A council must pay a family £5,000 for leaving them to live in a hotel for a year – and then giving them one day to accept a housing offer 250 miles away.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the mother and her daughter had experienced a “significant injustice” as a result of Enfield Council’s handling of their housing situation.

In a report it stated the mother – referred to as Mrs B –approached the council in June 2022 to declare homelessness. The council said it discharged its duty at this time as an initial offer of interim accommodation was refused by the family, but the watchdog deemed this action “wrong”.

Mrs B again approached the council in October 2022 and this time was placed with her daughter in emergency bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation, comprising a room in a hotel with shared facilities.

Government guidance states residents should not be forced to live in this type of accommodation beyond six weeks – but Mrs B and her daughter remained there for over a year.

In May 2023 the council accepted it had a main housing duty to the family. The same month Mrs B asked for her accommodation to be reviewed, and it was subsequently found to be “unsuitable” for them to continue living in.

The council placed the family on a ‘transfer list’ after which Mrs B was told her review was “resolved” and she had no further right of appeal. 

Mrs B requested a further review since the statutory time limit to stay in B&B accommodation had expired but the council explained there was a “severe shortage” of temporary accommodation and privately rented properties in the borough.

As a consequence the council said it was looking “further afield” at accommodation outside the London area to house the family.

In September 2023, the council offered Mrs B a private-rented property in north-east England, 250 miles away, and gave her less than a day to agree. Mrs B refused the property as she would be “isolated” and her daughter’s education “impacted”.

The ombudsman said Mrs B had a “right to appeal” the offer and for the council to review its suitability, but instead she was “penalised" for refusing an unsuitable offer. The ombudsman also found the time given to accept the offer “unreasonable” and “exacerbated an already stressful situation”. 

In response, a spokesperson said the council accepted the findings of the ombudsman and agreed to the procedural review recommendations that were made in the report. 

They said that an offer of accommodation to Mrs B was accepted in December 2023 and added: “We take complaints very seriously and have improved our processes.

“We have moved to a national placement policy as a result of the extreme shortage of accommodation in London and the south-east.

“We have communicated widely with all homeless households in temporary accommodation of our approach to make suitable offers of accommodation that are both affordable and meet the needs of individuals and families.”