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Coventry City Council (17 011 955)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 28 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X says the Council is at fault in its handling of her request for priority need for housing on medical grounds. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council but he recommended the Council’s housing panel consider Ms X’s circumstances to see if any exception should be made to allow to her to bid for accommodation more suitable for her needs. The Council agreed to do so.

The complaint

  1. Ms X says the Council is at fault in how it is has considered her medical priority need for rehousing.

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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 Ms X and considered information she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and documents its provided. I also had regard to the Council’s Homefinder Policy. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint and I considered Ms X’s comments in response.

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What I found

  1. Coventry Homefinder uses a banding system to provide priority for applicants. The Council has seven bands with Bands 1A and 1B being awarded to applicants with an urgent housing needs and Bands 3A and 3B being award to applicants with no priority need.

Section 3.12 Housing Need due to health difficulties

  1. The assessment of priority due to health difficulties is not based on the seriousness of the applicant’s condition but is solely based on the seriousness of the impact that their current type and location of housing is having on that condition and whether this would improve significantly through a move to alternative accommodation.
  2. Assessments for priority due to medical need will normally relate to the ph ysical circumstances in the property but location can be considered, for example where medical evidence has shown that the environment in general is having an impact on the mental health of the applicant.
  3. Priority due to medical need is represented at three levels. These are exceptional housing need due to the health difficulties, urgent housing need due to health difficulties and low level housing need due to health difficulties.

Key events

  1. Ms X suffers from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (referred to hereafter as PTSD) following violent rape and abuse whilst a vulnerable young person. She also suffers from severe depression, mood disorder with mixed traits of emotional instability and personality disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, claustrophobia and has suicidal ideation. Ms X is under the care of a consultant psychiatrist and she receives the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) at the enhanced rate.
  2. Prior to January 2015 Ms X lived in a property with a garden. However, the property became unaffordable when her housing benefit was reduced because she was under occupying the property.
  3. For this reason, Ms X moved to her current accommodation which is a flat located on the 6th floor.
  4. Since moving to the accommodation Ms X’s PTSD has become more severe and her mental health has declined. I am aware the Police have visited her home to carry out welfare checks because of concerns Ms X may harm herself. Ms X is also seeing her consultant psychiatrist more frequently.
  5. In July 2017 Ms X wrote to the Council requesting priority due to health difficulties. She included information supporting her request including a letter from her GP, details of the medication she was taking and details of her benefit payments.
  6. The Council assessed the information and concluded that Ms X should be awarded priority band 2B on account of her health difficulties. Band 2B is given to applicants with a low level need for housing on medical difficulties.
  7. Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s decision and in August she requested a review. As part of her review request Ms X explained that her current home was exacerbating the conditions she suffers from and set out that she was also socially isolated.
  8. I understand that Ms X discussed her case with the reviewing officer who explained that for her priority banding to be increased she would need evidence that her accommodation is having a severe impact on her mental health.
  9. As part of the review the Council sent a questionnaire to Ms X’s GP. In response her GP stated that Ms X’s PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks had worsened and she required outside space. On this basis the Council upheld its original decision.
  10. Ms X remained unhappy and contacted the Ombudsman.
  11. Meanwhile Ms X provided a letter from her support worker which explained in greater detail the impact her housing is having on her health. It set out that she felt unable to use the bathroom because there was no window and it was next to the front door. It also set out that Ms X felt unable to use the lift because of her claustrophobia or the stairs due to anti social behaviour resulting in her being left at home for days on ended without food. Further it explained that she was very sensitive to noise in the block and this was exacerbating her anxiety.
  12. The Council considered this information and as a result it increased her priority banding to 2A in recognition that she has an urgent medical need for alternative accommodation. It also clarified that Ms X could bid for one bedroom flats located on the ground floor or higher.
  13. Ms X remains unhappy stating that she requires accommodation that is not a flat owing to the anxiety living in such accommodation causes her.

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 Homefinder policy explains that for medical priority to be awarded to applicants they must demonstrate that their current accommodation is having a severe impact on their condition. Information initially supplied by Ms X set out the medication and benefits she was receiving. It also included a letter from her GP which stated she would benefit from alternative accommodation but did not specifically state that her GP thought it was have a seriously negative impact on her mental health. I am satisfied the Council gave to due regard to the information provided to it and that its decision was in keeping with its policy.
  3. Ms X requested a review of the Council’s decision. She says the reviewing officer who telephoned her advised her that the letter from her GP was too generic. I was not privy to the telephone conversation so I cannot come to a view on what was or was not said. However, I do not consider the officer advising Ms X that she would need more detailed information from her GP to help her request could amount to fault. Any comments of this nature would have informed Ms X what information would result in a higher award thereby helping her understand what supporting information she would need to source.
  4. As part of the review process further information was requested from Ms X’s GP. The response from her GP reiterated the medication she was but did not set out that she was under the care of a psychiatrist or other community mental health worker. On this basis the Council concluded that there was no evidence to support a higher priority banding being awarded. I am satisfied the Council had regard to the all information provided to it and that its decision was in accordance with its policy.
  5. I note that Ms X says the review was concluded before information from her GP was received. I do not agree. The GP information was received at the Council on 16 October and the Council did not conclude its review until 20 October.
  6. Ms X also contends the Council’s decision on her review was wrong because she receives disability related benefits. The Council’s Homefinder Policy says that to be awarded priority band 2A an applicant would normally be in receipt of such benefits. However the policy does not say that receiving such benefits alone will result in an award. An applicant would still need to meet the other criteria which, for the reasons set out above, the Council did not consider Ms X meet.
  7. Subsequent to her review Ms X provided a letter from her support worker which provides more in-depth details about how her current living conditions are impacting her mental health. It also explained that she was receiving care from a consultant psychiatrist. The Council considered the new information demonstrated an urgent need on medical grounds and her priority banding was increased to Band 2A. I am satisfied the Council considered the new information and that its decision was in keeping with its policy.
  8. The Council has accepted that the letter from her support worker demonstrated that her current accommodation was having a severe impact on her mental health. The same letter clearly sets out the problems caused to Ms X as a result of living in a flat. I recognise that Ms X will only receive housing benefit to cover the cost of one bedroom accommodation and that the Council’s housing stock does not include many, if any, one bedroom houses. Therefore the accommodation she requires is not available.
  9. I am however aware that the Councils housing stock includes some one bedroom bungalows which Ms X is prohibited from bidding from because she is not old enough. Given that it is accepted her current accommodation is having a severe impact on her health I would suggest that her case is considered by the Council’s housing panel. The panel should consider if her circumstances warrant a special exception being made to allow to bid for such properties.

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Agreed action

  1. I recommended the Council’s panel consider Ms X’s circumstances to see if her circumstances warrant a special exception being made to allow her to bid for accommodation that she would otherwise be precluded from bidding on. The Council agreed to do so.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation of this complaint as I have not found any evidence of fault by the Council and it agreed to act on my recommendation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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