The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to award the correct medical priority for his housing application. There was some fault in the medical assessment report. However, this did not affect the outcome or cause Mr X an injustice.
- Mr X complains the Council failed to properly take into account his medical circumstances when it decided what his housing priority should be.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr X and considered the information he provided. I asked the Council for information and considered its response to the complaint. I sent a draft decision to Mr X and the Council to allow them to comment before I reached my final decision. I considered the information Mr X provided in response to my draft decision before I reached a final view on the complaint.
What I found
- In July 2016 Mr X completed a housing application form to request a move from his current property. He explained that he had mobility issues, a spinal problem and chronic fatigue syndrome. He stated he also had a shoulder injury that restricted the use of his left arm and he suffered from severe migraines, depression and anxiety.
- Mr X lives in a 16th floor flat. There are two lifts serving Mr X’s block. Only one of them stops at his floor. Mr X explained when the lift to his floor breaks down it is difficult for him to access the other lift in the building. This is because his medical problems make using the stairs painful. Mr X explained the doors in the building are heavy and the wind blows them shut. He stated he had fallen over several times when trying to use the stairs to access the alternative lift. Mr X also noted his neighbours were noisy which was difficult when he had migraines.
- The Council considered the application but decided there was nothing wrong with the flat in terms of Mr X’s medical circumstances. It stated lift breakdowns would need to be dealt with separately. The Council told Mr X as a result it would not be granting any medical priority for a housing move.
- In November 2016 Mr X’s psychologist contacted his MP. She stated Mr X suffered from severe levels of depression and chronic pain. She stated she considered his flat was unsuitable given his physical disability. She asked the MP to provide assistance.
- On 14 December 2016 Mr X’s MP contacted the Council. She noted Mr X was in receipt of the enhanced rate of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) and he had very poor mobility. She asked the Council to provide a full report to let her know Mr X’s medical needs had been assessed recently.
- The Council explained the application Mr X submitted in July 2016 was considered by its independent medical assessment service. It explained the outcome. The Council also contacted Mr X to get up-to-date information to see if a change in his circumstances warranted more housing priority.
- In January 2017 Mr X completed a questionnaire explaining his medical situation. The information was similar to that in Mr X’s original housing application. Mr X explained the pain he had. He stated when the lift to his floor did not work he had to use the stairs. He stated this was painful. He also noted that it takes a long time for the lift to come and he had to wait in pain.
- On 13 January, the Council wrote to advise Mr X its decision about housing priority remained unchanged.
- On 16 March, Mr X’s MP provided additional information he sent to her and asked the Council to explain why it was not sufficient to warrant a move to a ground floor property. I have seen the documents Mr X provided.
- The Council’s medical adviser assessed the information provided. His assessment recorded the information he had seen. His report noted Mr X’s medical conditions. However, he felt the lift breakdowns were not primarily medical and they should be managed separately. He noted there was another lift although there would be a delay in accessing it. The Council’s view remained that Mr X should not receive medical priority for a move.
- In June 2017, the Council told Mr X’s MP that it would refer Mr X’s case back to its medical advisers for a detailed report in order to establish the full details of the assessment. The Council did not provide a copy of the response to the MP in or around July. However, I have seen copies of the medical information Mr X submitted to the Council and the medical advisers report from April 2017 on which its decisions have been based.
- The Council provided a copy of the lift service records for the lifts in Mr X’s building. The records showed the lifts were working for over 99% of the time and lift breakdowns were generally dealt with promptly.
The Council’s Housing Allocations Policy
- The Council’s Housing Allocation Policy recognises the Council should give reasonable preference to housing applicants who have a need to move for medical or welfare reasons.
- If the Council’s medical adviser considers that reasonable preference should be awarded, a Housing Team Leader will make a decision to award additional priority. This may be:
- A ‘severe medical award’ if someone is unable to remain in their current property due to illness or disability.
- A ‘moderate medical award’ if someone finds it difficult to live in the existing property and remaining there will contribute to deterioration in their health. A moderate award may also be given if a move would be likely to improve their health but at present they can manage in their present dwelling.
- There is no dispute that Mr X suffers from a number of medical conditions, that he needs considerable pain relief and he has reduced mobility. There is also evidence his condition leads to headaches and that he suffers from depression.
- The Council provided evidence that it considered the information Mr X provided in his housing application and it referred his application to its medical advisers. When Mr X sent more information during 2017 this too was referred to its medical advisers. The action taken to consider whether to grant additional priority is in accordance with the Councils housing allocation policy.
- The medical advisers report from April 2017 notes the evidence supplied and it acknowledges the conditions Mr X suffers from. So, there is evidence the information Mr X supplied has been taken into account in the decision-making process. However, it appeared the medical adviser had not understood that only one lift served Mr X’s floor. The decision stated as there were two lifts, albeit after some delay, an alternative lift would be available to Mr X. The report did not recognise that accessing the alternative lift would mean Mr X using the stairs to reach another floor, which Mr X had explained he struggled with. I found this was fault.
- Although the report should have considered the impact that using the stairs would have on Mr X on occasions that his lift is out of action, I do not consider the overall outcome was flawed as a result. I say this because the Council has provided clear evidence that the lifts in the building were working for the vast majority of the time and that lift breakdowns were generally dealt with promptly. This limits the degree to which the availability of lifts affects the suitability of Mr X’s property.
- Mr X felt the Council had not provided me with copies of all the letters that he sent to support his application for medical priority. In response to my draft decision he provided more information. One of the letters was one which the Council had sent to me. Another was dated after the events Mr X complained of. The remaining correspondence included information about Mr X’s conditions and pain management. However, it did not provide any new information that called into question how the Council had reached its decisions.
- I recognise that Mr X seeks a higher housing priority. Although there was some fault in the medical adviser’s report, I do not consider this led to a different outcome in Mr X’s case.
- I found there was fault, but this did not cause injustice to Mr X. I have now completed my investigation and closed my file.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman