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Braintree District Council (17 011 015)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 28 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The complainant says the Council has not properly considered medical and welfare information supplied in support of her request for additional priority for her housing application so she can bid for three bedroom accommodation. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council and he has therefore ended his investigation of this matter.

The complaint

  1. Miss X says the Council has wrongly refused to allow her to bid for three bedroom accommodation. She says the Council did not give due regard to medical information she supplied supporting her argument that her son needs his own bedroom because of his learning difficulties and autism.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of my investigation I discussed the complaint with Miss X and considered information she supplied. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and documents it provided including its allocations policy. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint in a draft decision statement and I considered Miss X’s comments in response.

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What I found

  1. This document explains how the Council will allocate its available housing resources to applicants on its housing waiting list. The Council’s policy explains that it uses a banding system to identify those with the highest need. Band A is for applicants with the highest need and Band E is for those with the lowest housing need. A number of factors are taken into account when assessing an applicant’s housing need including the impact of their current accommodation on any medical or welfare needs and if their home is overcrowded.

Paragraph 5.2

“Medical assessments will be carried out for applicants who believe that their medical condition or disability is affected by their current accommodation. The applicant will be required to complete a self-assessment medical form showing the impact that their current property has on their medical condition or disability. These forms will be assessed by the relevant PO and the applicant maybe be placed in a higher Band depending on what impact their current accommodation is having on their medical condition.”

Paragraph 5.10

“At the applicants request, the PO will request evidence to support their application (for additional priority on welfare grounds). The PO will then review the full situation, taking into account the vulnerability of household members.”

Paragraph 6.2

“Children of the same sex are expected to share a bedroom unless there is a medical or welfare reason why the children cannot share a bedroom. Medical and welfare needs will be assessed using the scheme’s standard processes. Adult children will not be given additional bedroom entitlement but will be considered as children of the household and will be assessed in accordance with (a table of priorities)..”

  1. If applicants are unhappy with the Council’s assessment of their housing need, they can request a review of the case which will be conducted by another local authority. This includes disputes about which priority band an applicant is placed in.

Background

  1. Miss X lived on the 12th floor of a housing association property in London with her two sons, Y and Z.
  2. In February 2016 Miss X made a housing application to the Council as she wished to move back to the area to be closer to her family. The Council placed her application in Band E as she was adequately housed in her current accommodation.
  3. Miss X told the Council that her older son, Y, was being reviewed by the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and that he needed his own bedroom from privacy and for doing homework. She also expressed concern about living on 12th floor and the impact this was having on Y.
  4. The Council considered this matter including a letter from CAMHS but concluded there were no grounds to increase Miss X’s banding.
  5. In November Miss X provided a letter from a psychiatrist from CAMHS explaining that Y had moderate learning difficulties and finds it hard to share a bedroom with his younger brother. It also said Z would sleep better if Y had his own room.
  6. The Council considered the letter but did not increase Miss X’s banding. Miss X told the Council she was unhappy with its decision and she was advised of the review process.
  7. In December Miss X moved to a privately rented two bedroom property within the Council’s boundaries.
  8. Following her move Miss X contacted the Council reiterating her need for a three bedroom property. She also expressed concern that she was falling behind with her rent payments.
  9. In July 2017 Miss X provided the Council with letters from Y’s GP, from the Child and Family department of the local hospital and from Y’s CAMHS practitioner supporting her request for higher priority on account of them requiring an additional bedroom.
  10. In response the Council carried out a medical assessment for Y but this did not resulted in an awarded of higher priority.
  11. In August the Council was provided with another letter from Y’s CAMHS practitioner saying that he had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and that he struggles with anxiety and noise. The letter stated Y would benefit from having his own bedroom.
  12. The Council considered the letter but concluded there was nothing to suggest Y’s condition was severe and so it did not increase Miss Y’s priority banding.
  13. Miss X appealed against the decision but the Council upheld its original decision.
  14. In September Miss X sent the Council further information from Y’s hospital and from the Child and Family Department which stated an additional bedroom would be beneficial for the family. The report did not state that Y was a danger to Z and for this reason the Council did not increase Miss Y’s priority banding.
  15. Unhappy with the Council’s decision, she requested a review which the Council arranged to be carried out by another local authority. The review upheld the Council’s decision. It advised that unless she had new or different information the review process was concluded.
  16. Later that month Miss Y told the Council that she had been served with an eviction notice under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. The Council advised Miss X to contact local letting agencies and to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment.
  17. The Council reassessed Miss X’s priority banding following the eviction notice and her banding was increased to Band C.
  18. Meanwhile the Council continued to assist Miss Y with her housing concerns following the eviction notice. It spoke with her landlord to see if she would allow Miss Y to remain at the property. It also helped her contact local letting agencies and provided her with the details of suitable private sector properties.
  19. In January 2018, a Claim for Possession was issued by the Country Court.
  20. Miss X sought further assistance from the Council. The Council asked Miss X if she wanted to make a homelessness application but she declined. Miss X was told that she could make an application at any time.
  21. I understand that the Possession Order was enforced in February and the Council is currently completing its homelessness enquiries.

Analysis

  1. It is not for the Ombudsman to substitute his judgement for that of the Council’s officers. Instead he examines the process leading to the Council’s decisions for evidence of fault.
  2. The Council’s allocations policy says that two children of the same sex will be expected to share a bedroom. Therefore, the Council’s decision that Miss Y only requires two bedroom accommodation is compliant with its policy.
  3. Miss X says the Council should increase her priority banding so she can bid for three bedroom accommodation because Y’s condition means he needs to have his own bedroom. In support of her view Miss Y has supplied evidence from Y’s GP, hospital and CAMHS practitioner. I am satisfied the Council has considered all the information given to it by Miss Y and that its consideration was in accordance with its policy.
  4. The Council’s consideration concluded that Y’s condition was not severe. I have read the letters supplied in support of Miss X’s request. While I acknowledge the letters say an additional bedroom would be beneficial they do not say that there is an urgent need for an additional bedroom. In this context the Council’s view appears to accord with the information it was given.
  5. It also found that Y did not pose any danger to the rest of the household. The Council’s allocations policy says that for a higher priority to be awarded on medical or welfare grounds it will consider the vulnerability of the household. The Council did not conclude the evidence submitted by Miss Y demonstrated that Y not having his own bedroom created any such vulnerability for the rest of the household. For this reason there were no grounds on which higher priority banding could be awarded.
  6. I also note that Miss Y’s case has been reviewed by another authority in accordance with the Council’s allocations policy.
  7. I have found no evidence of fault by the Council in its consideration of this matter. As I have found no such fault there are no grounds on which I can question the merits of the Council’s decision on Miss Y’s application.
  8. I do however note that Miss X told me she had received information from the Emotional Wellbeing Centre regarding Y which supported her request for an additional bedroom. The Council says it has not received this. I therefore suggest that Miss X provide the Council with this information so that it can be considered further by the Council.
  9. I note that Miss X’s priority banding increased to Band C in September following her being served with an eviction 21 Notice. I do not find any fault by the Council in this matter. Band C is the appropriate band to place applicants who are at threat from homelessness.
  10. I am also satisfied that the Council as appropriately assisted Miss X with her housing situation since learning she was at risk of homelessness. It undertook actions to prevent her from becoming homeless such as advising her of suitable privately rented properties and liaising with her former landlord to see if her tenancy could be preserved. It also provided her with advice on when she could make a homelessness application. I do not find any fault with the Council’s handling of these matters.

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Agreed action

  1. I recommended the Council consider any further medical information Miss X may supply including the assessment from the Emotional Wellbeing Centre. It agreed to do so.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation of this complaint as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council.

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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