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London Borough of Tower Hamlets (21 006 331)

Category : Housing > Allocations

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council rejected his application for the housing register and did not correctly apply its allocations policy. This meant his application was refused rather than assessed. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for how it handled communication about Mr X’s application and his complaint. The Council has agreed to pay financial remedy in recognition of the distress caused to Mr X and consider service improvements. The Ombudsman does not fault with the Council for how its allocation policy was applied.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council has failed to correctly process his application for housing.
  2. Mr X complains the Council gave his application to landlord to process and has failed to take responsibility for the incorrect processing of his application by the landlord.
  3. Mr X also complains the Council has not suitable explained why his application was not processed and has failed to adhere to its own policies.

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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. 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 Mr X’s complaint and information provided by his representative, Mr B. I also considered information from the Council and its housing allocations policy. I considered comments from Mr B and the Council on a draft of my decision.

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What I found

Relevant law and policy

  1. Every local housing authority must publish an allocations scheme that sets out how it prioritises applicants, and its procedures for allocating housing. All allocations must be made in strict accordance with the published scheme.  (Housing Act 1996, section 166A(1) & (14))
  2. We normally will not find fault with a council’s assessment of a housing applicant’s priority if it has carried this out in line with its published allocations scheme.
  3. We recognise that the demand for social housing far outstrips the supply of properties in many areas. We normally will not find fault with a council for failing to re-house someone, if it has prioritised applicants and allocated properties according to its published lettings scheme policy

The Council’s allocations policy

  1. The Council’s allocations policy sets out that the Council has determined that a number of categories of applicants will be eligible to join the Housing Register. These categories are;
  • Contrived or fraudulent applications
  • Applicants with a history of bad behaviour
  • Any applicant, partner or any member of their household convicted of or had legal action taken against them for violence, racial harassment, threatening behaviour, any physical or verbal abuse towards staff or residents in their location.
  • Any applicant evicted for arrears.
  • Legal action includes relevant convictions, service of injunctions, behaviour causing a landlord to serve notice of intention to seek possession, a court order, or revocation of a licence to occupy.

What happened

  1. Mr X applied to the Council’s housing register. The Council passed his application to an agency that processes applications for the allocations scheme for the Council.
  2. Mr X received an email after sending his application advising him that he would be contacted with his bidding number.
  3. Mr X did not hear anything further from the agency and tried to make contact to find out what had happened to his application.
  4. The agency did not at first tell Mr X of the result and Mr X approached the Council to establish what had happened to his application.
  5. The Council contacted the agency to establish the outcome of Mr X’s application.
  6. The agency wrote to Mr X and apologised for not sending him a decision letter sooner. It told Mr X it had rejected his application because he had a live court order against him for rent arrears.
  7. Mr X sought the help of an advocacy service as his application had been rejected. Mr B wrote to the Council and the agency on behalf of Mr X and raised concerns about how Mr X’s application had been handled.
  8. Mr B complained to the Council and the agency for Mr X. He complained the agency had not adhered to the Council’s allocations policy for Mr X’s application. Mr B said the agency had rejected the application on the grounds that Mr X was in rent arrears, but this was not in the criteria for rejection in the Council’s allocations policy.
  9. The Council wrote to Mr B and outlined that as Mr X had a court order against him, he did not qualify for the Council’s allocations scheme. The Council said it would not be reviewing the complaint again unless Mr X’s circumstances changed.
  10. Mr B asked the complaint escalate to stage 2, however the Council did not acknowledge this request or provide a stage 2 response.
  11. Mr X remained unhappy and asked Mr B to complain to the Ombudsman about the rejection of his application and the handling of the issue. Mr B also said that he believed the Council had wrongfully applied a criteria to the register, and the Council should apply the qualification criteria after it processes applications.

Analysis

Council’s allocations policy

  1. The Council’s policy sets out the criteria for when it will refuse an application to the allocations scheme.
  2. In this criteria, the Council set out that applications where the applicant has a court order against them will be refused.
  3. At the time of applying to the register, Mr X had a court order against him from his landlord, who was also the agency processing the application. This court order was for a warrant for eviction due to unpaid rent arrears.
  4. According to the Council allocations policy, this court order would mean that Mr X would not qualify for the allocations scheme and therefore his application would be refused.
  5. It is my view the agency acting for the Council has correctly applied the criteria set out in the Council’s policy.
  6. Part of the complaint is the Council should not have applied a criteria at registering and the criteria should be applied at allocation or offer.
  7. The law says that Council’s can only allocate to eligible and qualifying people. It also says that allocation doesn’t occur until point of offer or nomination for a property.
  8. However, the law also says that a Council must allocate in line with its individual scheme, and the scheme must set out the procedure to be followed when allocating. In this case, the Council set out in its policy which applicants would not qualify according to its allocation scheme.
  9. The Secretary of State has said that qualification criteria form part of an allocation scheme. The law also says that if a Council decides that an applicant for housing accommodation is not a qualifying person then that decision is to be given in writing with reasons.
  10. In practice, this means that some Councils assess applications when first submitted to ensure that applicants are eligible and qualify for an allocation, as it is an application for allocation. Therefore the Council applied the criteria when Mr X first applied.
  11. Mr B has said he feels the Council should be applying the criteria after registering for the allocations scheme. However, it is my view this would lead to the Council receiving and assessing applications where it already knows the applicant does not qualify for allocation.
  12. It is my view the agency acting for the Council correctly applied the allocations policy, and the Council’s actions in applying a criteria on application for allocation are reasonable.

Communication and handling of application and complaint

  1. When Mr X applied for the housing register, he received an email telling him he would receive a bidding number. He was not told that his application had been rejected.
  2. Mr X spent significant time and energy chasing his application and eventually seeking specialist support to find out the result of his application. The agency eventually told Mr X it had rejected his application and apologised for not sending a decision letter.
  3. This was maladministration from the agency acting for the Council. The law says Mr X should have been informed of the outcome of his application to register in a timely manner. He should also have been informed of his right to appeal the decision.
  4. By failing to do this, The Council has caused significant injustice to Mr X by leaving him uncertain and without his right to appeal.
  5. I have reviewed the communication between the Council, the agency acting on its behalf and Mr X and Mr B.
  6. At times, staff from the Council and the agency were unclear about the role the agency was to play in the processing of applications for the allocations scheme.
  7. It is my view that Mr X was repeatedly told to go back and forth between the Council and the agency to resolve the issues he was experiencing.
  8. It is also my view that as the agency is acting for the Council, the responsibility for considering Mr X’s complaint lies with the Council. The Council should have considered Mr X’s complaint under its complaints process and responded with a formal stage one response, as well as Mr B’s request to escalate the complaint to stage 2.
  9. The Council has failed to suitably manage communication about Mr X’s application to the housing register and has failed to suitably handle Mr X’s complaint. This is further fault by the Council causing Mr X further distress.

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Agreed action

  1. Within 4 weeks of my decision the Council has agreed to
  • Write to Mr X and apologise for the fault identified above.
  • Pay him £300 for the distress caused as a result of maladministration.
  • Inform Mr X of his right to appeal and allow him to appeal if he wishes to do so.
  1. Within 12 weeks of my decision the Council should
  • Review how it ensures all applicants are informed of the outcome of their application and any appeal rights in a timely manner.
  • Review how it considers complaints where third parties are acting on behalf of the Council.
  • Communicate with staff from the Council and agencies acting on its behalf about which roles each party are responsible for and how to manage communication going forward.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I find fault with the Council for its handling of Mr X’s application for the allocation scheme and for delaying informing him of his outcome and appeal rights. I also find fault with the Council for not suitably considering Mr X’s complaint. I do not find fault with the Council for how it applied its allocations policy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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