A woman was forced to sofa surf while nine months pregnant after the council ‘wrongly’ closed her homeless application without telling her.

Brent Council was made to pay £1,400 compensation after an investigation found the delay caused her a “significant injustice”.

The council “took no action” to prevent the heavily pregnant woman from being made homeless until January of this year, despite her making a homelessness application in June of 2022, according to a report by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

The woman, referred to in the report as Mrs B, told the council she was expecting a child and had been asked to leave the house of the friend she had been staying with.

She accused the council of poor communication and of wrongly closing her case, leaving her with no fixed address and having to crash on friends’ sofas. 

If a council has “reason to believe” someone is threatened with homelessness, it is required to take a homelessness application and, if they have a priority need such as being pregnant, they must be given interim accommodation.

However, in August 2022, Mrs B complained that the council closed her case without telling her after she failed to send over every piece of documentation it requested for her assessment.

The council accepted that this was done without proper warning so reopened her application and awarded her £250 compensation. Mrs B was not satisfied with this and escalated the complaint.

The ombudsman report states that the council “cannot summarily close an application if an applicant is engaging but has not provided all the documents it asked for” and, from the documentation that was provided, it should have been able to decide that Mrs B was “eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in priority need”. 

Investigators also found that this was not an isolated incident as the council had wrongly closed another complainant's application twice last year, prematurely and without telling them.

Mrs B’s midwife then asked the council to find a home for her urgently because her February due date was fast approaching. The council eventually provided Mrs B with interim accommodation in January 2023, but it was on the fourth floor with no cooking facilities and no lift.

The investigation found that Mrs B spent a month living in this “unsuitable accommodation” and was left with the extra cost of buying takeaway food.

The LGO stated that the council would likely have decided that the place wasn’t right for Mrs B if it had “properly considered suitability”.

Brent Council is required to apologise to Mrs B and pay her £1,400 to compensate for the time she spent sofa surfing and in unsuitable accommodation.  It must also make sure staff emails do not say it will assume an applicant no longer needs housing assistance if they do not provide all the documents it asked for.

A council spokesperson said: “We seriously regret that Mrs B was badly let down by the council and feel a deep sense of remorse for what she has been through.

"She should not have been left sofa surfing while heavily pregnant because her case had been wrongly closed. We apologise unreservedly for what she experienced when she should have been under council care.”

They added: “We have agreed to offer financial compensation to Mrs B for the time she spent in unsuitable accommodation at a moment when her housing needs should have been prioritised by our service.

“We have looked at our failings in this case and have undertaken a major review of how the service is run. As a result, our single homelessness service will move to Harlesden later this year, while our service for homeless families, including pregnant women, will continue to be helped and supported by our team at the Civic Centre. This change will enable a more focused and dedicated approach towards the housing and care needs facing homeless residents in Brent.”