The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs B complains about the Council’s handling of her housing transfer application which is hampering her move to alternative, more suitable accommodation. There is no evidence of fault by the Council and we will not pursue the complaint any further.
- Mrs B complains the Council has fettered its discretion by failing to consider a move for her and her husband to a house rather than a bungalow or ground floor flat. She has indicated they would be willing to make a financial contribution towards the cost of any adaptation required for a house move but this has been ignored by the Council and has significantly reduced the number of properties they may be able to move to. The Council has also failed to properly consider all the medical evidence she has submitted.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
- it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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
- In considering the complaint I spoke to Mrs B and reviewed the information she and the Council provided. Both Mrs B and the Council were given the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Mrs B and her husband are disabled and live in council-owned accommodation which is on the ground floor with ramped access and a wet room. They wish to move to alternative accommodation.
- In 2017 Mrs B applied for a transfer to a bungalow with two bedrooms and a level access shower or wet room. She later confirmed she and Mr B would also be willing to move to a ground floor flat. Later, Mrs B told the Council they would also consider moving to a house but the Council told her that it would not be able to consider them for this type of property because of their mobility problems.
- The Council’s allocation policy states that “Applicants with disabilities may be shortlisted for properties that have not been adapted. However, the shortlisted applicant may be overlooked if it is not reasonable and practicable to adapt the property to meet the needs of the applicant. Applicants may need to make a financial contribution towards the costs of any adaptations that are carried out to meet their needs, depending upon their individual circumstances.”
- In support of their request to move properties, Mrs B submitted her own medical evidence to be considered along with that already provided by her husband with the aim of increasing their priority and securing an earlier move. The Council considered this evidence but their priority did not change.
- Dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council’s response to her complaint about her housing transfer, Mrs B complained to the Ombudsman. In responding to our enquiries, the Council explained that while applicants may be shortlisted for properties that have not been adapted, this is not an absolute right and that its policy says an applicant may be overlooked if it is not reasonable and practicable to adapt the property to meet the needs of the applicant.
- It explained it wanted to make best use of its housing stock and that this would not be achieved by adapting a property to meet the needs of a household with well documented mobility issues because it would significantly restrict any future occupation of the property when there is adequate provision within the Council’s stock to better meet their needs, such as a bungalow or ground floor flat. It stated that while applicants may be required to make a financial contribution towards the cost of adaptations that are carried out to meet their needs, this is only the case where the Council determines that the adaptations are reasonable and practicable and this is not the case with Mr and Mrs B.
- The Council’s allocations policy says applicants with disabilities may be shortlisted for properties that have not been adapted but in this case the Council has considered Mr and Mrs B’s situation and decided they will not be considered for a move to a house. Its view is that it would be unreasonable to consider them for a house when a two-bedroom ground floor flat or bungalow would be suitable and appropriate and that carrying out extensive adaptation work to a house would not make best use of its housing stock because this would significantly restrict its use in the future. It has also explained that considering Mr and Mrs B for a house would lead to an additional administrative burden for its staff because they would appear on the shortlist only to be discounted with a note recorded against their application as to why the application had been rejected.
- While this is disappointing for Mr and Mrs B, there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council has dealt with their case. It has properly considered matters and concluded for the reasons stated that they will not be considered for a move to a house. This is a decision the Council is entitled to make and its merits are not open to review by the Ombudsman.
- The Council says it has no record of correspondence where Mrs B offered to pay for adaptations and while Mrs B has pointed to notes she made from a meeting in January 2018 where this matter was raised, her position is unchanged and the Council has confirmed she may be shortlisted for un-adapted flats or bungalows and a decision made at the time of shortlisting whether it is reasonable and practicable to carry out adaptations to meet their needs.
- The Council has provided details of the medical evidence Mrs B has submitted since February 2017, and which it has considered in determining the couple’s priority. Mrs B is unhappy that this has not resulted in a higher priority for a move but the assessment of medical evidence is a matter for the Council and there is no evidence of fault in how it handled matters here.
- There is no evidence of fault by the Council and we will not pursue the complaint any further
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman