The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to properly assess his housing needs or award the proper priority to his family. Mr X says this resulted in them living in unsatisfactory overcrowded accommodation for longer than they would have if properly actioned. The Council says the cyber attack means it has no records of a housing application or Mr X seeking help to deal with the poor repair of his privately rented home. We found the Council at fault. The Council agreed to apologise, pay Mr X £150 in recognition of the stress and inconvenience and to complete its consideration of his housing application.
- The complainant whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council failed to properly consider his housing application. Mr X says this resulted in the Council failing to award him the highest priority banding in the allocation scheme. He says this led his to live in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions for longer than they should.
- Mr X wants the Council to find him a suitable house and to backdate his application to last year.
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 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
- In considering this complaint I have:
- Contacted Mr X and read the information presented with his complaint;
- Put enquiries to the Council and reviewed its responses;
- Researched the relevant law, guidance, and policy.
What I found
The law and Council housing allocation policy
- 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))
- Mr X lives in a one-bedroom home with his wife and son, born in January 2021. In January 2020 Mr X asked the Council to register him on its housing register. Mr X says continuous leaks in his current home and general state of disrepair make the property unsuitable for him and his wife. Mr X says they need a home with an additional bedroom and one that is in good repair. Mr X says he is eligible for housing because he is living in overcrowded and unsatisfactory housing.
- As a private tenant Mr X could find help from the Council’s Private Sector Housing team in dealing with the landlord’s lack of repair to his home. The Council says this team does not have any record of Mr X seeking help or advice.
- Mr X followed up his application in November 2020. Mr X told the Council about his son’s impending birth, and why he needed to move the family into more suitable accommodation. The substantial leak in the ceiling had not been repaired and he worried about the impact on his family. Mr X says he meets the Council’s local connection criteria and the criteria for the highest priority banding. However, Mr X says the Council failed to register his application.
- Mr X says he contacted the Council soon after his son’s birth in January 2021 and officers he says told him the Council would look for housing for him, but nothing happened.
- The Council experienced a cyber-attack wiping many of its records. As a result, the Council tells me it has no record of a housing application from Mr X or a request for help and advice about his tenancy and the landlord’s lack of repairs.
- However, the Council says when it received Mr X’s housing application Mr X should have received an email acknowledgement. If he has a copy of that, the Council says it would consider backdating any current housing application to January 2020.
- Before deciding if Mr X meets its criteria for registration on the Housing Register the Council needs to assess his needs and award priority. It has yet to do that. So, in responding to my enquiries the Council says it will arrange a visit to Mr X’s home and assess the family’s housing needs. The Council will also inspect the condition of the home and offer advice on getting the landlord to repair the leak.
- Mr X believes had the Council acted on his application in January 2020 it would have rehoused him by now. The Council disagrees. Looking at the information Mr X has presented so far, the Council says he lacks one bedroom. Under the Council’s allocations policy applicants who lack one bedroom it usually places in the lower priority bands. Not the highest. Within the lower priority band, the Council says there are already over 3,000 applications ahead of Mr X. They are also waiting for a two-bed property and have similar priority. Therefore, in the Council’s view it would not have rehoused Mr X by now in social housing. The Council says the average wait for social housing for applicants with the same priority as Mr X’s current priority is 17 years.
- So far, the Council has not shown it considered whether it could class Mr X as homeless or threatened with homelessness. The Council could potentially class Mr X as homeless because of the lack of repair to his current home. Significant disrepair may mean it is unreasonable to expect Mr X and his family to continue living in their current home. The Council may consider that issue as part of the current assessment of the family’s housing need and living conditions.
Analysis – has there been fault leading to injustice?
- The cyber attack on the Council created significant difficulties in accessing information and evidence for the Council due to the lack of records. It cannot say if Mr X made an application in January 2020 or confirm his contact with the Council in November 2020 and January 2021. Without any evidence to the contrary I must accept what Mr X says correctly records what happened.
- I applaud the action proposed by the Council. However, I find it should have assessed the family’s needs, inspected the home, and offered advice on how to fix the problem with the landlord and on the housing application much sooner.
- But for the delay in assessing Mr X’s family’s needs and housing application would Mr X be in a different situation now? I am mindful of the significant demand for social housing and the lack of social housing. It seems likely from what the Council has said even if the Council had acted sooner, it would not have necessarily rehoused Mr X by now. He would have a decision on his housing priority, potential homelessness and received advice from the Private Sector Housing Team on dealing with the landlord’s lack of repair. This may have helped him get his landlord to repair the leak making the current home less unsuitable for his family. We shall never know.
- That lack of a decision and delay in advice on his landlord’s repairs caused Mr X stress and inconvenience. The Council’s proposed assessment of his housing need does not address that injustice and so I have recommended a remedy.
- In our “Guidance on Remedies” where we cannot place someone in the position, they would have been we recommend a symbolic payment in recognition of the injustice caused. Our Guidance uses a scale of between £100 and £300 to reflect stress caused by delay or lack of action. I have recommended a figure that reflects the likelihood Mr X would not have been rehoused by now. His overcrowding occurred in January 2021 with the birth of his son, so he has not waited so long as some applicants in similar overcrowded conditions. However, Mr X did not receive help in resolving the repair issues with his landlord or whether this meant the Council could treat him as potentially homeless and give his application added priority. Therefore, following my recommendations, the Council has agreed to the action set out below.
- To address the injustice arising from the fault identified, I recommend the Council within four weeks of my final decision:
- Apologises to Mr X;
- Pays Mr X £150 in recognition of the inconvenience and stress caused;
- Completes Mr X’s housing needs assessment, issues a decision on his housing application, and offers Mr X advice on his landlord’s repairs.
- In completing my investigation, I find the Council acted with fault and has agreed a proportionate remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman