The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs Y complains about the length of time she has been in Band A under the Council’s housing allocations scheme. We do not find the Council at fault for not making an offer of housing. It has followed its housing allocations scheme and given the application a high priority. It has not made an offer due to the shortage of accommodation.
- The complainant, who I shall refer to here as Mrs Y, has been placed in Band A and in position two of the general needs queue under the Council’s housing allocations scheme. Mrs Y complains the Council has:
- failed to make her an offer of accommodation, despite being in the highest banding since 2016; and
- incorrectly offered suitable three-bedroom properties to applicants in a lower band.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 considered the information and documents provided by Mrs Y and the Council. I spoke to Mrs Y about her complaint.
- Mrs Y and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
The Council’s Housing Allocations Scheme
- 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))
- 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))
- Under the Council’s housing allocations scheme (2017), it prioritises housing applications using a points-based system.
- When considering applications based on medical need, it allocates either 25, 75 or 150 points depending on the extent a person’s ill health affects their housing needs. Where there is ‘moderate relevance’ it allocates 75 points; where it considers it has ‘major relevance’ it allocates 150.
- When considering applications based on overcrowding, it allocates either 50, 150 and 200 points depending on the number of bedrooms the household is lacking. For example, 150 points will be allocated where the applicant lacks two bedrooms. An additional 20 points may be awarded if the Council decides statutory overcrowding also exists.
- Depending on the number of points awarded, the Council places the applicant into one of four bands. Band A is the highest band through to Band D, which is the lowest.
- The Council awards Band A to applicants with 300 points or more. It also awards Band A where it allocates additional preference to applicants with urgent housing needs who qualify for ‘priority rehousing status’.
- Band B applicants are those with 150 to 299 points, and “all other cases needing adapted housing due to physical disability”.
- After the Council bands the application, it places the applicant into one of eight ‘access queues’ depending on the need for housing. These queues are: accepted homeless applicants, general needs, older people, physical disability, support needs, social care needs, Council tenant transfers and “Council’s interest”.
- When a property becomes available the Council decides which access queue applies.
- The Council offers properties in date order from the date it awarded the band.
- Applicants have a right to ask the Council to review its housing decision.
Additional preference leading to priority rehousing status
- Under the Council’s scheme, it can override the queues in certain circumstances (paragraphs 3.8.0 and 3.8.1 of the scheme refer).
- The Council can award additional preference to any case within any access queue, which leads to it awarding priority rehousing status. This includes situations where:
- there is an urgent need to allocate accommodation to the applicant, which justifies the applicant being offered accommodation ahead of others across all access queues; and
- those who are homeless and require urgent rehousing because of violence or threats of violence, including those escaping serious antisocial behaviour or domestic violence.
- In the above situations, the Council may decide to override the queues. The decision to award priority rehousing status is made by the Deputy Manager in Housing Services or a more senior Council officer. Such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
- Additionally, the Council’s Assistant Director of Housing Services may decide to override the queues where they decide there are exceptional and urgent circumstances.
- The Ombudsman recognises the demand for social housing far outstrips the supply of properties in many areas. We may not find fault with a council for failing to rehouse someone, if it has prioritised applicants and allocated properties according to its published policy.
- Mrs Y lives in a one-bedroom property with her husband and four children. She is a housing association tenant.
- The Council has awarded Mrs Y 320 points and a need for a three-bedroom property. This includes points for overcrowding by two bedrooms, medical need and 20 additional points due to statutory overcrowding. Since April 2016, Mrs Y has been placed in Band A and in its general needs queue under the Council’s housing allocations scheme.
- In February 2021, Mrs Y moved from position three to two under the general needs queue.
- Mrs Y complained to her local Councillor who contacted the Council. The Councillor said Mrs Y was experiencing antisocial behaviour and harassment from her neighbour. The Councillor said Mrs Y had complained about the impact on her family, particularly her children, because of their overcrowded living conditions.
- Two days later, a Council officer called Mrs Y. He told Mrs Y that she could make a homelessness application. He said this would lead to the Council offering her temporary accommodation if Mrs Y felt she was in immediate risk because of the overcrowding and the antisocial and threatening behaviour reported. However, the Officer explained this would lead to Mrs Y’s current application being cancelled. Mrs Y decided not to make a homelessness application. She told the Officer she would rather wait for a settled offer than make a homeless application. She asked the Council’s allocations team to prioritise her case.
- In March, Mrs Y chased the Council for an update. A Council Officer spoke with Mrs Y and said she was in position two, but the Officer said they could not confirm when an offer would be made. The Officer said Mrs Y could make a homelessness application and the Council may then be able to offer her temporary accommodation.
- In April, Mrs Y contacted the Council. She complained about damp in the flat, her family’s overcrowded living conditions and antisocial behaviour of her neighbours.
- A Council Officer called Mrs Y to discuss making a homelessness application. The Council record of this call shows:
- the Officer said if her homelessness application was assessed and added to the homeless queue, this could lead to an award of additional priority over the general needs queue.
- the Officer said that if Mrs Y made a homelessness application, the Council could offer her temporary accommodation, which would remove her from her current property with relative immediacy.
- Mrs Y said she was reluctant to make a homelessness application given her position on the general needs queue and did not wish to start again. She did not want to make a homelessness application at this point. The Officer said she could apply at any time through the Council’s website if she changed her mind.
- At the end of April, a Council Officer emailed Mrs Y. The Officer said Mrs Y had spoken with a Council homeless prevention and solutions officer who had said the Council could consider providing temporary accommodation, as a homeless applicant, if Mrs Y felt her safety was at risk. The Officer confirmed this offer was still open to Mrs Y.
- In May, Mrs Y complained to the Council.
- Two days later, the Council sent Mrs Y its stage one complaint response. It said:
- the Council had correctly placed Mrs Y in the general needs queue of Band A, its highest band, since April 2016;
- Mrs Y was in position two in the general needs queue. It said this was a positive position to be in, but the speed at which Mrs Y would be rehoused depended on the availability of three-bedroom properties. It said the Council would contact Mrs Y when a suitable property became available;
- the Council had advised Mrs Y that she could make a homelessness application, but Mrs Y had chosen not to; and,
- the Council cannot prioritise applicants on the basis that they pay their rent in full and do not claim benefits as this would be discriminatory practice.
- In June, Mrs Y asked for the Council to escalate her complaint. She complained that she had been placed in Band A for over five years and the Council still had not made her an offer. She asked to the Council to make sure she had not missed out on any potential offers. She said the Council had failed to respond to her complaint that she was statutory overcrowded.
- Several days later, the Council sent Mrs Y its stage two reply. It said:
- it upheld Mrs Y’s complaint that her question about the number of three-bedroom properties offered had not been responded to. It said it would remind relevant officers at team meetings to make sure all points of complaint were responded to;
- Mrs Y moved into position two on the general needs queue in February 2021. It said Mrs Y’s position did not change because the applicant ahead of her had been made an offer. Rather, her position changed because either the applicant ahead had moved to a new band, new queue or their application was closed; and,
- the possibility of Mrs Y being rehoused depended on a property becoming available. However, this also depended on how the Council decided to allocate three-bedroom properties between the queues. It said its lettings plan helped the Council make decisions about allocating three-bedroom properties and that there was a greater focus on homeless applicants because of high levels of homelessness in the area.
- In early July, the Council told Mrs Y that she had moved to position one in the general needs queue.
- In August, Mrs Y complained to the Ombudsman.
- Mrs Y complains the Council has failed to make her an offer of accommodation, despite being in Band A, the highest Band, since 2016 (part a of the complaint).
- The Council told me that, unfortunately, the reason Mrs Y has not yet received an offer is because the demand for three-bedroom properties greatly outstrips the housing stock available to the Council. It said pressure from increased homelessness applications has impacted on its available housing stock too.
- The Council explained, when deciding how to allocate three-bedroom properties between queues, it also considers its targets in its allocations plan and suitability considerations. It explained that, within the general needs queue, there are several sub-sections across which allocations are spread. The Council has provided a breakdown of three-bedroom houses allocated to general needs queue applicants between 2016 and 2021. It is my understanding that of those three-bedroom properties actually available, they have been spread across the sub-sections within the general needs queue, which has affected the offers made to applicants in Mrs Y’s sub-section and the speed at which Mrs Y has reached position one.
- I understand Mrs Y’s frustration that she has been in Band A since April 2016. However, the Council has limited properties available and has allocated them in line with its policy. The delay in offering Mrs Y a property is not due to any fault by the Council, it is because of a lack of available properties.
- Mrs Y also complains the Council incorrectly offered suitable three-bedroom properties to applicants in a lower band (part b of the complaint).
- The Council told us that, since April 2016, four applicants in Band A on the general needs queue had been rehoused in three-bedroom properties ahead of other Band A applicants, including Mrs Y. This meant each of these applicants had joined Band A after Mrs Y.
- The Council has provided evidence that fully explains the reasons why it exercised discretion to rehouse these applicants ahead of others. It said these were cases where it decided there was an urgent and exceptional need or additional preference leading to priority rehousing status (in line with paragraphs 20 to 23 above). These are decisions that the Council was entitled to make. Without fault in how the Council made these decisions, I cannot question the content.
- When Mrs Y experienced antisocial behaviour from her neighbours, the Council provided her with advice on making a homelessness application with a view to potentially awarding her additional preference. This is in line with paragraph 21, bullet point two, above. I do not find the Council at fault here. It considered whether Mrs Y’s situation fell within the possible grounds for awarding additional priority. The Council said the option of making a homelessness application remained open to her when Mrs Y decided not pursue this option.
- I understand that Mrs Y’s neighbour moved out in summer 2021 bringing the issues with this neighbour to an end.
- I have completed my investigation.
- I have decided not to uphold Mrs Y’s complaint. This is because there is no evidence of fault by the Council causing injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman