The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs N complained the Council did not properly consider her health issues when it assessed her priority banding under its housing allocations procedure. Mrs N says the Council placed her in a lower banding which affected her mental health and caused her stress and anxiety. We did not find fault by the Council.
- Mrs N says the Council has failed to consider medical information when assessing her priority banding for housing. Mrs N says the Council has placed her in a lower banding which will affect her ability to bid on properties.
- Mrs N says her current housing is having an impact on her existing mental health conditions causing anxiety and distress.
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)
- 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
- I discussed the complaint with Mrs N and considered the information she provided.
- I have made enquiries with the Council and considered the information it provided in response.
- I sent Mrs N and the Council a draft decision and took any comments into account before issuing a final decision.
What I found
Legislation and Guidance
- Every local housing authority must publish an allocation 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))
- The Ombudsman recognises the demand for social housing far outstrips the supply of properties in many areas. We may not find fault with a council for failing to re-house someone if it has prioritised applicants and allocated properties according to its published lettings scheme policy.
The Council’s Housing Allocations Scheme
- The Council runs a choice-based lettings scheme which enables housing applicants to bid for available properties which it advertises.
- Qualifying applicants are placed in one of five priority bands following an assessment of their housing needs which includes welfare and medical. Band A is the highest priority band and Band E is the lowest. Bids on properties are shortlisted in priority order.
- For this case I have considered the Council’s criteria for awarding priority within the Council’s priority bands:
- Band B “Severe” – “The current housing is having a severe impact on the applicant’s (or family members) health and their health will deteriorate if the applicant is not moved to a suitable property”; and
- Band C “Adverse” – “The current housing is having an adverse impact on the applicant’s health. Their health will not deteriorate in current accommodation, but the adverse impact will be reduced if the applicant moves to somewhere more suitable.” The Council also places applications in priority band C from applicants who have a need to move on welfare grounds.
- Applicants with serious medical issues may complete a self-assessment form which will be considered and assessed by a Housing Officer as to whether priority should be awarded. The Housing Officer will consider;
- how the accommodation is affecting the medical condition;
- the severity of the effect of housing is having on the medical condition;
- the severity in comparison to other applicants; and
- whether other options are viable to improve the situation;
- The Housing Officer may seek advice from a Medical Advisor when assessing whether an applicant should be placed in a higher priority band on medical grounds.
- The Council’s scheme confirms that applicants may request a review of the priority band. A request must be made within 21 days of the decision.
- This chronology includes key events in this case and does not cover everything that happened.
- Mrs N rents a home in the private sector. In August 2019 Mrs N explained to the Council that her current rent had become unaffordable and therefore she wanted to be allocated to the Council's housing list.
- When completing the application form Mrs N answered “No” to the question “[is] the existing home having an adverse impact on their health?”
- The Council assessed Mrs N’s application and awarded her priority Band C (Welfare) due to affordability and added her to the Housing Register in 2019.
- In October 2020, Mrs N asked for her housing needs to be reassessed. She explained how her current accommodation was affecting her mental health and causing severe anxiety. She supplied the Council with letters from Healthy Minds and from her GP in support of moving from Band C (Welfare) to Band B (Medical).
- The GP’s letter in support of Mrs N’s request to change banding said “a large part of [Mrs N’s] anxiety and low mood is caused by her housing and financial situation.”
- The Council considered Mrs N’s request. The case worker noted both the GP’s and Healthy Minds letters explaining Mrs N’s mental health issues. However, in setting out their decision the case worker concluded “you are already in Band C on welfare grounds, which is equivalent to Band C for significant adverse medical conditions. The case worker believed Mrs N had the same priority as someone affected by significant adverse medical conditions rather than severe and so did not recommend changing Mrs N’s priority to Band B on health grounds.
- Following this, Mrs N was assisted by a support worker and requested a further review which was out of time. The Council agreed to this and reassessed Mrs N’s application for a higher priority banding again.
- The Council again re-assessed the documentation previously presented by Mrs N in support of a higher banding. It noted that Mrs N’s previous GP letter now had a new date of November 2020.
- A medical advisor noted Mrs N’s submission from her GP, but said that on balance, financial pressures were not generally considered enough to justify a medical banding. It was recommended that Mrs N should stay in her current banding.
- In its response the Council said it had;
- noted the GP’s letter, which it said it had previously considered;
- considered Mrs N’s background of mental health and anxiety; and
- noted her previous landlord issues.
- In December 2020, the Council informed Mrs N her application would remain as Band C (Welfare). It said that “while it is agreed a move may help, there is insufficient evidence to show how your current accommodation affects your medical condition.” It also noted that Band C welfare was also the same as Band C adverse medical condition. It said that Mrs N had 21 days to disagree and provide further evidence.
- Mrs N disagreed with the reassessment and requested a statutory review of the priority band she had been placed in.
- In February 2021 a Senior Officer reviewed the decision not to award priority on health grounds. In its review response the Council said it had;
- considered its allocations policy and relevant legislation;
- assessed information contained in Mrs N’s housing file;
- considered the reassessment decisions in October and December 2020;
- considered current information Mrs N had supplied in support of her reassessment;
- looked at her GP and Healthy Minds letters in support of a banding review;
- sought advice from an independent medical advisor; and
- considered if there were any discretionary powers that should have been applied
- The Senior Officer upheld the original decision. He said that Mrs N’s application was for unaffordable rent and that “the decision to award you [Mrs N] a Band C welfare is fair and consistent.” He concluded that Mrs N had been correctly placed in Band C (Welfare).
- Mrs N complained to the Ombudsman in March 2021.
- The Council says that Mrs N has now successfully bid on a property it had offered, which she has accepted.
Was there fault causing injustice?
- The Ombudsman may not find fault with a council’s assessment of a housing application if it has carried this out in line with its published allocations scheme.
- The Council correctly carried out a banding review when Mrs N challenged the decision not to award her priority on medical grounds. A Senior Housing Officer reviewed Mrs N’s application, her supporting documentation from her GP and Healthy Minds and considered its discretionary powers. The Council’s notes show it sought advice from a health advisor and considered all relevant information supplied by Mrs N. However, it decided not to change her banding from welfare to medical and explained its reasoning. This was in line with guidance and the Council’s Housing Allocation Scheme. Therefore, I do not find fault in the way the Council considered and reviewed Mrs N’s banding.
- I have completed my investigation by finding the Council acted without fault.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman