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Birmingham City Council (21 001 808)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault in the way the Council decided that Mr and Mrs B should be awarded priority Band 2 on its housing register. The Council wrongly recorded the date Mr and Mrs B joined the housing register, but this fault did not cause them any injustice.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains that the Council has:
    • not given him sufficient priority on its housing register
    • wrongly recorded the date he joined the housing register
    • failed to consider some medical evidence he submitted.
  2. Mr B says that as a result of the Council’s failings, his family is living in unsuitable accommodation.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • considered information on the Council’s website;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

Housing allocations

  1. 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))
  2. 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))
  3. The Ombudsman normally will not find fault with a council’s assessment of a housing applicant’s priority if it has carried this out in line with its published allocations scheme.

The Council’s allocations scheme

  1. Bidding: The Council operates a choice-based lettings scheme. Housing applicants can bid on available properties.
  2. Priority band: The Council places applicants who qualify to join the housing register in a priority band from Band 1 (highest priority) to Band 4 (lowest priority). This priority is the first factor the Council uses to allocate a property.
  3. Band 1: So far as is relevant to this complaint, the Council awards Band 1 where:
    • a medical condition or disability is made substantially worse by current housing. This includes people whose life is at risk or who are completely housebound because of their housing conditions or type of accommodation.
    • the applicant’s household is lacking three bedrooms in their current accommodation.
    • there are exceptional circumstances where the only way an exceptional housing need can be resolved is through the use of discretion.
  4. Band 2: So far as is relevant to this complaint, the Council awards Band 2 where:
    • the applicant’s housing is unsuitable for severe medical reasons or due to their disability, but who are not housebound or whose life is not at risk due to their current housing.
    • the applicant’s household is lacking two bedrooms in their current accommodation.

Overview

  1. Mr and Mrs B live in a two-bedroom flat with their five children. They joined the housing register in 2013, but the Council’s records show that they joined the register in 2015. In November 2020, Mr and Mrs B were awarded housing priority Band 2, due to overcrowding and homelessness.
  2. The following month, Mr B asked the Council to review its banding decision. He provided three letters from medical professionals providing details of his son’s medical conditions and setting out the difficulties he has in their current accommodation.
  3. The Council carried out a review and decided to uphold its decision to award Band 2. It explained, with reference to its Allocations Policy, why it considered the Band 2 award was correct and why it did not consider any priority on medical grounds should be awarded.
  4. Mr B considers Band 1 should be awarded due to their exceptional circumstances. He complains that the Council has not considered further medical evidence which he submitted, and it has wrongly recorded the date they joined the housing register.

Analysis

  1. The Council says it did not consider the further medical evidence which Mr B submitted because he did not complete a change in circumstances as required. The Council’s website states, “If you are already registered and your application is active but you need to tell us about a change in circumstances, you need to log in to your online account and update your application form with the changes.”
  2. Mr B’s circumstances had not changed; he just had another letter from a medical professional which he wanted the Council to consider. I do not consider it is clear to applicants that the Council will not consider fresh evidence they submit unless they also complete a change in circumstances.
  3. The Council has now considered the further medical evidence which Mr B submitted, and it has awarded Band 2 for medical needs. Mr and Mrs B had already been awarded Band 2 for homelessness and overcrowding and so the new award has not affected their housing priority.
  4. I am satisfied that there was no fault in the way the Council decided that Mr and Mrs B should be awarded Band 2. The evidence Mr B provided shows that his housing is unsuitable and is directly impacting his son’s health, and his family needs two extra bedrooms. According to the Council’s Housing Allocations Policy, Band 2 should be awarded in such cases. I have seen nothing to suggest Mr and Mrs B should be awarded Band 1 due to exceptional circumstances.
  5. The Council has explained that it did not update its system following Mrs B’s response to an annual review letter in 2015. This was fault. As a result, Mr and Mrs B’s registration date was incorrectly recorded as 2 April 2015, instead of their original registration date of 23 January 2013.
  6. The Council uses the registration date to decide on priority within a band. The Council has provided evidence to show that all of the properties Mr B bid on were awarded to someone in a higher priority band, or in the same band but with a registration date of before 23 January 2013. This shows that Mr and Mrs B did not miss out on any properties due to the Council’s error with their registration date. I therefore do not consider it caused Mr and Mrs B any significant injustice.

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Final decision

I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr B’s complaint. There was fault by the Council, but it did not cause Mr and Mrs B any injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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