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Family wins compo after being forced to live in Premier Inn for THREE YEARS costing them £88k due to council blunders

Mirror logo Mirror 12/04/2018 Laura Elvin

a couple of people that are sitting on a bed: Credits: SWNS.com © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: SWNS.com Luke and Olga thought they would be in a hotel for one week after being turfed out of a flood-damaged flat they rented privately

A council has been ordered to pay compensation to a family-of-five forced to pay £88,000 to live in 12 different Premier Inns for three years because of blunders over rehousing them.

Luke Burns and wife Olga, both qualified teachers, thought they would be in a hotel for just one week after being turfed out of a flood-damaged flat they rented privately in April 2014.

But a series of council faults saw them pay £60 to £100 a night and move between 12 Premier Inns - rapidly swallowing their £588 weekly benefits and loans from family.

They even sold their wedding rings while trying to pay for nightly accommodation in a series of hotels in and near Bristol - moving frequently to get the lowest rates possible.

Mr Burns said it felt like the council had a "personal vendetta" against the family who lived in constant fear that they would have nowhere to stay and their children would be taken from them.

The couple spent three Christmases in hotels and even saw the birth of their youngest child Nicolas while living in a hotel.

They have finally been given a council home after the Local Government Ombudsman stepped in and said the council had broken the law.

a person posing for the camera: Credits: SWNS.com © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: SWNS.com

Luke and Olga met in Moscow, where he was working for the Foreign Office and she was an English language teacher

On Thursday, the Local Government Ombudsman said in a report that Bristol City Council should pay the family £9,000 for "injustice caused".

The highly critical report said the authority illegally blocked untold numbers of families - including the Burns - from registering for housing for 22 months.

It found they ignored the Burns' "appalling housing conditions" for years, failed to accept their applications for help and wrongly threatened to dump their belongings.

All the while Luke and Olga, 40, lived in fear they'd be evicted and children - Lolita, 12, Alina, 11, and baby Nicolas, now two - would be taken into care.

Luke, 43, said: "I never understood the council's endgame.

"We were abandoned by the council and repeatedly ignored or blocked. It feels deliberate.

"It's hard not to see the actions - so deliberate and consistent - as a personal vendetta against my family.

"We were living a day-to-day existence, worrying over whether we would be able to pay for the next day's stay, never able to rest or relax.

"We lived in fear that we would be forced to leave the hotel and our children would be taken from us.

"There was no way out.

"If we were able to go to bed knowing we had money for the following night we had a more restful sleep, but most of the time we didn't.

"To be constantly on edge and thinking about or preparing to move was no way to survive.

"The difference, to be able to just stop and rest, to be able to put down roots as a family, is beyond words.

"For the girls to be able to go to school, have friends and spend birthdays in a home - it's incredible.

a person sitting in a bedroom: Credits: SWNS.com © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: SWNS.com The couple came back to the UK in 2003 but money became tight when Olga became a full-time mum and Luke was made redundant

"But we were robbed of that for three years, and the £9,000, while it will be incredibly useful in paying off some of the debt, it doesn't even cover half of it.

"And it certainly doesn't give us back the three years we were robbed of by the council's deliberate determination not to help us."

The family's problems started when their flat in Bridgwater, Somerset, was flooded in 2012.

They were later evicted after a mix-up in which part of their housing benefit - normally paid directly to the landlord by Sedgemoor District Council - was withheld as the damp flat was deemed unfit to live in.

The family moved into a Premier Inn for the first time as Sedgemoor and Bristol City Council argued over who should look after them.

Bristol Council were deemed responsible for the family, but ruled the Burns had made themselves "intentionally homeless", in December 2014.

In March 2015 the council unlawfully introduced a block on its website, automatically preventing anyone like them from registering for housing, the report said.

For the first two years the family moved between Premier Inns as they appealed against Bristol's decision not to offer a council house.

They were unable to find work or afford the £2,000 upfront sum needed to start renting privately.

Luke and Olga are both qualified teachers and tutored their older children "at home" - in the hotel room.

They had to pack their belongings into half a dozen carrier bags and travel by bus from one hotel to another as they sought out the cheapest nightly rates.

Many times they waited outside on the pavement until loans from family landed in their bank account.

The Local Government Ombudsman intervened in October 2016, and in March 2017 told the council it had to accept a homelessness and housing application, while it continued to investigate.

Within weeks the family had successful bid on a council house, and moved into a new council home in Bristol in June last year.

"We told the girls straight away and stayed up until the bidding opened online at midnight to bid on a property," he said.

"Even when we got it, it was empty apart from two single beds and a cooker."

But even then the council continued to pursue Luke, invoicing him £4,749 for storing their belongings throughout the debacle - a bill the council has since been told to write off.

"Their pursuit of us has been relentless," said Luke.

a close up of a sign: Credits: Rex Features © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Rex Features The family spent £88,000 and three Christmases in Premier Inns

The LGO report Thursday told the council to pay Luke £9,000 for the delay in taking action and "the time, trouble, frustration and distress it has caused".

The report said: "There was fault by the Council that caused injustice.

"Many Departments across the Council knew of Mr X’s appalling housing circumstances but did not refer this to the Housing Department for help and advice."

It added: "In 2017 the Council told us it was not aware of (the family's) circumstances. It was aware.

"(Luke) made many applications for discretionary housing payments to try and resolve his housing problems and explained his circumstances.

"The benefits department knew of (Luke's) circumstances. Children’s services knew of his circumstances as did education and the visual impairment team.

"That none of these departments made a referral to housing is fault."

Luke and Olga met in Moscow, where he was working for the Foreign Office and she was an English language teacher.

They came back to the UK in 2003 where she continued to teach.

But money became tight when Olga became a full-time mum and Luke was made redundant in 2010.

The couple sold their wedding rings to help get by and at times of absolute desperation they have been bailed out by Olga's family in Russia and Ukraine.

Her parents have taken out loans on their flat in Voronezh, Russia, and could be made homeless themselves if they fail to repay.

Nicolas was conceived in a hotel in Bristol on the only day they had time alone - when the older kids were out with family.

When she went into labour Olga took a taxi to hospital alone and returned the day after Nicolas was born.

Premier Inn staff called him their "first hotel baby".

Luke said he couldn't get work due to not having an address and constantly moving, and has been turned down at interviews due to the impending LGO report, he claims.

In a joint statement, Councillor Paul Smith, cabinet member for homes and communities, and Councillor Helen Godwin, cabinet member for women, children and families, said: “We would like to apologise for any hurt caused to the family and for any failures that led to them living in unsuitable conditions for such a long time.

“While we recognise that the situation was unacceptable for a family with young children, we do believe that we tried to do our best for the family on a number of occasions.

"This includes making discretionary housing payments available on two occasions, to help the family find private rented sector accommodation.

“In March 2017 we took a new homelessness application and accepted the family’s application for social housing. In June 2017 the family were allocated a three bedroom council house.

“The welfare of families is a priority for the council and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of vulnerable young people is something we take very seriously. We recognise however that on this occasion we did not live up to our usual high standards.

“This has been a particularly unusual case due to the length of time since the application and the difficulties in being able to make meaningful contact with the family.

“The council will be complying with all recommendations set out in the report, and has already addressed most of the issues raised and learned some valuable lessons from this case."

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