The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was not at fault when it stopped providing
Mr X with accommodation under section 17 of the Children Act. The Council carried out a full assessment. There is no evidence of fault in how the Council did this. The Ombudsman cannot question a decision taken without fault.
- Mr X complains the Council refused to provide him with accommodation under section 17 of the Children Act.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- 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
- An investigator spoke with Mr X. I have considered his written complaint and the Council’s response to my enquiries.
- Mr X and the Council have had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- When someone applies to a council for accommodation and it has reason to believe they may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, several duties arise, including;
- to make enquiries;
- to secure suitable interim accommodation for applicants who may be eligible for support and in “priority need” pending the result of enquiries; and
- to tell the applicant of the decision in writing and the right to seek a review of the decision.
- is homeless or threatened with homelessness;
- is eligible for support;
- has a priority need (e.g. is vulnerable, has dependent children etc.);
- has not made themselves intentionally homeless.
Accommodation and the Children Act 1989
- Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 relates to the duty to safeguard and protect the welfare of children in need. It states that it is the general duty of every council to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and so far is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs”.
- The Act also says the services provided by councils, under section 17, may include providing accommodation. Councils also have a duty to promote the upbringing of children in need by their families, and should ensure any accommodation provided under section 17 is given to the whole family.
- Mr X lived in a privately rented property with his two children. In August 2016 Mr X’s landlord evicted the family from the property due to unpaid rent since October 2015. Mr X approached the Council and it placed Mr X and his children in interim accommodation while it carried out homelessness enquiries.
- Following its enquiries, the Council found Mr X to be intentionally homeless. It said he had not tried to meet his rent, and while eligible for housing benefit had let the claim be cancelled. The Council told Mr X he had a right to review the decision but he should leave its interim accommodation by 29 November 2016.
- The Council’s housing team then referred the matter to its children’s services team, as Mr X’s children were now at risk of homelessness. The Council wrote to Mr X at the start of November advising him to find alternative accommodation and how to do so. The Council then spoke to Mr X on 14 November 2016. Mr X said the Council should be finding his accommodation for him.
- The Council then carried out an assessment of Mr X and the children. It had no concerns over Mr X’s parenting and said he was meeting the children’s needs. However, the Council decided the children’s development would be hindered if they became homeless and decided to provide the family with accommodation under section 17 of the Children Act.
- The Council met with Mr X in February 2017. Mr X continued to protest he was not intentionally homeless, though he had not lodged an appeal against the decision or provided the Council with any information to challenge it. Mr X also refused to allow the Council to speak to his children alone. The Council advised Mr X that accommodation under section 17 was not a long-term solution and he was responsible for providing his children with a home.
- The Council agreed several action points with Mr X. These included Mr X seeking legal advice to discover if he could challenge the homelessness decision, and engaging with children’s services to find a home.
- In June 2017 the Council carried out a new assessment of Mr X and his children. It said Mr X continued to not engage or try to find a new home. He had ample time to resolve the situation but had refused support and visits from the Council. The assessment said Mr X was deliberately living on a reduced income as he refused to claim housing benefit he was eligible for. The Council said there was no suggestion the children were at risk or Mr X could not meet their needs. The Council gave Mr X 28 days’ notice to leave the accommodation.
- Mr X complained to the Council in July 2017. The Council did not uphold Mr X’s complaint and said it had assessed the family properly. Mr X remained unhappy and complained to the Ombudsman.
- Mr X had a right to ask for a review of the Council’s homelessness decision and challenge any review in county court. Mr X did not do this. It is reasonable to expect Mr X to have appealed to the court as the court is the appropriate place to consider disputes about homelessness. It is not the role of the Ombudsman.
- The Council provided Mr X and his children with accommodation under section 17 of the Children Act for over six months. The Council tried to engage with Mr X to find new accommodation. Mr X consistently refused this support and said the Council should continue to provide him and his children with accommodation.
- Accommodation provided under section 17 is not intended to be indefinite or a long-term solution. When the Council decided to stop providing Mr X with accommodation it carried out a full assessment. It was satisfied the children were not at risk and it had given Mr X enough time to resolve the situation. This is a decision the Council is entitled to take. There is no evidence of fault in how the Council carried out the assessment or took the decision to end its involvement with Mr X. The Ombudsman cannot question a decision taken without fault.
- I have completed my investigation as there is no evidence of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman