understand what has gone wrong, and ensure other people are not placed in the same difficult position as this family."

A council spokesman said: "We're sorry for the mistakes we made in this specific case and have taken steps to fix them.

"The wellbeing of residents is a priority for Haringey Council as it is for all local authorities and we're determined to learn lessons from this to ensure similar situations are not repeated in the future."

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