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Poole Borough Council (17 010 542)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 26 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council provided her with unsuitable interim accommodation and property when discharging its homelessness duty towards her. The Council also failed to offer her secure accommodation for 12 months. The Ombudsman found fault as the Council denied Ms X an opportunity to refuse the secure accommodation if she considered it unsuitable. And the opportunity to request a review of the Council’s offer. The Council has accepted it was at fault. It has accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations it should apologise to Ms X, pay her £300 and carry out service improvements.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about the way the Council has dealt with her housing register application and provided her with unsuitable accommodation. In particular Ms X says
    • The Council placed her and her three children in unsuitable hostel accommodation after her landlord evicted her in 2015;
    • The Council then placed her in unsuitable temporary accommodation, failed to take account of her family’s medical needs and explain to her why these were not considered. Ms X says the Council made the accommodation permanent without telling her or offering her a 12-month lease. And refused to move her to more suitable accommodation following an assault on one of her children;
    • The property suffered from disrepair. These were not fixed despite her complaints and she was charged for them when she left the property;
    • The Council wrongly removed her from the housing register twice saying she was adequately housed;
    • The private rented accommodation she now lives in is unsuitable for her needs as it is expensive. Ms X says she is suffering financial difficulties and she must share a bedroom with her son. Ms X wants to go back on the Housing Register.
    • The Council has failed to adequately respond to her complaints made in 2017 and says the issues happened too long ago to investigate. Ms X says she complained to an officer about the accommodation and disrepair in January 2016 but was not advised how to make a formal complaint.

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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. 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 have read the papers submitted by Ms X and spoken to her about the complaint. I considered the Council’s comments on the complaint and the supporting documents it provided. I have explained my draft decision to Ms X and the Council and considered the comments received.

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What I found

  1. A council must provide interim accommodation while it considers a homelessness application if it has reason to believe the applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need. (Housing Act 1996, section 188 and Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, paragraph 6.5). There is no right of appeal about the suitability of the accommodation.
  2. If a council is satisfied someone is eligible, homeless, in priority need and unintentionally homeless it will owe them the main homelessness duty. Generally, the Council carries out the duty by arranging temporary accommodation until it makes a suitable offer of social housing or private rented accommodation. (Housing Act 1996, section 193). The law says councils must ensure all accommodation provided to homeless applicants is suitable for the needs of the applicant and members of his or her household. This duty applies to interim accommodation and accommodation provided under the main homelessness duty. (Housing Act 1996, section 206)
  3. Councils should avoid using bed and breakfast accommodation for families. It should only be used as a last resort in an emergency and then for the shortest time possible. (Homelessness Code of Guidance paragraph 17.24). Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation can only be used for households which include a pregnant woman or dependent child when no other accommodation is available and then for no more than six weeks. B&B is accommodation which is not self-contained, not owned by the Council or a registered provider of social housing and where the toilet, washing, or cooking facilities are shared with other households. (Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003
  4. Once a Council accepts a duty towards a homeless applicant it can discharge that duty by offering a private assured shorthold tenancy. The Housing Act 1996 says a council should offer a shorthold tenancy for at least 12 months. This is stated further in the supplementary guidance on the homelessness changes in the localism Act 2011 and in the Homelessness (suitability of accommodation) (England) Order 2012. This says in paragraph 27 a council can discharge its duty by making a private rented sector offer which is ‘(c) a fixed term assured shorthold tenancy for a period of at least 12 months.’
  5. The Housing Act 1996, s202(1)(g) says there is a review right for ‘any decision of a local housing authority as to the suitability of accommodation offered to him by way of a private accommodation offer (within the meaning of section 193)’.
  6. If a council decides to discharge its duty by offering private accommodation under s193 it is for the applicant to decide whether to accept the offer or not. If they accept then the duty is discharged. If they reject the Council remains under duty to provide housing under s193. This should be explained to the applicant in the offer letter.

Homelessness application and offer of interim accommodation

  1. Ms X applied to the Council as homeless in August 2015 after her landlord served an eviction notice. The Council completed a household needs form for Ms X and her children. It noted Ms X and one daughter had physical health issues and Ms X had mental health issues.
  2. The Council accepted Ms X as homeless on 14 August 2015. It said it had a duty to ensure she could secure suitable alternative accommodation from either the private or public sector. And it would make an offer of accommodation to her to discharge its homelessness duty. The Council offered Ms X a property I shall call 2 Old Street. The Council said when assessing the suitability of the offer it considered her household size, the condition of the property, its affordability, community safety issues, the location and the space/standards of the property. It told Ms X it considered the offer suitable settled accommodation and reasonable for her and her family.
  3. The property was not ready until 27 August 2015. So, it offered Ms X interim accommodation in a B&B under s188. The Council said it made the offer of B&B accommodation as it had no other accommodation available. The Council advised Ms X she had no right of internal review about the suitability of the accommodation. Ms X refused the B&B accommodation and stayed with friends. Ms X says the B&B was in fact a hostel and unsuitable due to the occupants who scared her children.

Council response

  1. The Council says it wrongly offered Mrs X the interim accommodation under s188 rather than s193 of the Act. S188 is where a Council arranges emergency accommodation while deciding on the person’s homelessness application and there is no right of appeal on its suitability.

My assessment

  1. I am aware Mrs X was unhappy with the offer of the hostel and consider it unsuitable. It was for Mrs X to accept it or not. But when the Council made Ms X the offer it had completed its enquiries and decided her homelessness application. The Council accepted a duty towards her so should have offered her temporary accommodation under s193 of the Act.
  2. This meant the Council should have advised Ms X of her appeal rights about the suitability of the temporary accommodation. I consider the Council was at fault in its failure to issue a notice under the correct section of the Act. And its failure to tell Ms X of her right of appeal against the suitability of the temporary accommodation.
  3. In considering whether there has been a significant injustice caused to Ms X due to this fault the Council has advised it had no other accommodation available other than B&B. So, I consider it unlikely, on balance, the Council will have been able to find Mrs X any other accommodation on 18 August 2015. And if Ms X refused the accommodation and appealed, the Council would need to continue to look and find her more suitable accommodation. The Council did do so and offered her accommodation at 2 Old Street which Ms X accepted. So, I do not consider Ms X has suffered any significant injustice because of the Council’s failure to serve the notice under the correct section of the Housing Act. And its failure to advise her of her right of review.

Offer of 2 Old Street

  1. Ms X complained to the Council about the property at 2 Old Street. She said there was no upstairs bathroom which would affect her daughter’s sleepwalking and the property was on a main road so too noisy. An officer advised Ms X the Council considered the accommodation suitable for the family and so it could discharge its duty towards her.
  2. Ms X accepted the offer for 2 Old Street and moved in on 27 August 2015. The Council says it was private rented accommodation and not considered ‘temporary housing’. The tenancy was a six-month assured shorthold tenancy, with the landlord agreeing Ms X could remain there ‘long term’ if she chose. So, it was not the 12-month tenancy as the law requires.
  3. The Council sent Ms X a letter discharging its duty to house her and explained the suitability of its offer of accommodation to her. The letter did not advise Ms X she had the right to reject the offer of the private sector accommodation without penalty or to request a review of its offer.

Council response

  1. The Council says the offer of accommodation to Ms X was with a social housing letting agency. The Council has a 100% nomination rights to their properties overseen by a service level agreement. And it can provide the Council with access to private sector accommodation to meet housing needs. The Council says in this case it has no file note about the arrangement for Ms X. But the agency has confirmed the property was available on a long-term basis. It offered the tenancy on an initial 6-month fixed term as it does for most new tenancies with the intent to allow it to run on periodically after the fix term.
  2. The Council says it discharged its duty to Ms X on the property as it would have received assurances that despite a 6- month agreement, an offer of long term settled accommodation was being made.

My assessment

  1. The law is quite clear the Council should have advised Ms X of her right to reject the offer of the assured shorthold tenancy if she considered the property unsuitable. And it would not have affected the Council’s duty to make her another offer of accommodation. The Council failed to do so which I consider is fault.
  2. I consider the fault caused an injustice to Ms X. This is because Ms X told the Council 2 Old Street was unsuitable for her family’s needs. So, on balance, I consider it likely Ms X would have refused the offer. But I cannot be certain Ms X would have received a more suitable offer of accommodation and whether it would have been for 12 months as required. Because of this uncertainty I consider Ms X has a justified sense of aggrievement that she did not have an opportunity to refuse the offer of 2 Old Street. And a missed opportunity of being able to make a properly informed decision. Ms X also has uncertainty over whether she would have received a more suitable offer.
  3. The Housing Act also requires Councils to discharge their duties by providing a 12-month fixed term tenancy. The Council did not do so which I consider is fault. I do not consider the offer of a 6- month assured shorthold tenancy with the Council saying ‘it really means 12 months’ is an adequate discharge of its duties. Ms X has been caused an injustice due to the lack of certainty about whether the accommodation was secure for 12 months or not.

Cancelling housing register application

  1. The Council wrote to Ms X in September 215 cancelling her Housing Register application saying she had no housing needs. Ms X appealed against the Council’s decision in October 2015. Ms X said the Council misled her into believing she would be in temporary accommodation for up to nine months and then have a permanent home. Ms X said she had neither and told if she did not accept the offer she would not receive anymore. Ms X explained the family’s medical issues and why she considered the property unsuitable. Ms X provided further information from her GP and local Police in December 2015 in support of her appeal.
  2. A Housing officer met Mrs X in January 2016 to discuss her appeal. Ms X explained about events while at 2 Old Street including an assault on a daughter. And information from her GP about the impact of the accommodation onto her health and about a daughter’s medical needs. The officer accepted the family had a housing need and agreed to allow her back on to the Housing Register due to her medical circumstances. The officer gave Ms X advice about her housing choices.
  3. The Council awarded Ms X Silver medical/welfare banding according to its housing policy. The Council accepts there was an unreasonable delay in deciding on Ms X’s appeal and apologised to her.

Disrepair at property

  1. Ms X met with the housing officer in March 2016 and complained about disrepair at the property. The officer visited and told the landlord to carry out repairs as it was the landlord’s responsibility. The officer wrote to update Ms X about the action it had taken. The Council asked Ms X to contact it if the landlord did not respond. Ms X advised she was looking to move out of the property.
  2. In April 2016, the landlord told the Council they had tried to arrange with Ms X a visit to the property with a contractor. The landlord said Ms X advised she was moving out at the end of the month and did not want the work completed.
  3. Ms X identified alternative rented housing in April 2016 at a property I shall call 6 New Road. The Council carried out an income/expenditure assessment to determine affordability for Ms X. Based on this the Council agreed to provide a rent deposit and Ms X started the tenancy on 29 April 2016. Ms X has admitted she did not give correct information about her financial situation to the Council in April 2016 to secure the property
  4. In May 2016, the Council confirmed with Ms X she had moved out of 2 Old Street. The landlord then dealt with the repair issues and the Council satisfied they were then resolved. The Council wrote to Ms X in May 2016 cancelling her Housing Register application saying she had no housing needs.

Complaints to the Council

  1. Ms X complained to the Council in July 2017 about the unsuitable hostel accommodation allocated in 2015 and the house at 2 Old Street. Ms X explained her financial concerns living at 6 New Road and the impact of all the unsuitable accommodation on her children.
  2. The Council responded at stage one of its complaints procedure. It said its complaints investigations would not consider matters a person knew about for more than 12 months before contacting the Council. It confirmed Ms X’s meeting in January 2016 with a housing officer about her appeal to remove her from the register. This dealt with Ms X’s concerns about the effect the suitability and length of tenancy was causing to her mental health and the health of her children. The officer agreed to consider her application eligible. The officer identified the environment at the house impacted on her family’s health including the assault on the daughter which could not have been predicted.
  3. The Council said the officer gave Ms X advice on her housing choices and despite being on the Housing Register it may be some time before being offered property. The officer suggested Ms X look at renting privately and the Council would help with a rent deposit. The Council said Ms X met with the officer again in March 2016 to discuss disrepair at the property. The officer shared the information with Ms X’s landlord.
  4. The Council noted Ms X moved to 6 New Road and was struggling financially. But the Council said she demonstrated at the start of the tenancy it was affordable to her. The Council gave advice to contact a money advice service and could consider applying for Discretionary Housing Payment to help.
  5. The Council said the issues Ms X raised were known about when she met the housing officer but she did not raise them then. So, it did not propose to revisit the issues in detail.
  6. Ms X went to Stage two of the Council’s complaints procedure as she was unhappy with the Stage one response. The Stage two response said officers dealt with Ms X according to agreed procedures. It advised Ms X to seek advice about her financial difficulties or consider applying for Discretionary Housing Payment to help her with any rent shortfall.

My assessment

  1. Ms X says there was disrepair at the 2 Old Street but as it was a private tenancy it was for Ms X to resolve with her landlord. However, Council documents show it acted in response to Ms X’s complaints and asked the landlord to arrange repairs. The landlord advised the Council that Ms X did not want repairs completing as she was leaving the property. So, I do not consider there has been fault by the Council. It is unfortunate if Ms X has been charged for repairs she says she did not cause but it is for her to resolve directly with the landlord.
  2. I am aware Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s decision to remove her from the Housing Register. Ms X appealed the decision in October 2015 and provided extra information in December 2015. Mrs X also met a housing officer in January 2016.
  3. The Council has recognised a delay in deciding appeal and apologised to Ms X. The documents show Ms X sent extra information in December 2016 so the appeal could not be heard until it was received. So, while appeal took some time which was unfortunate there is no evidence to show the delay was all due to the Council. So, I consider the apology is suitable action for the Council to take.
  4. The Council also advised Ms X in May 2016 when she accepted 6 New Street it was removing her from the Housing Register. So, Ms X could have appealed then. It is for Ms X to apply to the Housing Register again if she considers the current property is unsuitable.
  5. Ms X has advised she did not give correct financial information to the Council for the affordability assessment for 6 New Street as she wanted to secure the property. The Council considered the property affordable based on information Ms X provided. It can only act on the information provided so I do not consider there has been any fault by the Council when assessing whether Ms X could afford the property. Ms X has been advised to seek financial advice and to apply to the Council for Discretionary Housing payment.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the fault in this case the Council has agreed, within one month of the decision to;
    • Take action to ensure it correctly offers accommodation to homeless applicants according to the relevant sections of the law and advise of any appeal rights.
    • Review its duties towards homeless applicants when making offers of private sector accommodation and rewrite offer letters when discharging its duties.
    • Arrange training for officers about the Council’s homeless duty when making offers of private sector accommodation and actions to be taken to correctly discharge those duties. This includes ensuring that any offers of private sector accommodation are for a 12-month tenancy.
    • Ensure it reviews its private sector accommodation offer letters and advises of the right to refuse an offer and rights to request reviews of any accommodation offered.
    • Apologise to Ms X for the fault I have identified and pay her £300 to acknowledge the injustice I have identified.

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Final decision

  1. I am completing my investigation. There was fault by the Council in the way it offered Ms X interim accommodation and property when discharging its homelessness duty towards her. The Council also failed to offer her secure accommodation for 12 months and to offer Ms X review rights.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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