The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman has found fault by the Council in its handling of Miss X’s request for assistance with her housing. The Council has agreed to help her submit a new housing register application and to apologise. The Ombudsman considers this suitably addresses the injustice caused to Miss X and so she has ended her investigation of this complaint.
- Miss X says the Council failed to properly address her housing need when she reported an incident of domestic violence in her home and sought rehousing. In particular she says the Council:
- made her an offer of unsuitable accommodation which she refused;
- acted unreasonably by deciding not to make her further offers of accommodation;
- failed to give her housing application the correct priority and
- is wrongly pursing her for rent arrears.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated Miss X’s concerns about the Council’s offer of accommodation and its consideration of her housing application. I have not considered Miss X’s concerns about action being taken against her for rent arrears. The later part of my statement explains my reasons for not doing so.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
- The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about the provision or management of social housing by a council acting as a registered social housing provider. (Local Government Act 1974, paragraph 5A schedule 5)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by Miss X. I also made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. I set out my view of the complaint in a draft decision statement and I invited Miss X and the Council to comment.
What I found
- Miss X and her son have lived in Property A since 2009. The property is provided by a registered social housing provider.
- Miss X reported an incident of domestic violence to the Council in early 2013. She told the Council she was staying with her sister. The Council told Miss X to submit a homelessness application, which she did.
- The Council spoke to Miss X’s landlord to see if it could offer her alternative accommodation but it could not and so the Council placed Miss X in temporary accommodation.
- The Council gave further consideration to Miss X’s homeless application. It appears it incorrectly assumed that she was a council tenant and so, due to the severity of her case, it awarded her social priority transfer status. The Council can only award such status to its own tenants.
- Due to the error the Council made Miss X a direct offer of accommodation in November 2013. Miss X initially accepted the property despite being unhappy with its condition. In particular she was unhappy with the quality of the bathroom and requested it be replaced.
- The Council investigated the property and promised to do some minor repairs but said it would not replace the bathroom as it was in a reasonable condition.
- Miss X was unhappy with the Council’s decision and decided to return to property A, despite being advised not to.
- The Council told Miss X that because she had refused an offer of suitable accommodation it had withdrawn her priority transfer status. For this reason it would not make any further direct offers of accommodation to her.
- Miss X remains on the Council’s housing register. Her application has been placed in the general band and assessed as having a two bedroom housing need.
- Miss X says she has been disadvantaged because the Council offered her unsuitable accommodation and withdrew her social priority status when she refused its offer. I do not agree. The Council can only award social priority status to its own tenants. Miss X is a tenant of a registered social landlord, not the Council, and should not have been made a direct offer of accommodation. I do not see that she was disadvantaged by the Council’s decision to withdraw accommodation she should not have been offered and, in any case, refused.
- I do however recognise the Council’s error in assuming she was a council tenant meant it did not handle her case as it should have. If it had recognised that Miss X was the tenant of a registered social landlord it would have referred her to its Housing Options and Advice Team to discuss what options were available to her. As a result of the Council’s failure Miss X did not receive this advice. Furthermore Miss X’s expectations were raised as she was led to believe she would receive an offer of permanent accommodation from the Council.
- While the Council did not arrange for Miss X to meet with its Housing Options and Advice Team as it should have done, it did take other measures. It spoke with her landlord to see if it could provide alternative accommodation for her but unfortunately it could not. The Council also placed Miss X in temporary accommodation. I am satisfied the Council took appropriate action to ensure Miss X’s safety when she made her initial approach.
- Miss X also completed a housing register form which the Council assessed. It found she had a two bedroom housing need and placed her application in its general band as Property A meets her current housing need. I am satisfied the Council correctly assessed her housing application. Miss X says she is unhappy living in Property A because she feels unsafe and she is in financial difficulties due to a shortfall between her housing benefit and her rent. I understand the Council has sent Miss X a new housing application form so she can tell it about the changes in her circumstances. Once Miss X has provided this information the Council can see if the changes alter her priority for housing.
- The Council has agreed to make an appointment with Miss X so that it can discuss her housing options and help her complete a new housing register form so it can assess if the changes in her circumstances alter her priority for housing.
- I found the Council to be at fault for making Miss X an offer of permanent accommodation when she was not eligible for such assistance. This raised Miss X’s expectations. The Council has agreed to write a letter of apology.
- I have found fault by the Council causing Miss X an injustice. I consider the actions set out above suitably addresses the injustice caused to her. Therefore I have ended my investigation of this complaint.
- Miss X says that her housing officer is unfairly pursuing her for rent arrears when he had promised not to do so. Miss X lives in accommodation provided by a registered social landlord and is not a council tenant. Therefore her housing officer works for her registered social landlord and not the Council. The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about registered social landlords.
Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman