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Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council (17 008 061)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to consider his mental health and refused to allow him to bid for three bedroom houses. He also complains the Council lost his transfer application from 6/7 years ago. I have found no fault in the way the Council processed Mr X’s transfer application and assessed his eligibility for housing.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains the Council refused to allow him to bid on three bedroom houses and by making this decision it has failed to consider his mental health. Mr X also complains the Council lost his transfer application he submitted 6 or 7 years ago. He is unhappy the Council is refusing to backdate his application to this time.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are 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. I considered Mr X’s complaint and discussed it with him on the telephone.
  2. I have considered the information sent from the Council in response to my enquiries.
  3. Mr X and the Council were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of my decision. I received no comments from Mr X and the Council informed me it had no comments to make.

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What I found

  1. The Council’s lettings policy says how it will assess medical need for housing. It will assess the need jointly with health professionals and may carry out a home visit. To qualify for housing on medical grounds the applicants current home must present a risk to their health or well-being. If the Council assesses the applicant has a medical need to move it will decide if this is an urgent or substantial need.
  2. Under the Council’s lettings policy, a couple under 60 years old without children can bid for the following properties
  • Studio flat
  • 1 bedroom flat
  • 1 bedroom house
  • 2 bedroom own entry flat
  • 2 bedroom shared entry flat or maisonette
  • 2 bedroom own entry maisonette
  • 3 bedroom own entry flat
  • 3 bedroom shared entry flat or maisonette
  • 3 bedroom own entry upper maisonette
  1. A couple under 60 years without children old cannot bid for 3 bed houses, unless there is no demand for the property. In such cases the Council does not count any priority award.
  2. Mr X and his wife, Mrs W, live in a three bedroom Council flat. Mr X has mobility issues and his current property has no lift access and 14 steps up to the flat.
  3. Mr X submitted a transfer application for a property to meet his needs in June 2016. In his application, Mr X listed all his health conditions, physical and mental, and how they affect him day to day. He also explained he required a second bedroom as he and his wife sleep separately due to their health needs. Mr X also requested a third bedroom to store things they have accumulated over the years.
  4. A panel at the Council reviewed Mr X’s application on 5 July 2016 and decided it needed a home visit to assess the difficulties he was experiencing.
  5. A Health and Housing Social Worker visited on 14 July 2016 and Mr X discussed his physical and mental medical needs with her. The Social Worker told Mr X the properties he was eligible for. These were;
    • 1-2 bedroom bungalows
    • 1-2 bedroom ground floor flats
    • 1-2 bedroom flats in a multi-storey building with a lift.
  6. Mr X signed the Health and Housing Needs Assessment report to confirm he had the opportunity to fully discuss his needs and he was satisfied with the content of the report.
  7. The Council awarded Mr X ‘substantial priority’ for his medical needs. The priority increased Mr X’s prospects of rehousing to a property where he does not have to negotiate stairs. The Council said Mr X needed a two bedroom property on one level with a level access shower and maximum of two steps. It agreed Mr X needed two bedrooms as he and his wife need separate bedrooms. It said a stair-lift would not be suitable for Mr X because of his condition. If Mr X makes a successful bid, the Council will arrange for an Occupational Therapist to view the property to ensure it is suitable.
  8. In August 2016, Mr X complained to the Council
  9. that it had not backdated his application. Mr X stated he discussed his housing situation with a council officer (Officer 1) 6 or 7 years ago and submitted his application approximately a week later.
  10. The Council discussed the matter with Officer 1 and she recalled the conversation with Mr X about applying for rehousing. However, she says she did not receive an application from him.
  11. The Council did not backdate the application. It told Mr X it would be happy to review this if he could provide a receipt for the application form or a letter welcoming him to the scheme.
  12. Mr X asked for a review of the Council’s decision not to backdate his application. In this he mentioned a four bedroom property currently available which he felt would be perfect for him. He said a garden would help his depression. He said writing helped him manage his depression and he needed a room to use as an office to improve his mental health and hopefully lead to a return to employment.
  13. The Council’s Customer Services contacted Mr X. He said he hand delivered an application for rehousing to the council offices 6 or 7 years ago. Mr X wanted the Council to backdate his application to this time because Officer 1 recalled the conversation.
  14. In December 2016, the Council sent its final response to Mr X. It repeated it did not have a record of receiving an application from Mr X 6 or 7 years ago. The Council did have a record of Mr X starting, but not completing, an application online in June 2015. The Council only had a completed application from Mr X dated June 2016.
  15. The Council told Mr X it would backdate his application to June 2015 as it had evidence of him starting the application process at that time.
  16. In its letter of December 2016 the Council told Mr X how to complain to the Housing Ombudsman. Mr X did this and the Housing Ombudsman referred him to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
  17. In July 2017 the Council reviewed Mr X’s needs and a Health and Housing Social Worker did a new assessment. Mr X told the Council he was now on medication for depression. Mr X said he did not want a flat, he wanted a house with a dining room so he could buy it and adapt it himself. The assessor told him he did not have medical priority for a house because he could not safely use a stair lift. The assessor also told Mr X he did not qualify for a three bedroom house. Mr X signed the assessment.
  18. A panel then considered the review. It concluded Mr X’s needs had mainly remained the same. He retained his substantial priority. The panel considered Mr X needed a 2 bedroom bungalow or 2 bedroom ground floor flat with a level access shower.
  19. In response to our enquiries the Council says some of the properties Mr X is eligible for will have a separate dining room. It says Mr X can also bid for three bedroom flats with his substantial priority. It says following assessment Mr X needs a level property because he is not suitable for a stair lift. It says it will contact Mr X and reassess this to see if he is now suitable for a stair lift. However, he will still not be eligible for a three bedroom house.

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Analysis

  1. Under the Council’s letting policy Mr X is not eligible for a three-bedroom house. Mr X provided reasons why he wants a three bedroom house.
  2. The Council must assess Mr X’s needs. The Council’s assessments show it considered Mr X’s physical and mental health needs. The Council awarded Mr X substantial priority. The Council agreed Mr X and his wife needed separate bedrooms. It found no need for a third bedroom. It has said why a house is not suitable; because it considers Mr X is unsuitable for a stair lift.
  3. There is no fault in the way the Council came to its decision. Mr X can bid for three bedroom flats and two bedroom flats with a dining room using his substantial priority. This would provide the extra space Mr X wants. Mr X says he wants a house not a flat. This is a preference not a need. It is a matter for Mr X if he decides to stay where he is or bid for two or three bedroom flats without the external stairs that cause him problems.
  4. The Council will review Mr X’s ability to manage a stair lift. If this is successful Mr X can then bid for two bedroom houses where it is possible to install a stair lift. He will still not be eligible for three bedroom houses.
  5. Mr X says he hand delivered a housing application to the Council offices 6 to 7 years ago. Mr X has no evidence of this and the Council has no record of receiving it. I am therefore unable to make a finding on this matter.
  6. However, in response to Mr X’s complaint, the Council backdated Mr X’s application a year when it found a record of Mr X starting an application online but not completing it. The Council did not have to do this. I consider this to be a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Council.
  7. I have found no fault in the Council’s actions in backdating Mr X’s application to 2015. It backdated it further than it had to as the only completed application it has from him dates from 2016.
  8. The Council did give Mr X details of the wrong Ombudsman but I do not consider this caused him any injustice.

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Final decision

  1. I have found no fault in the way the Council assessed Mr X’s housing needs or in its decision to backdate his application to 2015. I have therefore completed my investigation of this complaint.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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