The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council’s Housing Register and Nominations policy is not discriminatory. The Council acted in accordance with this policy. It sought medical information when required, and acted on the information it received.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr B, says the Council failed to make reasonable adjustments to admit him to the housing register when he was working and earning more than the Council’s threshold. Mr B became unemployed and applied again for housing, he says he needs a two bed, ground floor property with level access shower. The Council did not accept his medical evidence; he has been waiting for an Occupational Therapist assessment for nearly a year. Meanwhile, Mr B lives in a house with stairs, he has had several slips and falls; he worries daily for his safety.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated concerns about Horsham District Council.
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)
- 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:
- Information provided by Mr B and the Council.
- The Council’s ‘Housing Register and Nominations Policy’.
- The Housing Act 1996.
- The Equality Act 2010.
- Responses to a draft of this statement.
What I found
- Mr B lives alone in a privately rented two-bed house. Mr B is disabled and has mobility issues; it is dangerous for him managing the stairs.
- In 2017 Mr B applied to join the Council’s housing register. The Council rejected the application because of Mr B’s income. Its housing register policy says it will not admit an individual if they earn over £30,000. The policy also says in exceptional cases, it may not be necessary to apply qualification and disqualification criteria. Each case is considered on its merits.
- The Council considered whether Mr B’s case should count as an exception, but decided it did not. The Council was satisfied that despite Mr B’s disability he was capable to find and manage accommodation in the private sector. Mr B’s income meant private rented property was affordable, and adaptations should be affordable. The Council said there was no guarantee there would be properties on the housing register that were suitably adapted. Properties on the housing register would require the landlord’s permission to make any adaptations in the same way as the private sector. The Council did not therefore believe it was disadvantaging Mr B by not accepting him onto the housing register.
- In 2018 Mr B lost his job, and applied again to the Council’s housing register. On this occasion, he was eligible to join. The Council assessed he was eligible for a one-bed, ground floor, level access property, with a walk-in shower.
- The demand for social and affordable rented housing exceeds the supply, so people on the Council’s housing register can expect to wait a long time before they are successful in getting a property.
- Mr B then applied for a two-bed property, so his daughter can stay over and care for him. The Council asked for evidence that an overnight carer is required. Mr B’s GP provided a letter, but the Council was not satisfied it showed an overnight carer was required, and therefore Mr B had a need for two bedrooms. The GP letter said “[Mr B] feels that he needs a second room to accommodate her. As his condition is unlikely to improve, this degree of support is likely to be required and ongoing. A second room would therefore be beneficial. I think that they also need some occupational health assessment on this matter as it is difficult for me to comment further as to what kind of input and needs are required around the house”.
- The Council referred to external medical professionals who said Mr B’s needs could reasonably be met by visiting carers and there was no need for a second bedroom. Mr B remained on the housing register as eligible for a one-bed property as described in paragraph nine.
- A month later Mr B provided an occupational therapy report from West Sussex County Council. It is unclear how this came about, but it seems Mr B was on the waiting list for an occupational therapy assessment for over a year. Because during that time Mr B was not on the Council’s housing register, there was no need for the Council to chase this up in relation to his housing application. Any delays in relation to the occupational therapy involvement are not under the control of Horsham District Council.
- The occupational therapist report said Mr B needed two bedrooms. Now the Council had evidence of such a need it amended Mr B’s housing application to reflect this.
Was there fault causing injustice?
- I do not find fault in the Council’s housing allocations policy. It has criteria for qualification or disqualification onto its housing register, this is to be expected. However, it can decide not to apply this criteria in exceptional cases, and to admit someone onto the register regardless. This is appropriate, to consider each case on its own merits.
- The Council considered whether Mr B should be accepted as an exceptional case. It decided against this, and explained its reasons to Mr B. As the Council has properly considered this, there is no reason for the Ombudsman to criticise its decision, even though Mr B disagrees. I do not consider the Council discriminated against Mr B because of his disability.
- When Mr B joined the housing register the Council needed evidence of his needs to provide the correct accommodation, this is appropriate. I agree with the Council the GP’s evidence did not prove a need for two bedrooms. The Council took appropriate action to ask medical professional advisors to consider Mr B’s medical needs, and acted on the information it received. When the Council received clear evidence that Mr B needed two bedrooms, it acted appropriately to change his housing status on the housing register.
- During the time Mr B has been on the housing register he has not missed out on any two-bed, suitably adapted, properties as those allocated have not been in his preferred areas or have gone to someone who has been on the register longer than him.
- The delay in an occupational therapy report is not fault of Horsham District Council. There was no need for the Council to chase for this information, because it had sought medical information to assess Mr B’s housing application.
- Mr B’s safety within his current accommodation would be the responsibility of the West Sussex County Council Adult Social Care department, to assess needs and provide any interim support.
- I am satisfied the Council has acted in accordance with its Housing Register and Nominations Policy. The Council has sought medical evidence, and acted on the information it received.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis there was no fault by the Council.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated concerns about West Sussex County Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman