Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 23 Sep 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C complains that the Council failed to provide him with adequate support with his housing and social care needs. I have concluded my investigation on the basis that there was no fault in the way the Council dealt with the issues Mr C has raised.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr C, complains about the housing and social care support provided by the Council. Mr C complains that:
- The Council failed to act after he reported harassment from his landlord.
- The Council has failed to adequately assist Mr C with his homelessness application.
- The Council failed to carry out an assessment of his care needs.
- The Council have failed to respond to all the above complaints, ignores his correspondence and has failed to make any reasonable adjustments for his mental health issues when communicating with him.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and information received from Mr C; and
- reviewed and considered information received from the Council; and
- spoke with Mr C’s representative about the complaint.
What I found
- If a Council has reason to believe an applicant may be homeless, it must make any inquiries necessary to satisfy itself what duty it owes to the applicant. (Housing Act 1996, section 184)
- If an applicant is eligible for assistance and homeless or threatened with homelessness, councils must complete a housing assessment and draw up a personalised housing plan. Councils must notify the applicant of the outcome of the assessment. They should work with the applicant to identify practical and reasonable steps for the council and the applicant to take to help the applicant keep, or secure, suitable accommodation. These steps should be tailored to the individual applicant, and follow from the findings of the assessment, and must be provided to the applicant in writing as their personalised housing plan. (Housing Act 1996, section 189A and Homelessness Code of Guidance paragraphs 11.6 and 11.18)
- If a council is satisfied an applicant is homeless, it is subject to the ‘relief duty’. This duty lasts until the applicant:
- finds suitable accommodation that is available for at least six months; or
- refuses suitable accommodation; or
- becomes intentionally homeless from any accommodation that was made available;
- is no longer eligible for assistance; or
- withdraws the application.
The duty also ends if at least 56 days have passed (even if the applicant is still homeless).
- During the relief duty period, the Council should try to relieve the applicant’s homelessness. However, this does not mean it is under a duty to actually secure accommodation for the person. (Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, section 189B(2))
- Homeless applicants may request a review within 21 days of being notified of the suitability of accommodation offered to the applicant after a homelessness duty has been accepted (and the suitability of accommodation offered under section 200(3) and section 193). Applicants can request a review of the suitability of accommodation whether or not they have accepted the offer.
- Councils must complete the review within eight weeks of receiving the review request. This period can be extended but only if the applicant agrees in writing. If the applicant wishes to challenge the review decision, or if a council takes more than eight weeks to complete the review, they may appeal on a point of law to the County Court (Housing Act 1996, sections 202 and 204)
- If a council is satisfied an applicant is homeless, eligible for assistance, and has a priority need the council has a duty to secure that accommodation is available for their occupation (unless it refers the application to another housing authority under section 198). But councils will not owe the main housing duty to applicants who have turned down a suitable final accommodation offer or a Housing Act Part 6 offer made during the relief stage, or if a council has given them notice under section 193B(2) due to their deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate. (Housing Act 1996, section 193 and Homelessness Code of Guidance 15.39)
Landlord harassment and illegal eviction
- Private tenants may complain to the Council if they consider their landlord is harassing them or is trying to evict them. Councils have powers under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to investigate complaints of harassment by tenants against their landlord and prosecute landlords if there is evidence to substantiate the tenant’s complaints.
- The Protection from Eviction Act defines harassment as acts likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of those living in the property or the persistent withdrawal of services that are reasonably required for the occupation of the property. An offence is committed if it can be shown that a person knows or had reasonable cause to believe their conduct is likely to cause the occupier to leave or prevent them from exercising any right or remedy in respect of the property.
- In order to successfully prosecute a landlord for harassment the Council has to prove the act complained of by the tenant and whether the landlord knew or had reasonable cause to believe that their actions would cause the tenant to leave the property or not exercise their right or remedy in respect of the property.
Care needs assessments
- Sections 9 and 10 of the Care Act 2014 require local authorities to carry out an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support. They must provide an assessment to all people regardless of their finances or whether the local authority thinks an individual has eligible needs. The assessment must be of the adult’s needs and how they impact on their wellbeing and the results they want to achieve. It must also involve the individual and where suitable their carer or any other person they might want involved.
- The Council must carry out the assessment over a suitable and reasonable timescale considering the urgency of needs and any variation in those needs. Local authorities should tell the individual when their assessment will take place and keep the person informed throughout the assessment.
- The Care and Support (Eligibility Criteria) Regulations 2014 sets out the eligibility threshold for adults with care and support needs and their carers. The threshold is based on identifying how a person’s needs affect their ability to achieve relevant outcomes, and how this impacts their wellbeing.
- Where local authorities have determined that a person has any eligible needs, they must meet these needs. When a local authority has decided a person is or is not eligible for support it must provide the person to whom the determination relates (the adult or carer) with a copy of its decision.
- Mr C lives in privately rented accommodation, which I shall refer to as Property W. In October 2018, the landlord of Property W issued Mr C with a Section 21 eviction notice.
- Mr C contacted the Council requesting it support his housing need, stating that he would only consider privately rented accommodation. Because of this the Council made the decision to work outside of the statutory homelessness procedure and arrange for a housing provider to work with Mr C to secure a private tenancy. However, none of the private landlords approached would offer Mr C a tenancy.
- Mr C contacted the Council and asked to be considered for a council tenancy at a two-bedroom property that I shall refer to as Property X. The Council explained that under its allocations policy, Mr C would have only been entitled to a one-bedroom property but said that it had approved Mr C’s request as a reasonable adjustment. Mr C subsequently signed a tenancy agreement for Property X.
- Mr C raised concerns about the safety of the electrics at Property X, prompting the Council to organise an electrical inspection. The results of the inspection confirmed the property was safe, but recommended some minor works be completed.
- The Council subsequently contacted Mr C’s landlord and negotiated that the eviction process would be suspended until works had been completed at Property X and it was ready for Mr C to move in to.
- Mr C then told the Council that he planned to stay at Property W and fight the upcoming eviction proceedings. The Council told Mr C if he were to stay at Property W, there was a risk he could be evicted by the Courts, which could cause him further stress. The Council asked Mr C to confirm if he still wanted to move into Property X.
- Mr C subsequently terminated his tenancy at Property X. The Council asked him to reconsider and offered to lay new carpets and install a security alarm. Mr C said he had been assaulted in Property W, and suspected the landlord was responsible. Mr C said Property X was not suitable due to it being so close to Property W and he would not feel safe there.
- During this period Mr C sent a large amount of emails to the Council. The Council therefore made the decision to create a managed mailbox for Mr C’s correspondence. The Council explained that the mailbox was monitored, and information was forwarded to the relevant departments.
- The Council wrote to Mr C to explain that they were now considering his housing situation under the statutory homeless procedures, and offered him a property which I shall refer to as Property Y. The Council also offered Mr C a range of temporary accommodation which he could occupy in the interim.
- Property Y is near Mr C’s parents and more than 2 miles from Property X. The Council explained that it was satisfied that the offer was suitable and reasonable and that it was a final offer.
- Mr C requested that the Council carry out a review of the suitability of Property Y. He said that he had concerns about previous criminal activity in the property and would not feel safe there. He also said that the Council had not considered his mental health issues when dealing with his housing needs. Mr C included a letter from his GP in support of his request.
- The Council accepted Mr C’s request for a review and said it would be completed in 8 weeks. The Council offered Mr C a range of temporary accommodation options which he could accept until the review was complete.
- The Council wrote to Mr C informing him that it had carried out a review of the suitability of Property Y during which they had considered the size, location, affordability and health and safety of the property. It also considered concerns raised by Mr C, reviewed the letter from his GP and made enquiries with police.
- The Council wrote to Mr C to inform him that the suitability review was complete and concluded that Property Y was suitable. The Council said that no further offer of accommodation would be made, and if Mr C did not accept the offer the Councils duty under the Housing Act would end. It said that if he wishes to, Mr C could appeal the decision in court.
Landlord harassment and illegal eviction
- In addition to his request for housing support, Mr C also contacted the Council and asked them to act against the landlord of Property W. Mr C said the landlord was harassing him as he had arranged for work to be carried out in the garden without consulting him. Mr C said that workman had left the property in an unsafe condition, due to waste being left in an alley next to the property. Mr C also said that he had been assaulted and suspected the landlord was responsible.
- The Council said that the Landlord is entitled to change the garden as they see fit, and while he may have disregarded Mr C’s privacy when authorising workman to enter his garden without informing him, it did not consider this to be sufficient justification to pursue enforcement action against the landlord.
- The Council told Mr C that his assault was a criminal matter and urged him to report this to the police.
- The Council’s Environmental Enforcement Team visited Property W and noted that there was waste in the alley but did not consider there to be enough evidence to take enforcement action against the landlord. The Council subsequently arranged for the waste to be removed.
- In July 2018, Mr C contacted the Council to complain that his social care needs were not being met. Records show that he Mental Health Assessment Team called Mr C, who said he was managing and did not require an assessment. Mr C subsequently failed to attend an appointment to assess his mental health needs.
- Records show that the Social Care team subsequently attempted to call Mr C but received no response, the team also carried out a home visit, but Mr C did not appear to be home.
- Mr C explained to the Council he only wanted to be contacted by email. A Social Worker (SW) was allocated to him, who emailed him an assessment form but explained that in order to complete an assessment a home visit would be necessary.
- The SW arranged two home visits in order to carry out an assessment, but on both occasions Mr C cancelled the appointments. The SW again contacted Mr C and asked him to contact him when he felt he could proceed with the assessment.
- A final home visit was arranged, but Mr C’s father contacted the SW to say his son had lost faith in him and was not prepared to engage in the assessment any further.
- Upon contacting the Council, it told the Ombudsman that it had made every effort to assess Mr C’s needs, had referred him to an external agency who could have provided him with an advocate to provide him with support, including help completing forms.
- The Council said that when it set up the managed mailbox his emails were acknowledged automatically, which gave him the impression his emails were being ignored. The Council say that once made aware of this the automatic message was changed, and apologise for any stress this caused Mr C.
- Mr C clearly remains dissatisfied with the service and support he received from the Council after his homelessness application.
- Having reviewed the Council’s records I have found no fault with how it managed Mr C’s homelessness application, and in doing so I have concluded that it considered C’s mental health issues when dealing with the matter.
Landlord harassment and eviction
- Mr C believes he has suffered from harassment from his landlord and the Council should have taken enforcement action.
- It is not for the Ombudsman to question decisions taken by properly trained council officers when decisions are taken without fault. The Ombudsman’s role is to look at how decisions were taken.
- It is therefore for councils to decide if harassment has taken place, and if enforcement action is expedient.
- The Council considered Mr C’s complaints and attended Mr C’s property but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify enforcement action but did arrange for waste to be removed from the property. Some of Mr C’s allegations were of a criminal nature, and the Council told Mr C that he would need to report these matters to the police.
- The Council’s decision not to take enforcement action in this case is one it is entitled to make. I therefore do not find fault with how it reached its decision.
- Mr C clearly remains dissatisfied with how the Council have managed his requests for his care needs to be assessed.
- Having reviewed documents sent by the Council it appears that it has made significant attempts to engage Mr C in the assessment process, but has unable to assess his needs due to appointments being cancelled by Mr C. Furthermore, the Council referred Mr C to an agency who could have aided Mr C through the process with the help of the advocate.
- On the evidence I have seen, I am satisfied that the Council took reasonable steps to engage Mr C with the assessment of his care needs. I therefore do not find fault with the Council in this matter.
Correspondence and complaints
- In investigating Mr C’s complaint, all complaint correspondence has been reviewed. Mr C submitted a large number of correspondences to the Council, and it made the decision to set up a mailbox In order to better manage these correspondence. This is something it is entitled to do, and I therefore do not find fault with this decision.
- While the Council did not acknowledge all the emails it received from Mr C, I am satisfied that it did respond to the issues he raised in its complaint’s responses. I therefore see no fault with its handling of his complaint.
- I have concluded my investigation on the basis that there was no fault in how the Council dealt with the issues raised by Mr C.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- Mr C complains that Property Y was unsuitable. The Council carried out a suitability review and concluded that it was suitable. The suitability of housing can be challenged by appealing to the county court. The Ombudsman generally expects these appeal rights to be used to challenge the suitability of accommodation.
- I will not investigate the suitability of Property Y further because I consider it reasonable for Mr Y to appeal to the county court.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman