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Kent County Council (20 010 966)

Category : Adult care services > Transition from childrens services

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms B says the Council failed to set up direct payments of rent to her as landlord for a care leaver she provided accommodation for and failed to act when there were problems with rent arrears and antisocial behaviour. There is no fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms B, provided rented accommodation to a young adult who was a care leaver. I will refer to the young adult as Miss D. Ms B complained the Council:
    • failed to set up rent payments direct to her, as landlord, when it should have done because Miss D was a care leaver;
    • failed to act when she told the Council about Miss D not paying her rent; and
    • failed to act when she reported antisocial behaviour and threats from Miss D and her partner.
  2. Ms B says inaction by the Council meant her family had to temporarily move out of their home and they have experienced distress and financial loss.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a Council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and Ms B's comments;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided.
  2. Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

What should have happened

  1. The Council has a local offer for young people who are care leavers. I will refer to this as the local offer. This says where a local authority looked after, accommodated or fostered a young adult, and they are deemed as qualifying for advice and assistance, the local authority has a duty to take reasonable steps to contact them with a view to advising and assisting them. They may receive support, advice and assistance (including, in exceptional circumstances, cash or accommodation) wherever they are living.
  2. The local offer says the Council has a rent deposit and rent guarantee scheme that can be accessed by care leavers, enabling them to seek housing in the private rented sector. Care leavers must be in employment or in higher education to ensure they can afford to pay the rent to be eligible for the rent guarantor scheme.
  3. The Council has a protocol between its children’s services team and district and borough local housing authorities for the provision of accommodation for care leavers. I will refer to that as the protocol. The protocol says for many care leavers gaining practical skills required to live independently is challenging. It says research shows tenancies for care leavers have a relatively high failure rate in the first few months after leaving care and the aim is to avoid that by providing good planning and preparation with each care leaver.
  4. The protocol refers to the 2010 (and 2011, 2014) regulations set out under Volume 3 of the Children Act 1989. It says these have strengthened an emphasis on leaving care as being a transitional period rather than something that occurs at a particular point in time. Care leavers are expected to receive support from their responsible authority (the local authority that last looked after them) up to their 25th birthday if they so wish and are eligible. The aim of such continuing support is to ensure care leavers are provided with comprehensive personal support so they achieve their potential as they make the transition to adulthood.
  5. The protocol says the local housing authority (in this case the district council) will seek to place the care leaver in accommodation within a reasonable time frame.
  6. The protocol says where it can be identified that a care leaver is at risk of homelessness the Council’s personal adviser (PA) will have a responsibility to inform the relevant local housing authority as soon as possible
  7. The protocol says once a care leaver has accessed independent accommodation in the private rented sector, their PA will offer them support and guidance with respect of sustaining their tenancy.
  8. The protocol says alternative payment arrangements should be considered for all care leavers to enable the housing costs component of Universal Credit to be paid direct to the landlord where appropriate. The protocol says it may be decided it is in the best interests for the development of the care leaver that these are not put into place.

What happened

  1. Ms B rented a flat to Miss D from 23 April 2020. The tenancy agreement was arranged between Ms B and an advocate from the Young Lives Foundation. That advocate provided the Council with the tenancy agreement made between Ms B and Miss D and told the Council Ms B was happy for Miss D to move in the following day if the Council paid the deposit and first month’s rent. The advocate also asked about the rent guarantor scheme.
  2. The Council told the advocate payment of the deposit and first month’s rent was a different scheme to the rent guarantor scheme. The Council told the advocate Miss D’s application for the guarantor scheme was not successful as she had failed on the affordability rating and therefore the Council would not stand as guarantor. The Council told the advocate if Miss D wanted to reapply she could complete a new form. The Council said it could pay the deposit and first month’s rent provided certain documents were submitted. The advocate provided those documents and the Council paid the deposit and first month’s rent.
  3. Ms B contacted the Council in September 2020 to tell it Miss D was in arrears with her rent as she had not paid in August or September. The Council provided Ms B with a link to the DWP site for her to apply for direct payments of rent. Ms B asked the Council for Miss D’s date of birth to enable her to complete the DWP form. The Council said it could not provide Ms B with those details without Miss D’s consent and it did not have her consent. The Council suggested Ms B asked Miss D for her date of birth.
  4. Ms B contacted the Council on 11 October. Ms B said when she told Miss D she would report her to the DWP for benefit fraud if she did not provide her date of birth that resulted in Miss D reporting Ms B for noise disturbance. The Council sent Ms B a link to information about private landlords and antisocial behaviour.
  5. The PA for Miss D visited her to discuss the issue of rent arrears. The Council told Ms B that Miss D had said she would set up a payment plan.
  6. Ms B contacted the Council on 16 October to tell it Miss D’s partner had visited their property and threatened them. The Council suggested Ms B keep a log and report any issues to the police.
  7. Ms B subsequently told the Council Miss D intended to wait until she was evicted and then apply to the Council as homeless. The Council suggested a meeting with Ms B and Miss D. Ms B agreed but Miss D refused to attend. The Council referred the case to Thanet Council due to the potential homeless issues involved.
  8. Ms B complained to the Council about a lack of support. The Council explained the rental agreement between Ms B and Miss D was a private arrangement. The Council suggested Ms B seek legal advice from the citizens advice bureau.
  9. Ms B told the Council at the end of October Miss D now had four months rent arrears. Ms B also raised concerns about the impact on her due to debt and the safety of her own family. The Council explained Miss D was an adult and it could only advise and guide her and did not have legal authority to make decisions on her behalf.
  10. Miss D told the Council on 11 November she had set up a direct debit to pay her rent to Ms B. However, at the end of November Ms B told the Council Miss D had not paid any rent. Miss D’s PA again spoke to her about the need to pay her rent and the implications of not doing so.
  11. Ms B moved out of her home temporarily in December 2020. Ms B subsequently issued a notice of eviction as Miss D had more than six months rent arrears.
  12. Miss D moved out of the property in January 2021.

Analysis

  1. Ms B says the Council failed to consider setting up rent payments direct to Ms B, as landlord, rather than to Miss D. Ms B says Council should have done that automatically as Miss D was a care leaver. The Council’s protocol, which I refer to in paragraph 14, does provide for alternative payment arrangements for care leavers. That is where the rent part of universal credit is paid direct to the landlord. However, that is not automatic and depends on the circumstances of the case. In this case I am satisfied the Council had no involvement in setting up the tenancy for Miss D. I am satisfied the tenancy between Ms B and Miss D was instead set up by Miss D’s advocate. The Council only knew about the tenancy once the advocate informed the Council about it. As the Council had no involvement in setting up the tenancy it was not involved in the application for universal credit and therefore had no opportunity to consider whether alternative payment arrangements were necessary. I therefore have no grounds to criticise it. I am satisfied though when the Council became aware of the rent arrears building up at the property it correctly advised Ms B to apply to DWP to have the rent paid directly to her. That is the action I would have expected the Council to take. I understand Ms B could not complete that process because she did not have Miss D’s date of birth. However, I cannot criticise the Council for refusing to provide that given it did not have Miss D’s permission to share her information with Ms B.
  2. Ms B says the Council failed to act when she reported issues with Miss D’s tenancy. Ms B says she made clear to the Council Miss D did not intend to pay any rent as she wanted to be evicted. Ms B says the Council should have acted given Miss D was a care leaver, in order to prevent homelessness. I set out in paragraphs 10-13 the responsibility the Council has to a person who has left care. I understand the difficulties Ms B was experiencing given Miss D did not pay any rent. However, while the Council has a responsibility to support Miss D it does not have any responsibility in relation to the tenancy agreement between Ms B and Miss D as it was not involved in setting it up. In this case I am satisfied the Council took action when it became aware of the issues with the tenancy. While I cannot provide Ms B with details of specific interactions with Miss D, Ms B is aware the PA allocated to Miss D met with her and explained her responsibility to pay rent and the implications of not doing so. The Council also carried out a budgeting plan with Miss D and referred her to the district council. It is the district council, rather than the County Council, that is responsible for handling any homelessness issues and for looking at rehousing. The Council also attempted to set up a meeting between Ms B and Miss D but was unable to do so because Miss D refused to engage. I understand it is upsetting for Ms B to be faced with a tenant who would not engage and was not paying her rent. However, the Council’s role was to provide support and advise Miss D. It could not force Miss D to take specific action. As I am satisfied the Council provided Miss D with support and made the appropriate referral to the district council in relation to her housing I have no grounds to criticise it.
  3. Ms B says the Council failed to act when she reported antisocial behaviour by Miss D and her partner. Having considered the documentary evidence there is relatively little evidence of antisocial behaviour reported. The only instances I can identify, other than general loud voices and arguing, relates to a threat from Miss D’s partner in October 2020, a broken front door in January 2021 and concerns Miss D raised about a threat from an ex-partner in January 2021. I am satisfied the Council acted appropriately by liaising with Miss D and advising Ms B to keep diary sheets. Given the relatively few instances of reported antisocial behaviour I do not consider there is anything further the Council could have been expected to do. I therefore have no grounds to criticise it.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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