The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complained that the Council has failed to offer him more suitable housing in the seven years he has been on the transfer list and has made mistakes with his application. We did not find fault with actions of the Council.
- Mr B complained that the London Borough of Wandsworth (the Council), in respect of his application for more suitable housing, failed to place him in the correct band and failed to offer him any alternative accommodation despite waiting for seven years. He and his family live in severely overcrowded accommodation which affects their wellbeing.
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)
- We cannot investigate complaints about the provision or management of social housing by a council acting as a registered social housing provider. (Local Government Act 1974, paragraph 5A schedule 5, 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 have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Mr B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- Mr B joined the transfer queue on the Council’s housing register in 2015. He is a council tenant living in a three-bedroom property with his family. The Council considered he was overcrowded by one bedroom and required a four-bedroom property. In accordance with the Council’s allocations policy, he was awarded 50 points and placed in Band C. The Council advised him that it was unlikely to be able to offer him accommodation in the foreseeable future and advised him of other housing options.
- Mr B had supplied some information about a medical condition which the Council passed to its medical adviser. They advised that lifted accommodation, or unlifted up to the first floor, would be reasonable. Mr B is currently living on a higher floor in a lifted block and said the lift was frequently out of order. The Council did not give Mr B any medical priority and noted the lift breakdown was a matter for the landlord.
- In 2017 Mr B provide more medical information. The Council reviewed the medical information but concluded he did not qualify for medical priority. It wrote to him confirming this but mistakenly said in the letter that he was in Band D. The Council says his application was not affected because he remained in Band C on the Council’s computer system.
- In 2020 Mr B requested a management transfer due to fear for his and his family’s safety. The Council accepted his application and place him on the Council’s interest queue. In accordance with its allocations policy (which does not allow an applicant to appear on more than one housing list at a time) the Council cancelled his application on the transfer queue.
- Mr B complained to the Council. The Council responded at stage one of its procedure and advised Mr B he could re-join the transfer queue in his previous position once the management transfer had been completed.
- He escalated his complaint to stage two and the Council advised the same thing. In January 2021 Mr B escalated his complaint to the third stage of the complaints procedure, due to the length of time he had waited for alternative accommodation.
- The Council responded in February 2021 explaining that the two routes to alternative accommodation were entirely separate. It went through the history to his transfer queue application and repeated the error that he was in Band D. It acknowledged he had waited a long time but said the Council had warned him of this in 2015 and the demand for housing in the borough was far greater than the supply of available accommodation. It concluded it had not deliberately delayed in making him an offer and he had not missed out on an offer of a four-bedroom property. Mr B also complained about the management transfer process.
- In March 2021 the Council offered Mr B a three-bedroom property under the management transfer scheme. He refused the offer as he considered it was too small and wanted a four-bedroom property. The Council considered the property was a suitable offer under the management transfer scheme which would remove the family from the source of the danger. In May 2021 it removed his application from the management transfer queue. It also said he would not qualify for housing for two years due to the refusal unless there was a material change in the family circumstances, or the Council accepted the family as homeless.
- Mr B complained to us in June 2021. In response to my enquiries the Council said, because the property offered to Mr B only had three-bedrooms, it will waive the two year suspension and reinstate Mr B’s transfer application to band C. It also said that the Council had advised Mr B on several occasions he could make a homeless application if he felt at risk in the property. It said again that the Council is highly unlikely to be able to offer Mr B accommodation via his current transfer application and advises him to pursue other housing options.
- I cannot investigate the management transfer application or the breakdown of the lift, as these are issues about the management or provision of social housing and are outside our jurisdiction. Mr B can complain to the Housing Ombudsman about these issues if he wishes.
- The Council accepts it was at fault for the error in the letters to Mr B, but I agree this did not cause him injustice as his application remained in Band C on the Council’s computer system and no applicant in Band C has been offered a four-bedroom property during this period.
- I have not identified any other fault in the way the Council dealt with his application. The Council considered the application and awarded points for overcrowding in accordance with its allocation policy. It considered his medical information but did not give him any additional priority, only a recommendation for certain types of property. I understand Mr B is living in overcrowded conditions, but I cannot find fault with the Council’s actions and would urge him to consider other options for re-housing.
- I have completed my investigation into this complaint as I am unable to find fault causing injustice in the actions of the Council towards Mr B.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman