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London Borough of Lewisham (20 013 304)

Category : Benefits and tax > Housing benefit and council tax benefit

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 03 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault by the Council in the way it dealt with Mr X’s request to appeal its housing benefit decision.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains that the Council has not determined his claim for housing benefit or transferred his case to an independent tribunal as he requested. He says that the Council has also not responded to his complaint. Mr X says that he is very worried that his housing provider will ask him to leave because he is unable to pay the correct amount.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
  • any fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • any injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  2. The Social Entitlement Chamber (also known as the Social Security Appeal Tribunal) is a tribunal that considers housing benefit appeals. (The Social Entitlement Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal)
  3. 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. I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • considered the Council’s comments;
    • considered Housing Benefit Circular A8/2014;
    • considered Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit guidance, Part A4, Eligible Rent; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

Overview

  1. Mr X lives in supported accommodation for vulnerable adults. He considers the Council should provide help with his housing costs through housing benefit because he lives in “exempt accommodation”.
  2. For Mr X to be entitled to this extra help, his landlord would need to meet certain criteria. The Council does not consider his landlord complies with the criteria, and so does not consider Mr X lives in “exempt accommodation”.
  3. The Council has received several applications from other tenants of the same housing provider. It has referred one of the cases to an independent tribunal. The Council says the decision on that case will create a precedent that the other cases will be considered against.

Analysis

  1. As explained in paragraph three, we will not usually investigate a complaint where the complainant has a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. While the Council has not referred Mr X’s case to the tribunal, the outcome of the other case will determine whether the accommodation is exempt, and therefore whether Mr X is entitled to extra help with his housing costs. I do not consider the Council’s decision to await the outcome of the other appeal is fault.
  2. The housing provider will be aware that one of the cases has been referred to the tribunal. The Council should have also told Mr X that it was awaiting the outcome of that appeal before determining his case. But I do not consider this caused Mr X any significant injustice.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold Mr X’s complaint. There was no fault by the Council.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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