The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council has failed to take account of his personal circumstances and wrongly suspended him from bidding on properties under the housing allocation scheme. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mr X’s applications to join the housing register.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council has failed to take account of his personal circumstances and wrongly suspended him from bidding on properties under the housing allocation scheme.
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. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with Mr X;
- sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their comments.
What I found
- Applicants who do not have a local connection to the area are permitted to join the Housing Register but are given lower priority than if they had a local connection. The Council will assess their housing needs and place them in the band that is one lower than if they had a local connection.
- The policy confirms that under the Right to Move regulations, existing social tenants who need to move due to work are exempt from the local connection requirements. Applicants must work in the area or have an offer of work in the area with a genuine intention of taking up the offer, and will need to provide evidence of this. The work must not be short term and should not normally be less than 16 hours a week.
- The allocation policy also states some applicants will be eligible to join the register but may be suspended from bidding for properties for a temporary period. This includes applicants who are successfully housed into a social housing property through the Gateway to Homechoice. In exceptional circumstances these applicants will be permitted to re-join the housing register but will be suspended from bidding for 12 months from the start of their tenancy.
- The scheme states the decision to suspend an eligible applicant from bidding for properties will be considered following a full assessment of the individual circumstances. Applicants have a right to request a review of this decision.
- In September 2017 Mr X applied to join the housing register. At that time he was living in another part of the country but was due to start work in the Council’s area. The Council accepted Mr X’s application and placed him in Band E – applicants who do not have a housing need.
- Mr X asked if his application could be considered under the Right to Move procedure. The Council asked Mr X to provide the necessary documentation. Mr X was able to provide some of the information required, but could not provide it all until he started his new job. The Welfare Panel was not prepared to increase Mr X’s priority without full evidence of his employment.
- Mr X also completed a medical form setting out his medical conditions and how his current accommodation affected him. The Council’s medical assessor considered this information and concluded Mr X’s medical conditions did not affect his future housing needs. The Council did not award Mr X any medical priority.
- Mr X successfully bid on a property and his tenancy began on 1 November 2017.
- In February 2018 Mr X made a new application to join the housing register. The Council suspended Mr X’s application as he had accepted a tenancy in November 2017 and was deemed adequately housed. The Council advised Mr X it would review the suspension after 1 November 2018. It also advised Mr X of his right to request a review.
- Mr X disputed that he was adequately housed and asked for a review of the decision. He asserted the property was cold and damp and did not meet the Decent Homes standards. Mr X stated the condition of the property was affecting his health and the cost of heating the property was causing financial difficulties. In addition Mr X wanted to move closer to where he worked to reduce his travel costs.
- The Council asked Mr X to provide evidence of his income and expenditure and medical conditions. It also contacted Mr X’s housing association for details of any complaints or issues Mr X had raised with the property. The Council then referred the matter to the Welfare Panel for consideration. The panel decided Mr X’s application should remain suspended until 1 November 2018. The panel considered the property was affordable and suggested Mr X seek assistance with budgeting.
- Mr X was unhappy with this decision and asked for a further review. He maintained the property did not meet the decent homes standards. The Council passed Mr X’s application to a neighbouring authority to review. The neighbouring authority agreed Mr X’s application should be suspended for 12 months from 1 November 2017.
- At the end of October 2018 the Council removed the suspension and placed Mr X in Band E.
- Mr X remains unhappy and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate. He maintains the property is affecting his health as it is cold and draughty and he is unable to afford to adequately heat it. Mr X has provided the Council with correspondence from his GP and a charity supporting his need to be rehoused.
- In response to my enquiries the Council states it investigated the issue of disrepair during the review process to decide whether to remove the suspension on welfare grounds. The Council states the issues of disrepair have been addressed and resolved by the housing association. The housing association does not consider the property is in disrepair and feels it meets the Decent Homes Standard.
- The property is a listed building and has a single insulation brick wall. The housing association explained this to Mr X and provided him with details of the energy efficiency rating when he signed the tenancy. The Council states that when Mr X viewed and accepted the property he knew the type of heating, age of the property and distance to his work.
- As part of its investigation of this complaint, a medical officer has considered Mr X’s application and would be prepared to award a higher banding. The Council states it would be open to applying this additional priority subject to further information/ confirmation from the housing association that they cannot resolve the heating issues. It would also require further information about the impact of this on Mr X’s health now.
- The Council has also considered Mr X’s travel costs. It has calculated the distance and cost of Mr X’s travel to work, and does not consider the journey to be unreasonable in terms of time or affordability.
- Mr X has responded to the draft decision. He disputes that the repairs to his property have been completed. He states there is an outstanding issue with the roof tiles and the secondary glazing. Although the Council has provisionally allocated a sum to install secondary glazing at the property, there is no guarantee this will happen. Mr X maintains the property is still too cold, even with the heating on and this is affecting his health.
- When considering complaints, we may not act like an appeal body. We cannot question the merits of the decision the Council has made or offer any opinion on whether or not we agree with the judgment of the Councils’ officers. Instead, we focus on the process by which the decision was made.
- The Council assessed Mr X’s application in accordance with its allocation policy, and placed him in Band E. Mr X was then able to identify a property and successfully bid on it. When Mr X made a further application to join the housing register the Council again considered it in line with its allocation policy. There is no evidence of fault in its decision to suspend his application, as Mr X had moved into social housing property through the Gateway to Homechoice in the previous 12 months.
- Nor is there evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mr X’s review requests. The Welfare Panel considered the information Mr X provided, and concluded the property was affordable as Mr X could pay all his necessary bills and expenses. Mr X disagrees with this decision, but it is one the panel was entitled to make. It was also supported by the neighbouring authority who considered the matter.
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mr X’s applications to join the housing register.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman