A disabled woman has claimed a blunder from Greenwich Council’s housing team led to her ‘sofa surfing’ while she was homeless.

The authority has been criticised by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman for incorrectly telling a disabled woman she was eligible for a two-bedroom property after it had processed her homelessness assessment.

The woman, known as Mrs C in the report, claimed that the council’s fault led to her needing to sofa surf with her husband due to delays in her getting a suitable property.

She also claimed that the situation was stressful and had a harmful impact on her health as her husband was her main carer and they were not always able to stay together.

Mrs C reportedly contacted the council in February 2023 to say she and her husband were sleeping ‘here, there and everywhere’ among family members and friends as they were at risk of being homeless.

She said they had no fixed address after their private tenancy had ended and she suffered from various health issues and disabilities.

The report said: “The council’s medical adviser recommended in March that Mrs C would be considered significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person if homeless due to the need for help with the activities of daily living and the use of a walking aid. The medical adviser recommended a ground floor property or any floor of a property if there was a lift. There was no reference to a second bedroom.”

The authority reportedly completed its assessment of Mrs C’s homelessness application and informed her it had accepted a prevention duty at the end of March.

The council noted she was living with friends and family and that her previous property was no longer available.

The ombudsman said in their report the council had also completed a personal housing plan that stated Mrs C was eligible to bid for two-bedroom flats, but noted there were long waiting times.

It said she was more likely to obtain a privately rented property and listed the financial support available to her.

The ombudsman claimed the council was unable to provide a record of further contact it had made with Mrs C on the size of the property she was eligible for.

The report said: “However, Mrs C complained to the council in early and mid-April that she had been told she was awarded priority to bid for two-bedroom properties but had since been told she could only bid for one-bedroom properties. Mrs C explained she required a separate bedroom to her husband due to her medical condition.”

The authority responded to Mrs C’s complaint in early May to say its initial assessment was done in error and she was eligible for a one-bedroom property.

It added that it would pass any supporting information it had received from her GP about her desire for a two-bedroom property onto its medical advisor.

Greenwich Council said Mrs C had been advised about the possibility of temporary accommodation but that the high demand meant there were limited options in the immediate area so she would possibly have to be placed in a hotel.

The resident was asked to contact her case worker if she wanted to consider this option.

Mrs C told the council she needed a ground floor unit and provided a letter of support from her GP to state her need for a two-bedroom property. The GP claimed the resident suffered from chronic pain that disturbed her rest, meaning she had to sleep separately from her husband.

The council’s medical advisor concluded in May that a second bedroom was not medically essential for Mrs C. The resident sought a review of the decision and escalated her complaint at the end of June.

The authority’s case review panel considered the request the next month but did not uphold the appeal. The panel claimed it felt a one-bedroom unit was sufficient for Mrs C’s needs based on her family composition, and her situation was not deemed to be exceptional enough to merit an extra bedroom.

Greenwich Council responded to the woman’s escalated complaint in August and apologised for its delay. It claimed that it had advised Mrs C that she was eligible to bid on two-bedroom properties in March without first obtaining a recommendation from its medical advisor.

The council confirmed the outcome of the medical advisor’s refusal and the case review panel’s outcome. It said Mrs C was eligible to bid for one-bedroom properties and provided details of its allocation policy.

The ombudsman said in their report that they were concerned about the council’s record keeping in relation to the resident’s ‘reasonable enquiries’. The authority reportedly acknowledged the inconvenience arising from the incorrect information it provided to Mrs C in response to the ombudsman’s enquiries and offered her £100 in recognition.

The ombudsman felt this offer was reasonable and advised the council to send a written apology to Mrs C. The authority was also asked to provide guidance to staff to ensure an adequate record is kept of homelessness enquiries.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The council has apologised to Mrs C for the way it dealt with her application and we have agreed to pay £100 in recognition of any distress. We sympathise with the upset this has caused and extend our apologies again.”

They added: “The council has since followed all appropriate procedures in making its decision and no further fault has been found. In line with the Ombudsman’s recommendation, staff have been provided with extra guidance to avoid this happening in the future.”

Picture 1: The Woolwich Centre, where Greenwich Council’s offices are based. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Joe Coughlan