London Borough of Camden (18 001 109)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 10 Dec 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the Council’s consideration of his request for housing help. Mr B complains that the Council mishandled both his housing register application and homelessness application. We cannot investigate Mr B’s complaint about his housing register application because Mr B took the Council to court. We will not continue to investigate Mr B’s complaint about his homelessness application. This is because there is the possibility this will be considered as part of his appeal to the county court.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mr B, complains about the Council’s handling of his request for housing help after he was made homeless. Specifically, Mr B complains that the Council:
    • did not allow him to join the housing register;
    • did not tell him about its decision not to allow him onto the housing register or its review of this decision;
    • did not provide him with accommodation after he was made homeless; and,
    • wrongly told him he could not put in a housing register application and homelessness application at the same time.

What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mr B’s complaints that the Council:
    • did not provide him with accommodation after he was made homeless; and,
    • wrongly told him he could not put in a housing register application and homelessness application at the same time.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has appealed to a tribunal or a government minister or started court action about the matter. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6), as amended)
  3. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6) as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr B’s complaint and have discussed the complaint with him. I have made enquiries to the Council and have considered information provided by the Council in response. I have also shared a draft version of this statement with Mr B and the Council and have considered their comments in response.

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What I found

  1. When a person applies to a council for accommodation and it has reason to believe they may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, a number of duties arise, including:
    • to make enquiries;
    • to secure suitable accommodation for certain applicants pending the outcome of the enquiries;
    • to notify the applicant of the decision in writing and the right to request a review of the decision.
  2. A council must secure interim accommodation for applicants and their household if it has reason to believe they may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have a priority need. (Housing Act 1996, section 188)
  3. 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)
  4. Homeless applicants may request a review within 21 days of being notified of the decision on their homelessness application. There is also a right to request a review of the suitability of temporary accommodation provided once the Council has accepted the main homelessness duty. (Housing Act 1996, section 202)
  5. Where an applicant requests a review of a council’s decision this must be completed within eight weeks. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the review decision or if a council fails to reach a decision within eight weeks the applicant can appeal to the County Court on a point of law. The Ombudsman would normally expect someone to appeal to the County Court.

What happened

  1. Mr B approached the Council for housing help in late October 2017 after he was required to leave his leasehold property which was scheduled for demolition.
  2. The Council says Mr B saw a duty adviser on 1 November and requested temporary accommodation.
  3. An appointment was then made with Mr B for 21 November. The Council’s notes of the appointment include the following comments “[Mr B] insisted on his right to make a homeless application and was offered TA [temporary accommodation] which he then refused.” Mr B says the Council did not offer him any accommodation.
  4. The case was allocated to a homeless assessment officer, who spoke to Mr B on 28 November. Mr B says the officer told him that his request for housing would be treated as a homelessness application and his housing register application would be stayed. Mr B says he asked the officer to continue with his housing register application and to decide whether he wants to consider the homelessness application or place it on hold. Mr B says he told the officer that he had the right to pursue a housing register application and homelessness application at the same time.
  5. The Council says in December Mr B told the Council he did not want to pursue his homelessness application.
  6. On 13 April 2018 the Council wrote a letter to Mr B saying he had refused an offer of accommodation on 1 November 2017 and had decided not to pursue his homelessness application. The Council said it had closed Mr B’s homelessness application and decided Mr B was no longer in need of assistance. The Council did not send the letter to Mr B, rather it was kept on file.
  7. Mr B later found out about the letter dated 13 April. Mr B did not accept he had been offered accommodation. Mr B put in a complaint to the Council and asked for a review of the decision dated 13 April 2018.
  8. The Council responded to the complaint in mid-June.
  9. Mr B then put in an appeal to the county court against the Council’s decision of 13 April 2018. The county court heard Mr B’s appeal in September and scheduled the case for a further hearing. The Council has provided copies of Mr B’s grounds of appeal dated July 2018 and the county court order of September 2018.

Analysis

  1. My view is we should not continue to investigate Mr B’s complaint about the Council’s handling of his homelessness application. This is because Mr B has used his statutory right of appeal against the Council’s decision letter dated 13 April 2018 and the court proceedings are ongoing.
  2. I recognise Mr B does not have a statutory right of appeal against the Council’s alleged failure to provide him with interim accommodation. But, it seems to me the issues Mr B has complained to us about are clearly relevant to the Council’s decision letter dated 13 April 2018. So, it is possible the county court may consider the issues Mr B has complained about and provide a remedy for Mr B. I also note the court order indicates the Council is willing to look at Mr B’s homelessness application again and make a new decision.
  3. Once the court proceedings have ended it would be open to Mr B to complain to us again if his complaint remains unresolved. We would then be in a better position to decide whether we can and should form a view on the issues complained about. But, until then it is too early to give further consideration to Mr B’s complaint.

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Final decision

  1. Mr B has taken the Council to court and it is too early to decide if the Ombudsman can and should form a view on the matters Mr B complains about. So, I have used the Ombudsman’s discretion to end my investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not investigated Mr B’s complaints that the Council: did not allow him to join the housing register; and, did not tell him about its decision not to allow him onto the housing register or its review of this decision. This is because Mr B has started judicial review proceedings against the Council about these matters. Because Mr B has started court action, I cannot investigate these complaints.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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