The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms B complains about the Council’s actions in respect of her housing needs, about administration of its housing transfer list and the information it provided to her. The Ombudsman finds there was fault by the Council in this matter. The faults identified caused injustice to Ms B, for which the Council has now agreed a remedy.
- The complainant, Ms B, complains the Council failed to give her appropriate information about the housing transfer list and that as a result she has been disadvantaged. She also complains she was given incorrect information about her banding and that in responding to her complaint the Council has not taken account of relevant factors, in particular about her young daughter and the need for a two-bedroom property.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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 considered all the information provided by Ms B about her complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and took account of the responses it provided. I provided Ms B and the Council with a draft of this decision and gave them the opportunity to comment.
What I found
- Ms B and her child were made homeless in 2013. Following a period in temporary accommodation, in January 2015 she was offered a one bedroom third floor flat in a block with a lift. It was a one year introductory tenancy which would lead to a two-year secure flexible tenancy.
- In August 2016, the Council wrote to Miss B to say it had decided to treat her tenancy as a secure from the end of her secure flexible tenancy, so her tenancy would not end on the specified date in the tenancy agreement and she could continue to live there.
- In February 2017 Ms B sent an email to the Council asking if there was a housing transfer list she could join. She did not receive a substantive response until April 2017, when the Council sent her a transfer application form to fill in. The Council awarded her a priority date of 27 July 2017, which it says is the date it received her application.
Ms B makes a complaint
- In February 2018 Ms B complained to the Council. She said she had been told when offered the property that it was her only option unless she was happy to move outside the borough, and she was not told that if she refused the properties offered she would simply no longer have priority. She also complained that she had been told that if she accepted the property she would be given an assured tenancy, which was not correct.
- In addition, Ms B asked the Council about the banding system used for deciding the allocation of properties. She was in Band 3, the relevant band for all applicants who are lacking one bedroom and who meet residency criteria. The Council’s allocations scheme awards additional priority to single parent households where the applicant is working 16 hours per week. Ms B said that when she moved into this property in January 2015 she was working 25 hours per week, and if placed on the housing transfer register at that time she would have been placed in Band 2, giving her increased priority. But she said she was not provided with information about the housing transfer list at this time. Having sent the Council several emails without response she made her complaint. She was then told she had been eligible to join the transfer list as of January 2016 (about 18 months earlier). Ms B now works 9-5 two days a week, and when she submitted the application form and documents for the transfer register she was told she would be in Band 2 based on her current employment. However, with lunch breaks Ms B’s working hours are 14 per week, not 16, and so when she received notification of her banding she found she was in Band 3.
- Ms B also complained about the suitability of her current accommodation, with reference to her daughter having anxiety and being afraid of lifts. Ms B’s six-year old daughter is currently having to share a bedroom with her.
- The Council responded to Ms B’s complaint. Its responses did not acknowledge any fault on its part. It considered Ms B had been appropriately advised about her housing entitlements and the housing transfer list. It said Ms B’s priority date was the date of her application in 2017 and it could not consider backdating to January 2016.
- Responding to my second set of enquiries on this complaint, the Council acknowledged that Ms B had received poor customer service. She had received incorrect information and there had been delays in dealing with the matters she raised. From my own analysis of the Council’s responses and evidence, it is clear that responses Ms B received to her enquiries and complaints did not properly address the issues, were not evidence-based, and were subject to delay. Record keeping has been poor. The Council for example has no hard evidence of the date it received Ms B’s application for transfer as the application has been misplaced, and it has no evidence she was advised of her right to request a review of banding. These failings were fault.
Injustice to Ms B
- In addition to acknowledging fault, the Council has acknowledged to the Ombudsman that Ms B has suffered distress, frustration and inconvenience as a result. In addition, there is uncertainty about the date which should apply to her application for a housing transfer.
- In correspondence with the Ombudsman the Council offered a remedy for the injustice caused by the fault identified by this complaint. The offer made was as follows:
- To backdate Ms B’s transfer application and award a priority date of 24 January 2016 for two-bedroom accommodation. This is the date her introductory period ended and it is the earliest date she would have been eligible to apply for a transfer from her current accommodation;
- To pay Ms B £250; and
- To contact Ms B and prioritise the re-assessment of her transfer application, giving her an opportunity to provide updated information to support her request for additional priority due to her employment status and the type of housing required on medical grounds.
- I discussed this offer with Ms B and she confirmed she was satisfied with the remedy proposed, provided that a timescale is set for its completion.
- I recommended that the Council take the steps set out above within four weeks of the date of the decision on the complaint.
- The Council has agreed to my recommendation.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis set out above.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman