The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault on the part of the Council in its consideration of Mr X’s medical conditions when offering him temporary accommodation or awarding priority on the housing register.
- The complainant whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council failed to properly consider his medical conditions and offered him unsuitable temporary accommodation while it assessed his homeless application.
- Mr X complains the Council also failed to take account of his medical conditions when determining his priority on the housing register. Mr X is currently in Band D and believes he should be in Band A.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by administrative fault. She can consider the way an authority makes its decisions, but it is not her role to comment on them unless they have been taken with fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3). If the Ombudsman finds fault but no injustice, she will not ask a council to provide a remedy. If she finds both fault and injustice, she may ask for a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1)).
- We will not consider complaints where the complainant has a right of appeal available to them as a means of challenging the Council’s decision. In the case of homelessness many of the decisions made by the Council can be challenged initially by asking the Council to reconsider the decision but if that is unsuccessful then there is a further right of challenge to the courts. We expect people to use this route if it is available to them and will not consider complaints about those matters.
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with Mr X; and
- sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
- Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 sets out councils’ responsibilities to those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. If an authority has reason to believe an applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must make such enquiries as are necessary to satisfy itself whether the applicant is eligible for assistance, and, if so, whether it owes a duty to the applicant. On completing its enquiries, the authority must notify the applicant in writing of its decision and the reasons for that decision. It must also notify the applicant of their right to request a review of the decision.
- The Act does not specify a time limit for completing enquiries, but the Homelessness Code of Guidance recommends local authorities complete enquiries and make a decision within 33 working days if possible.
- There is an immediate duty to arrange temporary accommodation when an authority believes an applicant may be eligible, homeless and in priority need. Reasonable belief is all that is necessary to establish this duty.
- Mr X received a Notice of Seeking Possession from his landlord in May 2014 and presented to the Council as homeless in June 2014. When Mr X left his property at the beginning of July 2014 he returned to the Council. The Council accepted Mr X may be eligible, homeless and priority need. It therefore offered him interim accommodation at a bed and breakfast while it investigated his homeless application. Its records show Mr X declined this and said he could stay with his father.
- Mr X approached the Council again a week or so later. He reported that he had been staying with his parents and in his car, and now wanted temporary accommodation. The Council arranged accommodation for Mr X in a shared house. Mr X visited the property with his father but decided not to accept it as he felt it was unsuitable.
- According to the Council’s records, Mr X advised the Council the property was not up to his standards. The property was also unsuitable as it had stairs and Mr X’s disabilities meant he could not climb stairs. Mr X informed the Council he would like a one bedroom flat on his own.
- The Council wrote to Mr X confirming it had discharged its duty to provide him with interim accommodation pending a decision on his homeless application. The Council had considered the medical evidence Mr X had supplied with his homeless application. This information did not suggest the accommodation it had offered was unsuitable on medical grounds. The letter from Mr X’s doctor referred to Mr X’s hearing disability, but did not mention the hand disability or foot disability Mr X stated he had.
- In addition the Council noted Mr X received the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Mr X received the lower level which is for those who require guidance or supervision outside rather than the higher rate which is awarded to those with a severe mobility problem. The Council did not therefore accept Mr X suffered any medical condition that would cause him to be unable to climb stairs. Mr X’s previous property had internal stairs and the Council noted Mr X had not suggested the property was unsuitable for this reason.
- The Council was satisfied the property was suitable in terms of space and arrangement; and that it was habitable and fit for occupation. The Council accepted the accommodation was not ideal, but did not consider it unsuitable in the short term. There is no statutory right of appeal against the Council’s decision that the property was suitable or that it had discharged its duty to provide interim accommodation.
- Having completed its investigation the Council determined Mr X was homeless, and eligible for assistance, but did not have a priority need. The Council advised Mr X of its decision on 6 August 2014. Mr X asked for a review of this decision. The reviewing officer upheld the Council’s decision that Mr X did not have a priority need. Mr X has a right of appeal against this decision.
- Mr X has not appealed the decision, but made a formal complaint to the Council. He was unhappy with both the homelessness review and the way the Council had considered his housing application. The Council’s housing allocation policy uses a banding system to allocate accommodation. There are four bands. Band A has the highest priority and Band D the lowest. Having determined Mr X’s homeless application, the Council added Mr X to the housing register. In accordance with its allocation policy, the Council placed Mr X in Band D as he was homeless but the Council did not owe him a full duty.
- Mr X believes the Council should have awarded him medical priority and placed him in Band A. The threshold for medical priority in Band A is extremely high. The Council’s allocation scheme describes this as:
“Those who need to move urgently because of a life threatening illness or sudden disability where the applicant’s property is directly contributing to the deterioration of an applicant’s health.”
- In response to Mr X’s complaint the Council reiterated its concerns about the medical evidence and information Mr X had provided. Mr X had repeatedly asserted to council officers that he suffered from and had received treatment for cancer. But neither Mr X nor his GP had provided any evidence to confirm this. The Council confirmed that in the absence of any further evidence it considered it had acted reasonably.
- As Mr X was unhappy with the Council’s response he has asked the Ombudsman to investigate.
- The Council’s response to my enquiries confirms it considered the interim accommodation it offered was suitable for Mr X’s needs. Mr X is a single man with no medical conditions that made specifically adapted accommodation essential. The Council states all accommodation is inspected by its Private Sector Housing Team to ensure the property is free from category one hazards and is suitable for temporary accommodation.
- The Council states it considered Mr X’s housing application in line with its allocation policy. It had a great deal of difficulty in ascertaining accurate details of Mr X’s medical conditions. Mr X provided limited information which the Council did not consider needed to be passed to the independent medical advisor. The Council believes officers gave Mr X appropriate advice and assistance.
- Since raising his concerns with the Ombudsman Mr X has moved into private rental accommodation with the assistance of a deposit guarantee from the Council.
- In response to my draft decision Mr X disputes the Council offered him interim accommodation at a bed and breakfast. He states the Council only offered unsuitable accommodation in a shared house which he refused. Mr X had broken his foot/ ankle earlier in the year. When the Council offered him this accommodation Mr X’s leg was no longer in plaster, but he still wore a plastic boot to support his foot. Mr X believes this injury, together with a problem with his hand which causes him difficulty in gripping meant the accommodation was unsuitable
- The Council had a duty to provide suitable temporary accommodation pending its decision on Mr X’s homeless application. In reaching its decision on the suitability of the accommodation the Council considered the medical evidence Mr X had provided. This included a letter from Mr X’s GP and a letter confirming an ophthalmology appointment. It also noted Mr X’s DLA award and his previous accommodation type. The Council determined there was no evidence that Mr X’s medical conditions prevented him from climbing stairs, or made the accommodation offered unsuitable. Mr X disagrees, but there is no evidence of fault in the way this decision was taken.
- The Council has considered Mr X’s housing application in accordance with its housing allocation policy. Mr X would like additional priority, but there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council determined Mr X’s priority.
- There was no fault on the part of the Council in its consideration of Mr X’s medical conditions when offering him temporary accommodation or awarding priority on the housing register.
- Mr X was unhappy with the Council’s decision that he was homeless, and eligible for assistance, but did not have a priority need. I have not considered this issue as Mr X had a right of appeal against this decision. The Ombudsman expects people to use this route if it is available to them and will not consider complaints about those matters.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman