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Middlesbrough Borough Council (21 005 776)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 11 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: A housing association, acting on behalf of the Council, delayed making necessary changes to Ms X’s housing application. This is fault. The Council is also at fault because it failed to keep records in line with its data retention policy. The Council has agreed to apologise, pay Ms X £300, and take action to improve its service.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about how the Council dealt with her application to the housing register and bids for properties between July 2019 and November 2020.
  2. As a result, Ms X says she missed opportunities to move home sooner and accrued rent arrears as a result.

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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 investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), 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 considered the complaint and the information Ms X provided.
  2. I made written enquiries of the Council and the Housing Association.
  3. I referred to the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies, a copy of which can be found on our website.
  4. Ms X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Housing allocations

  1. The Council is a partner in a local choice-based lettings scheme. This means housing applicants can apply for available properties. This is called bidding.
  2. Applicants are “shortlisted” for properties based on their priority on the register and how long they have been waiting.
  3. Bids may be “skipped” if an applicant applies for a property for which they do not meet the criteria. For example, an applicant who needs a one-bedroom property might be skipped if they bid on a three-bedroom property.
  4. At the relevant time, a Housing Association processed applications on the Council’s behalf.

What happened

  1. Ms X is a Housing Association tenant. This is the same Housing Association which managed the allocations scheme on behalf of the Council.
  2. In 2019, Ms X applied to move home. Originally the application was for both Ms X and her daughter. Ms X’s daughter has disabilities which means she needs a level access property. Ms X has care needs which mean she needs an extra bedroom. At the time she applied, therefore, Ms X needed three bedrooms.
  3. In December 2019, Ms X’s daughter moved out of the property. As a result, the Housing Association changed Ms X’s bedroom needs from three to one. Ms X complained and in January 2020 the Council amended her application to allow her to bid for two-bedroom properties.
  4. However, Ms X’s application was still limited to properties on the ground floor or with level access. In January and again in February, Ms X complained about this. She told the Housing Association that although she had care needs, she did not need a level access property.
  5. In March, the Housing Association agreed to remove the level access requirement from the application.
  6. Ms X says that after her daughter moved out, she began to accrue rent arrears. She says that the delay in removing the level access requirement from her application means she missed out on opportunities to move home sooner.
  7. Ms X accepted an offer of a property in the area she wanted in November 2020.

My findings

  1. The evidence shows that it was Ms X’s daughter who needed a ground floor or level access property. She then moved out of Ms X’s house.
  2. The Housing Association removed the extra bedroom from the application in December but did not remove the level access until March. This is a delay of three months and is fault.
  3. Ms X says that she missed out on properties during this period. I asked the Council and the Housing Association to tell me about suitable properties it advertised during this period. However, the Housing Association is no longer part of the partnership. Neither the Council nor the Housing Association has kept records of allocations.
  4. The Council’s data retention policy says it should keep records for at least three years. For housing provision, it should keep records for six years. When the Housing Association left the scheme, the Council should have made sure it received data kept on its behalf. Failure to keep these records is fault.
  5. As a result, I cannot say whether Ms X would have been offered a property sooner were it not for the fault. This uncertainty is an injustice to Ms X.

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Agreed action

  1. When a council commissions another organisation to provide services on its behalf it remains responsible for those services and for the actions of the organisation providing them. So, although I found fault with the actions of the housing association and the Council, I have only made recommendations to the Council.
  2. To remedy the injustice to Ms X from the fault I have identified, the Council has agreed to:
    • Apologise to Ms X. Ms X has a disability which makes accessing written information more difficult. The Council should either write to Ms X on green paper or make its apology verbally.
    • Pay Ms X £300 in recognition of the delay and her avoidable uncertainty.
  3. The Council should take this action within four weeks of my final decision.
  4. The Council should also take the following action to improve its services:
    • Ensure partnership agreements and contracts with third parties contain details about how relevant data will be stored or returned to the Council when they end.
    • Review existing agreements with other partners to the housing allocations scheme and consider amending them if needed to ensure accurate records are preserved in line with the Council’s records retention policy.
  5. The Council should tell the Ombudsman about the action is has taken within six months of my final decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There is fault by the Council. The action I have recommended is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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