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Liverpool City Council (16 019 279)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council when applying limits under its housing allocations policy failed to properly consider the exceptional circumstances created by harassment. However, through its review it restored a housing applicant to the same priority banding previously awarded resolving the complaint.

The complaint

  1. In brief, the complaint is when considering a housing application, the Council failed to:
    • Assign the proper priority to an application for housing to move away from harassment from neighbours;
    • Lift a limit on the postcode applied to the original priority banding;
    • Consider awarding Priority Band B to the application having awarded the lower Priority Band C to the applicant’s current housing application.
  2. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, says this resulted in her accepting a move to an area away from her support network. She felt she had no choice and now the lower priority banding reduces the likelihood of her moving nearer to her support network and preferred areas. Mrs X says she has missed out on a property for which she would otherwise be eligible. This has resulted in stress and anxiety and inconvenience.
  3. Mrs X complains the housing association did nothing to help her with the harassment she experienced for years from her neighbours. Issues of housing management are not within the Local Government Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. They are matters for the Housing Ombudsman and so I have not investigated those issues. I may only investigate how the Council applied its allocations policy to applications for housing.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We 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, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A (1), as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. If 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering this complaint I have:
    • Contacted Mrs X and considered the complaint presented on her behalf;
    • Put enquiries to the Council and studied its response;
    • Researched the relevant law, regulations and guidance;
    • Shared with Mrs X and the Council a draft decision and reflected on comments received.

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What I found

  1. The Council is part of the sub-regional choice based letting scheme known as Property Pool Plus with other councils in the area. Each authority manages the scheme in its own way either directly or through housing trusts. For my investigation references to ‘the Council’ include where a housing association takes decisions or actions on the Council’s behalf. The Council remains responsible for housing allocations.
  2. Under the housing allocation scheme councils award priority bands according to an applicant’s assessed housing need. Band A the highest Priority Band is awarded to applications where the applicant:
    • Has an urgent health or welfare need for a move;
    • Is homeless;
    • Overcrowded needing two or more bedrooms or;
    • Should be moved because of area regeneration.
  3. Bands B and C give high and medium priority respectively. Band B is awarded for applicants who have a high welfare or health need, overcrowded (needing at least one bedroom), living in a house in disrepair or under occupying.
  4. Band C is awarded for medical, health and welfare needs, homeless applicants with no priority need and those living with family and friends.
  5. The other three bands D to F are not relevant to this complaint.
  6. Mrs X first registered for housing in 2008. Mrs X says had the Council acted on information about her health and welfare needs then, any changes in her household between 2008 and 2013 would not have resulted in a loss of her Priority Band B status. Ms X says the Council failed to act upon the information.
  7. In 2013 following Mrs X’s application for a move due to the impact on her health of a dispute with her extended family the Health Assessment Panel approved a move and placed the application in Priority Band B.
  8. To prevent Mrs X being offered a house close to those alleged to have harassed her as part of the dispute the Council placed on her application an exclusion from one postcode area. The Council’s housing allocations policy says it will bypass bidders for homes if shortlisted because the “…reason for the move is domestic abuse or harassment and the move is not far enough from the area to resolve that issue…” The policy says that anyone bypassed has the right to ask for a review of that decision. The policy also imposes a duty on applicants to tell the Council when their circumstances change. Mrs X did not tell the Council before 2016 the family causing the harassment had now moved from that postcode area. Mrs X says applying the exclusion to a whole postcode did not comply with the housing allocations policy. Mrs X bid for a home in September 2016 for which she was first in the list. The Council bypassed her because of the postcode exclusion and Mrs X asked for a review.
  9. When commenting on the draft decision the Council says had Mrs X told it the family members had moved it would re-assess her need for a priority move. The Council awarded Mrs X Priority Band B in 2013 because of the impact on her health caused by family living within her area. Once they moved and that impact declined her priority banding would reflect that. Therefore, the Council says it may have lifted the post code exclusion and Mrs X may have lost her priority banding.
  10. When Mrs X complained of harassment in October 2016 Mrs X already had Priority Band B priority. Harassment victims will be considered for high priority banding in Bands A or B. Priority Band A is used where there is an urgent need, Priority Band B where the Council assesses the applicant has a high need for the move.
  11. Mrs X said she needed to move out of the city because of local harassment. The Council investigated Mrs X’s complaint of harassment to assess her priority. It found she had reported the harassment to the Police but the Police considered Mrs X at no immediate risk and could remain in her home. The Council decided to wait for the Police to complete their investigation and advise the Council on whether Mrs X was at high, medium or low risk. If the Police assessed her as being at high risk the Council would consider awarding her higher priority.
  12. In November 2016 with the Police still investigating the claims the Council says Mrs X said she did not want to continue with harassment status and did not want the Council to contact the alleged perpetrators. Mrs X received the offer or a property but having viewed it she decided not to accept it because of its affordability and her son’s medical condition. Mrs X through her daughter challenged the Council on why she had not been considered for a move because of harassment. The Council said because Mrs X wanted to keep her priority banding, date of application (which confirms added priority through time spent on the register) and medical status. She could lose that if considered for a move on harassment grounds.
  13. Mrs X reported further harassment in December 2016. The Council advised Mrs X to keep bidding on its Property Pool Plus scheme and to get support from the Police. The Council (through its housing association) contacted the Police and they said Mrs X was not at any immediate risk needing re-housing. Without Police support showing the family at high risk Mrs X’s application could not be considered for an emergency move on harassment grounds. I have not seen any written evidence from the Police to show it had assessed her at high risk or that it sent that risk assessment to the Council.
  14. On 4 January 2017, the Council proposed a match for a property that met Mrs X’s housing needs and for which she had enough priority within Priority Band B. Mrs X decided to accept the property. The tenancy began on 6 February 2017.
  15. Mrs X said the move was necessary to get away from the harassment and she accepted the move in desperation. Her new home left her far from her support network and so she applied for a further move on 23 February 2017. In April 2017, the housing association acting for the local authority rejected the application because Mrs X had not been a tenant for longer than twelve months. On review in June 2017 Mrs X had her application accepted with an effective date of 6 February 2017. The Council awarded her Priority Band C. Mrs X met with officers in September 2017 to ask them to increase her Priority Band to Band B to reflect her health and welfare needs. On review the Council increased the priority band to Priority Band B.

Complaint to the Council

  1. Mrs X complained to the Council about the failure to continue to offer Mrs X Priority Band B reflecting her complaints of harassment. The complaints Review Panel decided the Council (acting through the housing association) acted properly in considering whether to award priority for harassment. The Police did not assess Mrs X as being at high risk or needing an immediate move. Therefore, it had no grounds to increase her Priority Banding to Band A. Mrs X may well have remained in Priority Band B even if deemed at high risk. The Council says attracting Priority Band B status for more than two reasons (here welfare and harassment) does not automatically warrant awarding Priority Band A to the application.

The impact on Mrs X

  1. Mrs X hoped by moving to her present home she would still be considered for urgent or high priority for a move following her experience of harassment. She needs to be nearer her family for support. Mrs X says her move has left her more isolated. In responding to my draft decision Mrs X says she had lived in the same area for over fifty years. Having to leave the house she loved had been extremely difficult. Mrs X says with the right support from the Council and its agents the housing association, she might have been able to remain. She now lives far from her support network and is hoping she can return to the area soon.
  2. In response, the Council says it has considered her concerns, allowed her to register for housing within the first twelve months of her new tenancy and has awarded her Priority Band B. It says her needs do not warrant a higher priority banding. It decided not to backdate the Priority Band B to 2013 the date it first awarded her that priority. It says that reflected the impact on her of the harassment then experienced. Her current award of Priority Band B reflects the impact of the isolation caused by the move on her health, and the impact of the move on the health of her son.

Analysis – has there been fault leading to injustice?

  1. What happened between 2008 and 2013 occurred too long ago for me to investigate now. Mrs X could have complained about those events nearer the time. I cannot investigate this part of the complaint because it is a late complaint.
  2. Between 2013 and 2016 the Council applied a postcode exclusion which meant any bid by Mrs X for a property in that postcode area would be bypassed. The aim was to prevent her being offered a home close to those who had harassed her. This led Mrs X to be overlooked for a home she bid for and had been first in line to receive. The housing allocations policy says if bypassed for a property the applicant should be notified and given the opportunity to ask for a review. The policy also says applicants should tell the Council of any change in circumstance that may affect their entitlement.
  3. Following her bid for the property Mrs X was told she had not been successful. She could then have asked for a review of the exclusion which caused her to be bypassed. In reviewing whether the exclusion should continue the Council would have to consider the new information that the family members who caused it to exclude Mrs X from the area had moved. It is possible therefore, that on review Mrs X may have gained an opportunity to bid for homes nearer to her support network. However, she may also have lost priority on harassment grounds reducing the number of homes on which she could successfully bid.
  4. I must again consider the question of time. Mrs X says the change in family members’ whereabouts occurred between 2013 and 2016. If she had notified the Council it may have changed the exclusion and she may have moved. However, she did not tell the Council or bring a complaint to the Ombudsman. The application of the exclusion zone is a late complaint (having been imposed in 2013) and there is no certainty removing the exclusion earlier would have affected the outcome because Mrs X may have lost her Priority Band B banding.
  5. The Council says by moving Mrs X removed herself from the place of harassment and so no longer had a need for a move with which it could help her. It eventually awarded her Priority Band B meaning she is in the same priority band as she was when she first complained about harassment. However, her priority within Priority Band B depends on the date the Council awarded Priority Band B.
  6. The housing allocations policy says that after a move a tenant cannot make a further application for housing within the first twelve months of the tenancy. All limits should allow for exceptional circumstances. I can see nothing to suggest the Council considered the exceptional circumstances for the move i.e. the alleged harassment when applying the twelve-month rule. Mrs X felt penalised for having freed herself from the harassment. At first the Council refused to accept this presented an exceptional reason to be allowed to register for further housing. It changed its mind on review and backdated the registration to February 2017. That remedied the fault in not properly considering the need for the move. It placed Mrs X in the position she would have been had the Council recognised she acted to remove her family from the harassment she had long been experiencing.
  7. When the Council reconsidered Mrs X’s housing needs on review it accepted the historic reason for excluding a postcode area (applied in 2013) no longer applied and removed that exception. The complaint about using the postcode is a late complaint however, its use may not have affected the final outcome because her priority banding may have been reduced. Mrs X had not told the Council about the change in her circumstances so it had not reviewed the exclusion she had agreed to in 2013. I cannot see fault in the Council using a postcode exclusion as a fail-safe against moving Mrs X closer to one of the relatives who had harassed her. The use of the postcode exclusion is a tool to reflect the policy which allows bidders to be by-passed from allocations that might place them too close to people who have harassed or harmed them. When the people causing the harassment moved from the area Mrs X did not tell the Council so it could not know it no longer had to bypass her when allocating properties in that area. Therefore, even if this was not a late complaint it is unlikely I would find the Council acted with fault in keeping an exclusion until told of new circumstances that rendered it unnecessary.
  8. The Council recognised Mrs X continues to have priority need for a move and awarded her Priority Band B. I have seen no evidence the Council would but for any omission or fault have awarded the application Priority Band A and so I cannot find Mrs X is now in any different position than she would have been but for any faults.
  9. Mrs X said in her complaint she wanted the Council to award her the same banding she had before and allow her to apply for further housing. The Council’s review resulted in the Council awarding Mrs X the same banding priority as before (Priority Band B), lifting the twelve-month prohibition on applications and the postcode limit. It considered Mrs X’s view that it should backdate the priority banding to 2013 but declined to do so. It had all relevant information before it when doing so and therefore I find it acted without fault.

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Final decision

  1. I find the Council acted in line with its housing allocation policies but failed to properly consider the exceptional circumstances for Mrs X’s move. However, through its review it has restored Mrs X to the same priority banding she had before and lifted restrictions on the postcodes in which she can bid for property thus remedying any injustice arising from this fault.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I may not investigate complaints about housing associations’ management of tenancies including anti-social behaviour or harassment. Those are issues for the Housing Ombudsman.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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