Gloucester City Council (18 002 689)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 09 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained the Council failed to consider her husband’s and daughter’s medical needs when assessing their allocated housing band. The Council is not at fault

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mrs X, complained the Council failed to consider her husband’s and daughter’s medical needs when reviewing her family's housing band. She believes the Council wrongly banded the family as silver instead of gold.
  2. Mrs X states the current home is overcrowded and is impacting on her husband’s and daughter’s medical health. She is frustrated the Council has not explained how it made its decision

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  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 discussed the complaint with Mrs X.
  2. I made enquires of the Council and reviewed the documents provided.
  3. Mrs X and the Council both had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a legal duty to have a scheme for allocating housing. A council can set its own housing policies and decide all parts of the allocations process.
  1. The law says a council must give people with a high housing need “reasonable preference” through the allocations scheme. This includes applicants that:
    • are homeless;
    • are living in overcrowded, insanitary or otherwise unsatisfactory conditions; and
    • need to move based on medical or welfare grounds.
  2. The council decides reasonable preference by placing applicants in a certain priority band depending on their circumstances. The council uses a banding system of emergency, gold and silver (high to low priority). Applicants have a right to ask for a review of this decision.
  3. If a property lacks two or more bedrooms the applicant receives gold banding. If it lacks one bedroom, they receive silver banding.
  4. The Council’s policy states gold banding for a medical condition applies “when the situation is so serious that it would not be reasonable to expect the applicant to continue to live at the property for any length of time, given their particular medical/welfare circumstances but not a life-threatening emergency. Proof of the situation would be required from Social Care services, NHS or other medical specialists”.
  5. Applicants asking for priority because of a medical condition must explain why their current property affects the condition. A housing officer will assess whether the property has an adverse effect on the applicant’s social or medical well-being.
  6. If necessary, the Council will ask for a medical report from an independent medical advisor. The advisor bases their assessment on the medical condition, the effect the property has on that condition and how moving to an alternative property could help.
  7. Following the assessment, the Council will write to the applicant with the outcome.
  8. If the applicant disagrees with the assessment, they can ask for a review under the Council’s review and appeal procedure.

What happened

  1. Mrs X lives with her husband and three children in a two-bedroom property. Mrs X shares a bedroom with her husband. The three children, two girls and a boy, are aged eleven, ten and seven and share the second bedroom.
  2. In 2013 the Council allocated the family silver banding because the property was overcrowded and lacked a bedroom.
  1. In 2017, Mrs X asked the Council to review the allocated banding because of her husband’s (Mr X) and daughter’s (Y) medical needs.
  2. On 7 March, a Housing Officer visited Mrs X and completed a report. This stated:
    • Mr X suffers from a skin disorder that he manages with immunosuppressant medication. This is linked to stress. Mr X had previously been hospitalised when this flared up. Overcrowding at home was leading to Mr X feeling stressed.
    • Y suffers from restrictive eating patterns which are affected by stress. Mrs X said Y was stressed because of sharing a room with her two younger siblings.
  3. The Housing Officer’s report concluded “Not only are they overcrowded, but there is evidence to suggest that their home environment is affecting their health and wellbeing”.
  4. As well as the Housing Officer’s report, Mrs X put in a supporting letter from the children’s school and her employer.
  5. On 24 March 2017, the Council wrote to Mrs X. It stated it had considered the impact overcrowding had on all members of the household in terms of health, school and work. However, the Council considered the family had the correct banding of silver to reflect they were overcrowded and lacked a bedroom.
  6. The Council stated it would be happy to review the application if Mrs X provided further medical evidence.
  7. On 19 April Mrs X got a letter from her doctor. It stated Y had problems with an eating disorder and that under the circumstances “it is particularly inappropriate the two girls share a room with their younger brother”.
  8. On 20 April Mrs X asked for a review. She stated stress aggravated her husband’s skin condition and daughter’s eating issues. She argued that the Council should allocate the family gold band priority based on their medical needs.
  9. The Council’s review stated it considered Mr X’s and Y’s medical history.
  10. The Council also sought advice from its independent medical adviser. The adviser stated, “the medical conditions, documented in the supporting evidence provided, have not been significantly affected by residing in your current home”. The adviser did not explain how they reached this opinion.
  11. The Council sent Mrs X its decision confirming it had correctly assessed the housing application as silver band for overcrowding.
  12. On 1 May 2017 Mrs X sent a stage two appeal request. She asked for a copy of the independent medical adviser’s report. She questioned how the medical adviser had reached the opinion that her husband’s and daughter’s medical conditions were not affected by housing. She stated she had provided medical evidence stating stress aggravated her husband’s condition.
  13. On 12 June 2017, the Council completed its stage two appeal. The Council’s recording equipment used to record appeal meetings malfunctioned and the recording of Mrs X’s appeal hearing was lost. However, the appeal adjudicator confirmed the panel members considered all the medical evidence provided when making their decision.
  14. The Council sent Mrs X a letter stating after “careful consideration of the evidence presented, a unanimous decision was returned that your banding is correct”. This letter did not explain why Mr X’s and Y’s medical conditions did not meet the criteria for medical need priority.
  15. In response to my enquiries, the Council stated the silver band decision was correct. It advised it had considered the medical information provided but has acknowledged this was not explicit in the letters it sent to Mrs X.
  16. During my investigation, the housing association had a larger property come available. Mrs X and her family have moved into this.

My findings

  1. The Ombudsman 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.
  2. Mrs X complained the Council failed to consider medical evidence when assessing the family’s housing banding. Specifically, she felt Y’s and Mr X’s medical conditions met the criteria for gold priority under medical need.
  3. The stage one review letter advised the Council considered the medical history of Mr X and Y. It also considered the medical advisor’s opinion that Mr X’s and Y’s medical conditions had not been significantly affected by living in their home. The Council made its decision based on this advice. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.
  4. The Council has confirmed the appeal panel considered all the medical evidence. However, the letter sent to Mrs X following the appeal did not explain how the panel reached its decision that Mr X and Y’s medical conditions did not give the family medical priority need.
  5. The Council therefore failed at both stages to provide Mrs X with an explanation about why they did not qualify for medical need.
  6. Although there are lessons the Council can learn from this complaint over how it communicates its decisions to applicants, I stop short of making a finding of fault. This is because the Council did consider all the medical evidence when assessing the family’s housing banding.

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Final decision

  1. Mrs X complained the Council failed to consider her husband’s and daughter’s medical needs when assessing their allocated housing band. The Council is not at fault. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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