The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss D complains the Council failed to deal with her complaints of anti-social behaviour (ASB) that she was suffering from her neighbours. She also complains the Council has not assessed her medical needs for housing and that it did not respond to her request for a stage two escalation in line with its policy which has caused her distress. We find fault with how the Council responded to the issues above and it has agreed to apologise, invite Miss D to complete a medical assessment form and make a payment to her in recognition of the distress caused and Miss D’s time and trouble pursuing the complaint.
- Miss D complains the Council;
- Failed to deal with her complaint about anti-social behaviour (ASB) that she was suffering from her neighbours, which caused her distress.
- Has not assessed her medical needs when determining her band to be able to bid for properties under the homeless duty being provided to her by the Council. She says she has raised this in her complaints to the Council, but no assessment has been offered or undertaken. Miss D says because of this she may be housed somewhere without facilities she considers essential for her medical condition.
- Unnecessarily delayed progressing her complaint and poorly explained the process causing her distress, time and trouble pursuing the complaint.
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 read the complaint and spoke with Miss D on the telephone. I made enquiries of the Council and considered documentation provided during this investigation. I also read the relevant Council policies and legislation.
- I invited Miss D and the Council to comment on the draft decision and considered any comments made in response.
What I found
- Councils have a general duty to take action to tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB). But ASB can take many different forms; and councils should make informed decisions about which of their powers is most appropriate for any given situation.
- For example, they may approach a complaint:
- as an environmental health issue, where the complaint is about noise or pollution;
- as a planning matter, where the complaint is about an inappropriate use of a building or facility;
- as a licensing matter, where the complaint is about a licensed premises, such as a pub or nightclub;
- as part of their duties as a social landlord, where the alleged perpetrator is a council tenant (although we are unable to investigate the council’s actions as a social landlord); or
- using their powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
- The 2014 Act introduced six new powers for agencies involved in tackling ASB. These are:
- the power to issue community protection notices (CPN);
- the power to make a public spaces protection order (PSPO);
- the power to close premises for a specified period of time;
- a civil injunction (a court order, which can be made upon application by the local authority or other agencies);
- a criminal behaviour order (a court order made following a conviction); and
- the power for the police to disperse people from a specified area.
- Councils and the police can issue Community Protection Notices (CPN) to prevent anti-social behaviour which is having a negative effect on the community's quality of life, and which they decide is unreasonable. CPNs require the behaviour to stop and, where appropriate, require the recipient to take reasonable steps to ensure it is not repeated. Failure to comply is an offence, and may result in a fine or a fixed penalty notice.
- The Council’s policy for dealing with ASB is published on its website. It details non-legal and legal remedies it can take to tackle ASB in line with the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
The Council’s medical assessment policy
- The Council’s website says that anyone on its housing register who has a disability or illness that will be helped by moving should complete its medical assessment form.
- After a medical assessment form is completed, it will be passed to the Council’s medical advisor for consideration of any medical priority to be awarded to the applicant.
The Council’s complaint policy
- The Council’s complaint policy is detailed on its website. In respect of stage two complaints it says “If you remain dissatisfied with the response to your stage 1, please contact us within 28 days and request a stage 2 review. You will need to state the issues you remain dissatisfied with and the outcome you are seeking. This request will then be reviewed by the Customer Care service. This means that a senior council officer who has not been involved in your case before will reconsider your complaint and will send you a response within 15 working days or tell you if it will take longer and let you know when you can expect a full reply.”
- Miss D resides in temporary accommodation with her two young children. The accommodation has been provided to her by the Council under a homeless duty.
- Between June 2020 and February 2021, Miss D said she reported numerous ASB related issues involving her neighbours to the Council. These included issues about neighbours feeding pigeons causing rodents to appear, rubbish being thrown into her garden, neighbours banging on her wall causing a disturbance, arguments and threatening behaviour.
- Miss D was unhappy with how the Council responded to her ASB reports and she made a complaint to the Council in February 2021.
- In response to her complaint, the Council listed details of six occasions where Miss D had reported ASB involving her neighbours. It also included some incidents where Miss D was the alleged perpetrator of ASB. It said that whilst a risk assessment had been completed, the Council did not record the complaints on its landlord services ASB monitoring record, provide written advice with details of the options to resolve ASB or request a witness statement from Miss D. It said that officers had not followed its policy when handling Miss D’s ASB complaints and apologised. It said officers are to be provided training to ensure ASB concerns are addressed according to its policy in future.
- The Council also said that an earlier message it had sent to Miss D about referring the actions of her neighbours to their housing officer was incorrect, as the neighbours are private residents. It said because of this, the Council does not have any options available to it to deal with the alleged ASB.
- Miss D was unhappy with the Councils response and asked for her complaint to be progressed to stage two. She said she had reported more incidents than those the Council had listed. She also said the actions the Council intended to take in providing training to its staff were not reassuring to her and it was still not dealing with her ASB problems.
- The Council said the ASB incident list it provided to Miss D in its stage one response was not intended to be a complete list of all the contact it had previously had with Miss D about ASB issues. It said it recognised it had not made this clear though and partially upheld her complaint.
- The Council said the training it is giving to its staff about the faults it had identified in its handling of Miss D’s ASB complaints will help the Council to provide a better service.
- The Council also said that it had no ASB enforcement powers against Miss D’s neighbours as they are private residents. It said in those circumstances ASB incidents are a Police matter.
- In a letter to the Ombudsman in October 2021, the Council said it had reviewed Miss D’s complaint and the response made to her. It said the Council had not considered its ability to prosecute private individuals for perpetrating ASB. It said it will apologise to Miss D and provide mandatory training to its staff to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities. It also said it will ask Miss D if she wants the Council to consider using its powers now and what information she can share with the Council to support any action it could take.
- Miss D complains the Council has not assessed her medical needs when deciding what type of housing priority she should receive. She says she suffers from a mental health condition.
- Miss D says she relies on things like a garden to help with her condition but without a medical assessment, her needs are unknown to the Council.
- In an email to the Council to request to move her complaint to stage two, Miss D said her medical needs had not been assessed. She also said she had previously been given Band B housing priority due to her mental health issues, but it was later removed without her knowledge.
- The Council officer investigating Miss D’s stage two complaint asked her to provide some additional information about her complaint. In an email to the officer on 9 June 2021, Miss D raised the issue that she had not been given any medical priority.
- The Council did not address the medical priority issues raised by Miss D when it responded to her stage two complaint.
- In response to my enquiries the Council said no medical document had been submitted by Miss D and therefore no medical assessment had taken place.
- Miss D requested her complaint be escalated to Stage two on 21 March 2021. She says she received an automated email that her request was being reviewed.
- On 25 March 2021 Miss D asked the Council for an update about the progress of her complaint. On 30 March 2021 the Council responded that it was reviewing her request and will contact Miss D once it is able to progress.
- Miss D asked the Council for an update on 7 April 2021. She quoted the Council’s policy that it should respond in its 15 working days timeframe unless she is advised of a delay, and she said she has had no contact from the Council to that effect.
- On 13 April 2021, Miss D asked the Council for an update and said it was now 15 working days since she made her complaint escalation request. The Council responded on the same day and apologised for the delay. It said it had taken some time to review the documentation Miss D had provided. The Council proposed six identified points of complaint and asked Miss D to provide feedback.
- Miss D responded with her thoughts on the complaint and some additional areas of complaint.
- On 15 April 2021, Miss D asked the Council why she was being ignored. The Council responded that the complaint was being escalated to stage two, but some complaints Miss D raised were new and should be dealt with as a new complaint under stage one. It also said it cannot consider complaints about matters over 12 months old. Miss D responded that she had not seen anything in the Council’s policy to say she cannot raise a complaint about something that happened more than 12 months ago.
- On 20 April 2021 Miss D asked the Council for an update but did not get a reply.
- On 4 May 2021 Miss D asked the Council for an update again. The Council responded that the policy of not investigating complaints over 12 months old was not on its website but had now been added.
- Miss D asked the Council for an update about her complaint on 13 May 2021. The Council responded the following day that the complaint had now been escalated to stage two and Miss D should expect a response within 15 working days.
- Miss D said to the Council that she would refer the matter to the Ombudsman if it did not respond in time.
- The Council responded that it felt it was important to clarify the points of complaint before escalating to stage two but said it should have better communicated this to Miss D and should have advised of the reasons for the delay. It apologised for not doing so.
- On 14 June 2021, the Council provided a formal response to Miss D’s stage two complaint.
- The Council has acknowledged that it did not respond properly to Miss D’s ASB complaints. It recognised it did not taken action in accordance with its own policy for dealing with ASB when responding to Miss D’s stage one complaint. It also did not recognise that it could take action against private residents until the complaint was made to the Ombudsman. This was fault.
- It is welcomed that on each occasion when the Council has identified its failings, it has apologised and committed to training its staff to provide a better service.
- Miss D raised her concerns about her medical needs being assessed on two separate occasions when her stage two complaint was being processed. Her points were not addressed, and she was not signposted to complete the medical assessment form.
- I appreciate the Council’s policy is that the applicant should complete the medical assessment form and without that there cannot be a priority awarded. However, it should signpost individuals to the form when medical issues are raised about housing allocations. To not do so was fault.
- The Council’s complaint procedure says that a response to a stage two complaint escalation will be provided within 15 working days. On this occasion the Council did not consider it has started the stage two investigation until a month after Miss D’s request to escalate her complaint. It did not provide an explanation for the delay. Once it did start the investigation, the response was issued slightly outside of its target timescale.
- The Council has acknowledged it should have provided clearer information about the delay in starting the stage two investigation. This was fault and I note the Council has already apologised.
- To remedy the injustice caused by the Council’s fault detailed in this statement, it has agreed to take the following action in addition to the remedies it has already provided, within one month of a final decision.
- Apologise to Miss D for not signposting her to complete a medical assessment form.
- Invite Miss D to complete a medical assessment form and signpost her to where she needs to complete the form.
- Remind its staff to signpost applicants to the medical assessment form when medical issues are raised.
- Pay Miss D £200 in recognition of the distress caused by the Council’s faults and her time and trouble pursuing the complaint.
- The Council has already identified it is going to carry out some training with its staff regarding the faults that occurred when dealing with Miss D’s ASB complaints. Within three months of a final decision the Council has agreed to provide the Ombudsman with evidence of the ASB training undertaken, and the guidance issued to its staff.
- Evidence of having completed all of the above remedies should be provided to the Ombudsman.
- I close this investigation with a finding of fault against the Council. The Council has agreed to my recommendations to remedy the injustice caused by its faults, in addition to the remedies it has already provided.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman