Child left in excruciating pain for years because of council delays

A young person spent three years in unnecessary pain because delays by Lambeth Council meant they could not have a crucial operation, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.

The child, who has significant medical needs and uses a wheelchair, was living in a property secured by Lambeth Council with their mother and sibling. An Occupational Therapist told the council the property was not suitable for the child as far back as 2019.

man wearing green jacket sitting on stool chair

The property could not accommodate the child’s wheelchair so it had to be left outside, and the child found it difficult to move around inside without it. Furthermore, because the property was so unsuitable, specialist equipment for carrying and lifting the child could not be installed and the special bed and supportive seating they needed to relieve pain and keep them safe when eating, drinking and sleeping could not be put in place.

Medical specialists said the child could not have a key operation until they were in more appropriate accommodation.

Despite being told how unsuitable the accommodation was repeatedly by the family, their school, social workers, occupational therapists, and the child’s medical team who raised safeguarding concerns, the council did not take any action.

The Occupational Therapist told the council the child’s health was deteriorating – they were in constant pain, needing medication and injection. The therapist added: ‘The long-term impact of [the child] being unsuitably housed means [they] will have no bones in [their] hips to keep [their] legs in place. This will make it more difficult to support [them] with manual handling and positioning. [They] will also never be able to be supported in standing.’

The family was finally rehoused in a suitable property in October 2022. However, by the time they were rehoused, the original operation was no longer an option.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found numerous significant faults with the way the council dealt with the family’s housing situation. The local authority should have accepted it had a duty to the family in April 2019 but delayed making this decision for nine months. Additionally it took 21 months too long to accept it had a main housing duty to the family and failed to look for more suitable accommodation for them. The investigation also criticised the council’s poor communication with the family and the poor handling of their complaint.

Nigel Ellis, Chief Executive of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: ‘This family spent three and a half years in accommodation that was quite obviously unsuitable to everyone but the council.

‘While I appreciate the family needed quite specific accommodation which would be difficult to source, we have found no evidence the Council made any efforts to find anything suitable for much of the three years they were in the property.

‘As a result the child and their mother were put to a significant and avoidable risk of harm over a prolonged period.

‘The Council has now agreed to a wholescale external review of its housing service, which I hope will go some way to preventing situations like this from happening to other vulnerable families.’

The council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them a combined £20,000 for the time spent in unsuitable accommodation at avoidable risk of harm, pain and lack of dignity they suffered. Additionally, the local authority has also agreed to commission an independent external review of its homelessness service.

As well as Lambeth failing to help this vulnerable child, at the beginning of the year a BBC investigation exposed that a children’s home in Doncaster was found to be abusing residents. With cases of children being subjected to trauma from authorities that are supposed to have a duty of care for them, frequently making headlines, it begs the question of will it ever come to an end? 

Image: Francisco Gonzalez


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