Norwich City Council (18 005 899)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 30 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains he cannot bid for suitable properties on the Council’s online housing system. The Ombudsman finds the Council is not at fault in how it assessed Mr B’s eligibility for housing. There is fault in how it communicated changes to Mr B’s eligibility but this did not cause Mr B significant enough injustice for the Ombudsman to recommend a remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr B, complains the Council has not offered him suitable housing. Mr B says he has gold priority banding to bid on adapted, ground floor, two bedroom properties. He says he is now only able to bid on flats on the first floor or higher, which are unsuitable because he is a wheelchair user. When he attempts to bid on two bedroom bungalows the online system says he is not eligible. Mr B feels the Council has discriminated against him based on his disability.

What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mr B’s complaint about the types of property is eligible to bid on.

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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)
  3. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mr B and the Council. I made further enquiries of Mr B and the Council then sent a copy of my draft decision to both for their comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr B currently lives in an adapted three-bedroom house with his wife. Until early 2018 his daughter also lived at home.
  2. Mr B says the house is not suitable because he is a wheelchair user and the only bathroom is on the first floor. He applied for new housing in 2010 through the Council’s Home Options scheme. Before 2014, he had silver band priority for bidding on two bedroom properties as he was under-occupying by one bedroom.
  3. If an applicant is willing to move into a property with fewer bedrooms, the Council may award them a higher priority. It is because Mr B was willing to downsize that he received silver band priority.
  4. The Council assesses the size of property a person is eligible for based on the number of people in their household. Couples are deemed to share bedrooms. The Council will only consider that a couple is eligible for two bedrooms if there is a specific medical need, such as storage of medical equipment.
  5. The Council found Mr B was eligible for two bedroom properties as he and his wife would share a bedroom and his daughter needed a separate bedroom.
  6. In 2014 a medical assessment panel awarded Mr B medical priority. The Council then prioritised his application in the gold band based on the need for an adapted, two-bedroom ground floor property. It was agreed an occupational therapist would attend viewings to advise on the property’s suitability.
  7. In early 2018, Mr B informed the Council by telephone that his daughter had moved out of home. An advisor told Mr B he would remove his daughter from Mr B’s Home Options application. Mr B telephoned again a few days later as he wanted to bid on a two-bedroom bungalow. An advisor said Mr B could not bid on the property as he was assessed as requiring one bedroom.
  8. Mr B complained to the Council because he was not able to bid on suitable two bedroom properties. The only two bedroom properties he could bid on were on higher floor flats, which were not suitable for wheelchair access.
  9. The Council wrote to Mr B on three occasions over three months in 2018. In each of the letters the Council explained couples were only eligible for properties with one bedroom. The letters explained, if Mr B felt he needed two bedrooms for medical reasons he should request an up to date occupational therapist assessment. It also explained that some low demand two bedroom properties would be visible to him on the system that may not be suitable for him. It is for Mr B to bid on properties that are suitable.
  10. Mr B telephoned the Council again as he wanted to know why he was being discriminated against for bidding on two bedroom properties. He said he needed two bedrooms for medical reasons.
  11. Mr B says that he sleeps in a hospital bed and therefore he and his wife need two rooms. He wanted to know who had changed his application as before he was told he could bid for two bedrooms. The conversation appears to have been a difficult one. The advisor was not certain why this had changed and did not get the opportunity to find out. He advised Mr B he would need to supply medical evidence of the need for a two-bedroom property.
  12. A further medical assessment was submitted and completed in mid-2018. This assessment did not alter the Council’s view of Mr B’s eligibility.

Findings

  1. The Council is not at fault in how it considered the size of property Mr B can bid for.
  2. The Council considers that a couple will share a bedroom. Its policy is clear on this point. Therefore, couples can only bid on one bedroom properties. If low demand two bedroom properties are available, the applicant may bid on these as well. Unsuitable two bedroom properties may, therefore, be visible to Mr B on the Home Options system. However, it is his responsibility to bid on properties that are suitable, which would include the adapted, ground floor, one bedroom properties.
  3. Mr B bid on adapted, ground floor two bedroom properties before his daughter moved out of home. This is because the Council’s policy allows an applicant to bid on larger properties if they have children living at home. After Mr B’s daughter moved out of home, she was taken off Mr B’s Home Options application. His eligibility then changed and he was no longer able to bid on two bedroom properties, only one bedroom.
  4. There is some fault on the Council’s part in the way it communicated with Mr B. This is because the Council did not properly inform him about the impact his daughter moving out would have on the size of property he could bid on.
  5. In the telephone call in which Mr B told the Council his daughter moved out, the advisor says she will be removed from his application. However, there is no evidence the advisor explained the impact this would have. The Council goes on to explain several times in writing and on the telephone that the reason Mr B can only bid on one bedroom properties is because the Council consider a couple share a bedroom. Yet at no point does the Council explain why the number of bedrooms he is eligible for has reduced, or draw a link between this and his daughter being removed from the application.
  6. Mr B’s complaint is primarily that he does not understand why he can no longer bid on suitable two bedroom properties. It appears Mr B has not understood the link between his daughter moving out and the change in the size of property he can bid on. He has asked the Council several times to explain why he cannot bid for suitable two bedroom properties. It has responded and set out the correct reasons for why he cannot do so now. However, it has not properly explained why there has been this change. I believe the way the Council has communicated with Mr B, may have contributed to his confusion.
  7. While the Council is at fault in its communication, this has not caused Mr B significant enough injustice that I would recommend a remedy. This is because the Council applied its policy correctly and there is no evidence this policy is in any way discriminatory to Mr B based on his disability. A clearer explanation may have avoided the need for his complaint but would not have altered the main injustice Mr B feels has been caused to him, which is that he cannot bid for two bedroom properties.

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Final decision

  1. The Council is not at fault in how it assessed Mr B’s eligibility for housing. There is fault in how it has communicated changes to Mr B’s eligibility but this has not caused Mr B significant enough injustice for the Ombudsman to recommend a remedy.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. There are three linked concerns Mr B raised, which I have not investigated for the reasons set out below.
  2. The first is Mr B’s complaint about the suitability of properties the Council has offered. I am aware Mr B has bid on properties over several years. Mr B’s bids for several properties have not been accepted. He has also refused offers for other properties that the Council deemed suitable but Mr B says were not.
  3. The last property Mr B unsuccessfully bid on was in April 2017. Before that he made bids going back to 2015. The Ombudsman only investigates matters within the last 12 months unless there is good reason. In this case, I have seen no reason why Mr B could not have complained to us earlier about these matters. I do not therefore consider the Ombudsman should exercise its discretion about time and investigate whether Mr B should have been successful in bidding for each of these properties.
  4. The Council last offered Mr B a property it considered suitable in November 2017. Mr B refused this offer and several others going back to 2015. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint that these properties were not suitable. The only case we could investigate within the 12-month time constraint is the last offer in November 2017. However, since then, Mr B’s eligibility has changed. He is no longer eligible for two bedroom properties, only one bedrooms. The Ombudsman could not therefore achieve a constructive remedy by investigating past decisions.
  5. During the investigation, Mr B raised another concern about his housing benefit. This is a separate complaint, which Mr B would need to raise separately with the Ombudsman once it has completed the Council’s internal complaints process. I have therefore not investigated this concern.
  6. I have not investigated whether the Council properly considered Mr B’s current medical assessment and if he needs an extra bedroom for medical reasons. This is because I was not aware until part way through the investigation that an updated medical assessment had taken place. If Mr B has concerns about how the Council considered this assessment and considered his need for an extra room, he would need to raise this with the Council first. If once the Council completed its internal procedures, Mr B was unhappy with the outcome, he could then raise a further complaint with the Ombudsman.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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