In March 2021 Ms M and her baby daughter became homeless. They approached Liverpool City Council Housing Options for the help they were entitled to. As a result of failings in its systems and approach, Ms M did not receive the advice or assistance she was eligible for until December 2021 and was not able to move into a permanent home until April 2022. She received the keys to her new home on the same day she went into labour with her second child, having spent over a year homeless and sofa surfing or in temporary accommodation. 

Siobhan Taylor-Ward

Siobhan Taylor-Ward

Due to serious delays and failings in Ms M’s case, and difficulties in obtaining a just outcome, as housing solicitor at Vauxhall Law Centre I escalated a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in July 2022. I complained on behalf of Ms M that the council failed to accept a valid homeless approach, properly progress Ms M’s application, or assign the correct housing priority. I also complained about the council’s communication and the housing advice it provided. I said this led to Ms M being homeless and in unsuitable accommodation for longer than she would otherwise have been, at a time when she was particularly vulnerable. Following detailed investigations the ombudsman found the council at fault and has made recommendations to remedy the injustice caused.

In their decision, the ombudsman found that the council had failed in a way which led to injustice and caused avoidable distress and frustration to Ms M, and also negatively impacted her young daughter. The ombudsman recommended that a letter of apology be issued along with a payment of £2,000 in compensation. (The decision is here.)

The council issued an apology letter from the director of adult services. The director says she accepts the findings of the report and states: ‘I acknowledge that this caused you distress at what was already a stressful time and I am sorry for the impact this had on you.’ The council also asserts that it will be ‘taking action to improve services’.

But Ms M is far from alone, being just one of many people in similar battles with the local authority. Many are left sofa surfing when their cases are not properly processed as homelessness cases. Others are placed into B&B style accommodation without proper advice and without any case progression. The ombudsman’s findings in Complaint 22 003 417 and Complaint 22 008 745 earlier this year show that this is a systemic and recurring issue.

Ms M’s reaction was: ‘I can’t believe we have won against the council, the fact that they have accepted liability and that we will be helping so many people in the situation, I am just over the moon! I feel like the stress of it all is finally over, this system is crazy and hopefully this will give other people the courage to stand up to them too, nothing will ever change if we just stand and say nothing.’

She has been brave and steadfast throughout this case. Sadly, many of our clients have similar complaints that they have felt unable to pursue to this stage, so we hope that her strength encourages others to come forwards when they have been let down. The report is very disheartening to read but I am hopeful that these findings, alongside the previous recommendations made in January, will help shine a light on the major issues within our homelessness services and lead to major systemic and cultural change.

Other legal advice centres will be interested to know that we are having to use complaints and ombudsman processes to try to effect change because we cannot get to judicial review. In our experience, the council folds on every single decision where a JR is in prospect.


Siobhan Taylor-Ward is a housing and welfare solicitor at Vauxhall Law Centre, Liverpool