The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to properly assess his housing application. The Council was not at fault in how it considered Mr X’s housing priority.
- Mr X complained the Council failed to properly assess his housing application and placed him in the wrong priority banding. Mr X says because of this he is unable to find an alternative property.
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 have considered the information supplied by Mr X and have spoken to him on the telephone. I have considered the Council’s response to my enquiries.
- I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision.
What I found
- Every local housing authority must publish an allocations scheme that sets out how it prioritises applicants, and its procedures for allocating housing. All allocations must be made in strict accordance with the published scheme. (Housing Act 1996, section 166A(1) & (14))
- An allocations scheme must give reasonable preference to applicants in the following categories:
- homeless people;
- people in insanitary, overcrowded or unsatisfactory housing;
- people who need to move on medical or welfare grounds;
- people who need to move to avoid hardship to themselves or others;
(Housing Act 1996, section 166A(3))
- The Council operates a choice-based lettings scheme which enables housing applicants to bid for available properties which are advertised.
- The allocations scheme places applicants into one of four bands. Band A (urgent need) applicants have the highest priority. Band B (high need) applicants includes those who have a high need to move because of harassment or threat of violence or abuse and those who are threatened with homelessness within 56 days and are working with the homelessness prevention service. In relation to harassment the policy says it will award band B where it has investigated and identified the applicant is being subjected to harassment or other conduct causing alarm or distress that will be improved by a move to alternative accommodation.
- Band C (medium need) includes those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness who are either intentionally homeless or are not in priority need. Band D is all other applicants.
- The council prioritises applicants within each band based on the length of time they have been in the band.
- Mr X lives in private rented accommodation. In January 2018 Mr X met with a Council officer to discuss concerns about his landlord’s behaviour. Mr X says the landlord was opening his post and was using one of his rooms. The Council officer referred Mr X’s concerns to the Council’s planning department. It had concerns the property was not registered as a residential property. The Council officer explained this could impact on Mr X’s ability to live at the property. Mr X completed an application to join the Council’s housing register.
- Mr X complained to the Council as he heard nothing further from the Council officer. The Council responded in March 2018 and apologised. It confirmed the officer thought they had emailed Mr X after the meeting but had since contacted him. Mr X remained unhappy. He complained the officer had posted a letter to him rather than sent it by email as he requested. He raised further concerns about the landlord using his electricity, the boiler was not working properly and had not been serviced and the landlord had not protected his deposit.
- A Council manager agreed to speak with Mr X on the telephone. They apologised for the officer contacting him by letter and not email. The manager also emailed Mr X to ask if he wanted the Council to contact the landlord about his responsibilities, for confirmation of when he last had the boiler serviced and to clarify the electricity arrangements.
- The Council assessed Mr X’s housing application as band C. This was because it had reason to believe Mr X would be threatened with homelessness. Mr X asked the Council to contact the landlord about his electricity. He also said he had the boiler checked and the engineer recommended it was replaced. The Council wrote to the landlord about Mr X’s concerns. It also referred the concerns about the boiler to its Environmental Health Department who contacted the landlord.
- The landlord replaced the boiler in June 2018 and provided Mr X and the Council with a copy of its gas safety certificate. Mr X remained unhappy as he considered his banding did not take account of the harassment caused by his landlord entering his property without permission.
- The Council officer arranged to meet with Mr X in July 2018. They referred Mr X to its rent deposit scheme which can cover the deposit for a private rented property. They also referred Mr X to the Council’s single homeless service.
- The Council has since met with Mr X to consider whether there is sufficient evidence of harassment. It considered there was some evidence and asked Mr X to keep a record of the landlord’s actions that he is concerned about. It also agreed to write to the landlord setting out their legal obligations.
- The Council assessed Mr X’s housing application in line with its policy. The Council took the view there was no ongoing harassment and the issues with the landlord could be resolved. There were differing views between the landlord and Mr X about what was agreed regarding property access at the start of the tenancy. Mr X was at risk of homelessness as the property was not registered as a residential dwelling and so it considered his application was band C.
- It is for the Council to decide what priority Mr X’s housing application should receive. There is no evidence of fault in how the Council reached its decision on Mr X’s housing priority. Mr X does not agree with the Council’s decision but as there was no fault in the process followed, I cannot question the decision reached. The Council is continuing to investigate Mr X’s complaints of harassment. It is for the Council to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant it awarding Mr X a higher banding. Once it has concluded its investigation I would expect the Council to update Mr X on whether his housing application warrants a higher banding.
- I have completed my investigation as there is no evidence of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman