The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Due to the passage of time and the lack of evidence I am unable to reach a conclusion regarding what happened to Miss C’s housing application between 2007 and 2013. There is no evidence of fault in the Council’s actions after January 2013.
- Miss C complains that the Royal Borough of Greenwich (the Council) in respect of her housing application:
- cancelled her application (made in 2007) in 2008 but failed to notify her;
- allowed her to make bids on the cancelled reference number;
- holds three incorrect records saying she made an application in 2008 and two more in 2011;
- failed to backdate her application when she discovered the errors in 2013;
- has taken insufficient action to help her find accommodation since her landlord issued a notice to quit in May 2014;
- has been rude and unhelpful since she has tried to resolve the problem.
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 normally investigate late complaints unless she decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. I have also given the Council and the complainant the opportunity comment on a draft of my decision.
What I found
- Miss C says she first registered for housing on 30 January 2007. At the time she was pregnant, homeless and staying with friends/family. She used her sister’s address for correspondence. She was given number 111 and bid for accommodation until she secured a private tenancy in March 2007, helped by a deposit guarantee bond from the Council. She says she was advised to keep bidding on this number until she secured Council accommodation. She says she moved from this address to her current address in May 2009. She says she only applied for housing on one occasion in 2007 and was only ever given one number, 111.
- The Council says Miss C first registered for housing on 10 August 2006 from a friend’s address for herself and one child. This application was given number 111. Miss C has pointed out this cannot be true because her child was not born until July 2007 so she was not pregnant in August 2006. The Council agrees she contacted the Council on 30 January 2007 saying she was at risk of homelessness. But it says she secured a private tenancy in April 2008. The Council says it cancelled application 111 on 16 April 2008 because Miss C had moved address.
- It says she re-registered for housing on 28 May 2008 from her new address with application 222. It cancelled this application on 17 May 2010 because Miss C did not return the annual renewal letter. It has provided a screen-shot of its system showing a record of cancellation on 17 May 2010. It shows the application reference as 222, the application address as the property she moved to in March 2007 and the current address as the property she moved to in May 2009 (and where she still lives).
- The Council says Miss C re-applied from her current address on 29 July 2011 and this was given number 333. The application was suspended pending verification checks. Miss C says she did not make an application on this date and has never been given number 333.
- In January 2013 Miss C discovered that application 111 had been cancelled but she still appeared to be able to bid for properties using that number. She contacted the Council. It says the officer advised her to provide ID for all the family members on application 333 so it could be activated. It also said she could request backdating of the registration date if she put her reasons in writing.
- The Council said Miss C asked for her partner Mr B and youngest child to be added to application 333 in May 2013. Miss C says this is not correct because her youngest child was not born until August 2013. Her other two children were born in July 2007 and June 2008 so none of these dates correlate. But the Council had asked for ID for all family members in January 2013 so it is possible she provided a birth certificate for one of her two eldest children.
- The Council made application 333 live on 30 October 2013 following receipt of documents from Miss C, including her youngest child’s birth certificate. The Council sent her a letter dated 30 October 2013, returning the ‘short’ birth certificate and asking her to submit the longer version or an additional letter from Child Tax Credit or Child Benefit. This letter had the reference 111 handwritten at the top. The Council says this was an error and reference 333 was used at all times to manage her application.
- Miss C submitted a medical assessment form in April 2013 due to concerns about the effect of the property on the family’s health. The Council put this on hold until the application was activated.
- An Environmental Health Officer (EHO) visited the property in May 2013 and noted some mould in the two bedrooms and kitchen and small amounts in the bathroom and living room. She also noted the light in the bathroom did not work, some window catches were broken and several doors did not fit properly. The EHO wrote to the landlord on 7 May 2013 notifying him of the problems. The EHO considered they were minor problems which did not amount to hazards. The landlord decided the property needed to be empty to carry out the repairs so he issued a Notice to Quit in July 2013.
- The Council says the EHO did not consider there was anything which would require regulatory action or Miss C moving out. It said the officer took informal steps with the landlord to remedy the defects but this proved challenging due to the volume of possessions in the property. It says Miss C has failed to engage with the Environmental Health Officer since then to enable the disrepair to be remedied.
- In November 2013 the Council decided not to award medical priority because it considered the problems with the property could be resolved. It says it does not award medical priority where factors which affect a person’s health are not part of the fabric or design of the property but can be altered or repaired.
- The landlord issued another Notice to Quit in July 2014. The Council gave advice about finding alternative private rented accommodation. Miss C says the Council agreed this would not be possible because they did not have anyone to act as a rent guarantor. Her landlord has not taken legal action to evict them so the Council closed their housing case.
- The Council says the EHO is willing to visit again to carry out a further assessment of the current conditions in the property.
- Miss C first contacted her MP in 2013, who corresponded with the Council on the issues she had raised. She made a formal complaint in May 2014 and June 2014. The Council did not uphold her complaint. It accepted it was possible to log onto the bidding system with an old reference but it said it was not possible to actually bid on a property. It said it had not received a request in writing to backdate her application.
- Following a home visit on 30 June 2014, the Council increased the priority on her application to band B due to overcrowding. Miss C says this should have been increased from August 2013 when her second son was born.
2007 - 2013
- There are several differences between Miss C’s account of her housing history and that given by the Council:
- She says she moved in to private rented accommodation in March 2007 whereas the Council says she moved in April 2008. The Council has provided no documentary evidence to support its view beyond one screen-shot showing a registration date in April 2008 for application 222. I am satisfied that Miss C knows when she moved house and accept her version of events on this point.
- She says she did not submit further applications in May 2008 and July 2011. The Council has provided its records saying that she did but there is no supporting paper documentation. I cannot explain how these applications were made and verified. Miss C believes they were fabricated.
- There is evidence that the Council correctly advised Miss C in January 2013 that she needed to provide documentation to activate her claim and write to housing allocations explaining what had happened since 2007. Miss C did not supply sufficient documentation until October 2013. Even though the birth certificate for her second child was not sufficient evidence, the Council activated the application from this date. The Council was not at fault for the delay in activating Miss C’s application between January and October 2013.
- There is no evidence that Miss C submitted a formal written request for backdating giving her reasons why she thought this should happen. Given this lack of request combined with the lack of evidence for the period prior to 2013 I am unable to find fault with the Council for not backdating the application.
- The Council says it only increased her housing priority from the date Miss C provided the necessary proof of identity for her youngest son, which it had requested on 30 October 2013. As Miss C did not provide the required evidence until June 2014 I cannot criticise the Council for not increasing her priority at an earlier stage.
Medical assessment, Repairs and Notice to Quit
- In respect of the medical assessment the Council has considered all Miss C’s circumstances and reached a view that she is not entitled to any further priority. I cannot find any fault in the way the decision was made.
- The Council has considered the condition of Miss C’s property but not identified any disrepair which renders the property uninhabitable. The repair of the property is outside the Council’s control unless there are any defects which render the property hazardous. The Council’s offer to revisit the property seems to be a positive way forward.
- Equally the landlord’s failure to take legal action any further is outside of the Council’s control and so it cannot assist Miss C under the homelessness legislation unless he takes the matter to court and obtains a possession order.
- I have completed my investigation into this complaint because:
- given the passage of time and the lack of evidence, I am unable to reach a safe conclusion as to what happened to Miss C’s housing applications between 2008 and 2011;
- I cannot find fault with the actions of the Council since January 2013 causing injustice to Miss C.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman