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London Borough of Newham (19 010 338)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains that the Council suspended his housing register application after seven years of bidding for housing, when he had reached the top of the list and would otherwise have been offered accommodation. He says the Council would not accept the evidence he says proves a local connection to the area. He says he should have been able to take up the Council’s offer of accommodation in 2018 but he is now stuck in a hostel outside the borough. The Ombudsman does not find the Council at fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr X, complains that the Council suspended his housing register application after seven years of bidding for housing, when he had reached the top of the list and would otherwise have been offered accommodation. The Council was not satisfied with the evidence he provided to prove his local connection to the area. Mr X says he cannot provide the evidence the Council needs, and it was not his decision to move to another London borough.
  2. Mr X says he should have been able to take up the Council’s offer of accommodation in 2018, which he was looking forward to. He says he is now stuck in a hostel out of the borough.

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What I have investigated

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints that are more than 12 months after the complainant first had knowledge of the problem, unless there are good reasons to do so.
  2. In this case, there was a delay of a year between September 2018 when the Council reviewed its decision and maintained Mr X had no local connection, and September 2019 when Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. During this year, Mr X’s MP was liaising with the Council about this matter. This meant the timeliness was out of Mr X’s hands.
  3. For this reason, I have decided there are good reasons to exercise our discretion and investigate this complaint.

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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. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  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 and documents provided by Mr X, the Council, and the housing charity (via the Council). I spoke to Mr X about his complaint. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement. I considered all comments before I reached a final decision.
  2. I considered the relevant legislation and policies, set out below. I also considered the Ombudsman’s focus report called ‘Homelessness: How councils can ensure justice for homeless people’, published July 2011 (subsequently updated).

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What I found

What should have happened

The law

  1. If a council is satisfied someone is eligible, homeless, in priority need, and unintentionally homeless it will owe them the main homelessness duty. ‘Priority need’ means someone with dependent children, someone who is pregnant, who is under 18 years old or is vulnerable, for example – being ill, disabled or the victim of domestic abuse.
  2. If someone is not in priority need, the council is obliged to offer advice on avoiding homelessness and to help that person with their search to find somewhere to live.

The Council’s housing allocation policy

  1. The Council’s policy says that to apply to join the housing register the person must be 18 years of age or older, a Newham resident and have been so continuously for the past two years, or have a strong local connection with Newham.
  2. The policy says that a ‘local connection’ applies if the person:
    • works in Newham
    • has close relatives (parents, siblings or children) living in the borough
    • is a Newham tenant living in one of the out-of-borough estates
    • is owed a duty by the Council under the Housing Act 1996
    • has been placed in a women's refuge outside Newham but was referred to that refuge by the Council or another organisation in Newham
    • has been placed in accommodation by the Council or the Newham Local Health Authority, and are continuing to receive services from the Council or the Newham Local Health Authority
    • has been nominated to the Council through the Pan Mobility Scheme, Safe and Secure Scheme and any other scheme to which the Council subscribes
  3. The policy is clear that an applicant must meet at least one of the requirements for local connection to apply. It says if the applicant does not live in Newham and does not have a local connection, they will not be able to register on the housing register.

What happened

  1. In 2005, Mr X moved to Newham. In 2011, Mr X joined the Council’s housing register.
  2. In June 2014, Mr X received a possession order from the hostel he was living in. He met with the Council and discussed the housing register and private sector rentals. He was given a housing options pack.
  3. The Council gave Mr X advice to prevent him from becoming homeless. It said if Mr X was not able to arrange accommodation by the eviction date, it may be able to refer him to another hostel. The Council advised Mr X to renew his housing register application, look for alternative accommodation, and told him about its rent deposit scheme.
  4. In July 2014, the Council referred Mr X to a homelessness charity (which I will refer to as ‘the charity’). He began living at hostel accommodation provided by the charity in August 2014.
  5. In April 2016, the charity moved Mr X from that hostel to another address. This new address was in a nearby London borough.
  6. In 2018, Mr X’s housing register application reached the top of waiting list. He was shortlisted for a property.
  7. In April 2018, Mr X updated his housing register application with the out-of-borough address, and said that he moved there in 2016.
  8. In May, the Council offered Mr X a property.
  9. Mr X told the Council that his brother lived in Newham and this was his local connection. The Council asked Mr X for evidence to show his brother lived there. It said until it got this evidence, it could not offer Mr X the property because he was not eligible. It told Mr X of his right to review this decision.
  10. In June, Mr X told the Council it had assessed him as homeless in 2014. He enclosed copies of evidence to do with his brother.
  11. The Council said Mr X’s evidence did not show that he had lived in the borough for the last two years, and did not show a local connection.
  12. In August, the Council wrote to Mr X’s solicitors. It said the documents Mr X provided do not say that the man Mr X said was his brother (Mr B) was actually his brother.
  13. In September, Mr X’s MP asked for a review of the Council’s decision. The Council confirmed the evidence Mr X provided did not show a local connection.
  14. In October, Mr B wrote to the Council. He said that he was not Mr X’s brother, but was like a brother to him. Mr B said he met Mr X when Mr X moved to the UK.
  15. The Council told Mr X that this did not prove he had a local connection.
  16. In April 2019, Mr X’s MP asked for another review of the Council’s decision, saying Mr X could not provide a birth certificate that proved Mr B was Mr X’s brother.
  17. In August, the Council emailed Mr X’s MP. It said Mr X moved out of the borough in 2016 but did not change his address on his application to show this. So, this meant Mr X’s address still appeared to be within the borough. It said Mr X had been bidding on properties even though he had lived outside the borough since 2016.
  18. The Council said that when an applicant logs onto the system to bid for a property, the system always asks if the details on the application are still accurate. It said the system did not ask Mr X to provide evidence for local connection because he answered ‘yes’ to being an accepted homeless case, which he was not.
  19. Mr X then complained to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

Evidence of a local connection

  1. The Council asked Mr X to prove his local connection. Mr X said his local connection was that his brother, Mr B, lived in the borough. The Council did not accept Mr X’s evidence as proof of a local connection because Mr X could not prove that Mr B was Mr X’s brother.
  2. I find that Mr B’s letter to the Council is clear: he is not Mr X’s brother. Mr X has confirmed this to me. For this reason, the Council is not at fault for not accepting Mr X’s evidence that Mr B is Mr X’s brother.

Homelessness duty

  1. Mr X says the Council accepted a duty to house him after he made a homelessness application in 2014.
  2. Council records show that when Mr X was assessed in 2014, no homelessness application was taken. Records show that Mr X was threatened with homelessness, and this is how the Council dealt with Mr X.
  3. The Council says Mr X asked for a referral to the homelessness charity in 2014. Records show that the Council referred Mr X to this charity which then provided him with accommodation. The Council also says that the people it refers to this charity do not meet the main homelessness duty. It says Mr X was not vulnerable or a priority need.
  4. The law says if someone is not in priority need, a council is obliged to offer advice on avoiding homelessness and to help that person with their search to find somewhere to live.
  5. I find that Mr X did not meet the criteria for the Council to owe him a homelessness duty. Mr X was not in priority need. I find that the Council did what it should have done to prevent Mr X from becoming homeless. For this reason, I do not find the Council at fault.
  6. Because I find that the Council did not owe Mr X this duty, this means that the Council did not have to accept Mr X’s application to the housing register. This is in line with the Council’s policy.
  7. For this reason, I do not find the Council at fault.

Mr X’s move to another London borough

  1. Mr X says the Council housed him with the charity and it was not his decision to move to another London borough.
  2. The charity says it assisted Mr X to find private sector accommodation. It says this was not something the Council assisted with or were involved with.
  3. As above, I find that the Council did what it should have done to prevent Mr X from becoming homeless, in line with the law. The Council referred Mr X to the charity, and the charity helped Mr X find accommodation.
  4. I do not find that the Council housed Mr X or accepted a homelessness duty for him. Mr X accepted the accommodation offered to him in 2016, despite it being outside the Newham borough. This is not evidence of fault.
  5. It is unfortunate that by moving out of the borough, Mr X lost his local connection and therefore his right to apply for the housing register. However, the Council has correctly applied its policy when assessing Mr X’s application. For this reason, I do not find the Council at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I do not uphold Mr X’s complaint because there is no fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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