The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains the Council wrongly decided not to award her Band A+ housing priority in January 2021. We have found no evidence of fault by the Council.
- Ms X complains the Council wrongly decided not to award her Band A+ housing priority in January 2021 and that this was not corrected until a further review panel considered her case in May 2021.
- Ms X feels she has missed out on chances to make successful bids for properties as a result.
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
- I discussed the complaint with Ms X and considered the information she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments and the information it provided.
- I sent Ms X and the Council a copy of my draft decision and invited their comments before making a final decision.
What I found
Council’s Letting Policy
- The policy sets out how the Council assesses applicants’ needs and how it lets its choice-based properties. It sets out the types of properties applicants will be considered for. Applicants have their household’s needs placed in to one of 4 bands depending on their need. Band A is for those with the highest, most urgent, housing need and Band D the lowest, for those with no assessed housing need.
- In some circumstances, the Council considers the cumulative need where a household has more than one distinct assessed need which falls within Band A. This is Band A+.
- Ms X joined the Council’s housing register in February 2020. Following a review in December 2020 she was placed in Band A which reflected Ms X had an urgent need to move.
- Ms X then requested a review of her case by the Band A+ panel. The purpose of the panel is to specifically consider whether to make an award of Band A+ to applicants.
- Ms X was informed of the Band A+ panel decision by letter on 12 January 2021. The letter set out the Council’s Letting Policy that “In certain circumstances, the council will recognise cumulative need where a household has more than one distinct assessed need which falls in Band A. This need is termed Band A+. Where this is the case, such customers will be considered as in greater need than other customers in Band A”. The Council said the panel had considered the facts of Ms X’s case, including the records of her original assessment and Band A award and the submissions she had made with her request.
- The panel refused Ms X’s request for Band A+ on the basis that it did not identify any further multiple urgent needs than already recognised by the Band A award. The letter set out Ms X’s right to request a review.
- Ms X did not request a review but made a formal complaint about the decision on 28 January 2021. Ms X said she did not understand why she had not been awarded Band A+. Ms X stated she had provided supporting documents from multiple professionals confirming her son’s diagnosis, violent nature of his meltdowns and the risks he posed to himself and other children.
- The Council considered this as a request for a review and confirmed this by letter to Ms X on 8 February 2021. The timescale for completion of the review was 2 April 2021.
- Ms X contacted the housing review panel and asked if she could submit evidence in support of her review at a later date. Ms X said she was happy for the timescales for the review to be extended. Ms X sent further emails and requested an extension until 30 April 2021. The panel agreed and completion of the review was set for 7 May 2021.
- On 6 May 2021 the Council received a supporting letter from the Child Health and Disability Team. The review panel considered all the available information and notified Ms X by letter that she had been awarded Band A+ backdated to 12 January 2021.
- It is Ms X’s view that due to the delay by the Council awarding her Band A+ she has missed out on chances to make successful bids for properties.
- Our role here is to review the process the Council followed when making its decision about Ms X’s request for a Band A+ priority. If we find fault in the way the Council made its decision, we will consider the impact of this on Ms X. But we cannot question whether the Council’s decision was right or wrong if it followed the process correctly.
- The Council had already awarded Ms X Band A priority. The Band A+ panel considered the information provided by Ms X and decided she was not eligible for placement into Band A+ because there was no evidence of any further multiple urgent needs not already recognised by the Band A award. I appreciate that Ms X feels she strongly met the policy criteria for Band A+, but for the reasons explained in this statement, the Council’s decision was in accordance with its policy and I have no grounds to challenge the merits of that decision.
- In response to Ms X’s complaint, the Council initiated a review of the decision. This was good practice. The review was undertaken by the housing review panel not the Band A+ panel. The review panel considered Ms X’s application including information submitted by the Child Health and Disability Team. The review panel withdrew the original decision and placed Ms X in Band A+ backdated to January 2021. Based on evidence I have seen, I am satisfied the review panel made this decision due to further information received rather than the review of the January 2021 decision. I welcome the decision by the Council to backdate the award to the date of the Band A+ panel decision.
- I appreciate that Ms X and her family have complex multiple needs. Their current accommodation is clearly unsuitable for them. I understand Ms X is desperate to move to suitable accommodation and she is frustrated that she has missed out on chances to make successful bids. However, I have found no fault in the way the Council awarded Band A+ priority. Without evidence of fault, I cannot say whether Ms X missed out on successful bids as a result.
- I have completed my investigation finding no fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman