The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault in how the Council considered Mr and Mrs X’s housing application. She has therefore ended her investigation of this complaint.
- Mr and Mrs X say the Council is at fault in its handling of their housing application. In particular they say the Council:
- did not consider medical information provided by them and so it wrongly refused their request for two bedroom accommodation;
- gave them conflicting information about why their request for two bedroom accommodation was refused and
- did not tell them about their right to appeal against the decision on their application.
They say the Council’s actions mean they are unable to bid for accommodation which is suitable for their needs.
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 question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. She must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
How I considered this complaint
- As part of my investigation I considered information supplied by Mr and Mrs X. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and documents it provided. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint in a draft decision statement and considered the Council’s and Mr and Mrs X’s comments in response.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs X live in privately rented two bedroom accommodation. Mr X has terminal cancer. He has chemotherapy two or three nights a week for which he must be attached to chemotherapy equipment. He also suffers from a medical condition which makes him restless and causes him to have to get up frequently to go to the toilet. For these reasons Mrs X sleeps in a separate bedroom.
- In July 2014 Mr and Mrs X submitted a housing application. The Council asked for evidence of Mr X’s medical conditions.
- Mr and Mrs X supplied information including letters from doctors treating Mr X, medical reports and social security correspondence.
- The Council told Mr and Mrs X their application had been awarded priority band D with eligibility for one bedroom accommodation.
- Mr and Mrs X wrote to the Council appealing against its decision. They included a new letter from Mr X’s doctor and a letter from their letting agents saying possession of their home was required in November.
- The Council considered their letter as a formal appeal and concluded that Mr and Mrs X’s application should be moved into priority band C because they were under threat of homelessness. The review did not alter the bedroom eligibility awarded to them.
- In late September the Council received a letter from Mr X’s Occupational Therapist (OT) setting out why Mr and Mrs X need separate bedrooms.
- Mr and Mrs X complained about the Council’s decision on their appeal. They provided further information to the Council including a letter from Mr X’s surgeon supporting Mr and Mrs X’s request for separate bedrooms.
- The Council considered the complaint but it was not upheld. It also wrote to Mr and Mrs X’s MP. In both letters the Council made reference to the fact that Mr and Mrs X would not be entitled to Housing Benefit (HB) for a two bedroom property but it did not say this was the reason for not awarding them eligibility for two bedroom accommodation.
- The Council also wrote to Mr X’s surgeon asking for further information about her view that his medication required a separate bedroom. The Council has not received a reply.
- Under the Council’s allocations policy, as a married couple, Mr and Mrs X are only entitled to one bedroom.
- However the Council’s policy says it will consider requests for an additional bedroom if there is clear evidence of a medical need for a person to sleep alone. The Council has considered all the medical evidence supplied by Mr and Mrs X. It has reviewed its decision in line with the allocations policy and is satisfied that Mr and Mrs X’s needs can be accommodated by a single bedroom large enough to accommodate two single beds.
- I know that Mr and Mrs X disagree with the Council’s assessment of their bedroom need but I find no fault with how the Council assessed their application. It is not for the Ombudsman to question the merits of the Council’s decision when there is no evidence of fault in how the decision was made.
- Mr and Mrs X question why the Council mentioned that there would be a shortfall between their HB entitlement and rent if they moved into two bedroom accommodation. The Council has a duty to make sure that applicants can afford accommodation it provides. I do not see it was at fault for mentioning this in its letter. This issue was not part of the Council’s consideration of whether there was a medical need for Mr and Mrs X to have separate bedrooms.
- Mr and Mrs X say the Council was at fault because it did not tell them they could appeal. However, as Mr and Mrs X clearly did appeal, they were not disadvantaged by the fault they are claiming.
- In its response to me the Council says it has yet to receive a reply to a letter it sent Mr X’s surgeon. I understand it has written to her again. The Council has agreed to continue to pursue a response so that it can clarify comments made by Mr X’s surgeon and see if this alters its decision.
- I have found no evidence of fault in how the Council has considered Mr and Mrs X’s housing application. Therefore I have ended my investigation of this complaint.
Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman