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Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council (20 005 117)

Category : Housing > COVID-19

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 18 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about a lack of support from the Council when he was homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council failed to support him as a homeless person during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular he said:
      1. his social worker did not visit him every week;
      2. he was not given support to open a bank account;
      3. he was not given support to find work;
      4. he could not complete the actions in his personalized housing plan (PHP) because he wasn’t given the support he needed to do so; and
      5. there was a leak in his temporary accommodation that the Council failed to address.

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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. 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)
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • the information provided by Mr X and the Council, including all the Council’s records about Mr X’s housing case and all communications between them; and
    • relevant law and guidance, as set out below.
  2. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

Relevant law and guidance

  1. Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities set out councils’ powers and duties to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
  2. A council must complete an assessment if it is satisfied a person is homeless or threatened with homelessness. The council should work with the person to identify practical and reasonable steps for the council and the person to take to secure accommodation. These steps should be set out in a personalised housing plan (PHP).
  3. In certain circumstances the council should provide interim accommodation for the person whilst it makes enquiries about whether it owes them a housing duty.
  4. Where the person is:
    • homeless;
    • eligible for assistance;
    • in priority need; and
    • not intentionally homeless

councils must take reasonable steps to secure accommodation for them. This is called the relief duty.

  1. Whether a person is eligible for assistance depends on their immigration status. A European Economic Area (EEA) national, who is not in employment and has worker status is not usually “eligible” for assistance. In June 2020, as part of its COVID-19 response, the government suspended the usual rules for EEA nationals who met certain criteria. This meant councils could provide accommodation for them for up to 12 weeks.

Letter from Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to the Chief Executives of all local authorities in England, dated 24 June 2020

What happened

  1. Mr X arrived in the U.K in January 2020, intending to look for work. He funded his own accommodation until late April 2020 when his funds ran out and he asked the Council for assistance.
  2. The Council provided emergency accommodation for Mr X due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It decided it did not owe him a housing duty because he was not “eligible” for assistance and wrote to him with its decision. It set out the reasons for its decision and his right to ask for a review of the decision if he disagreed with it. Mr X did not ask for a review.
  3. The Council says Mr X did not meet the criteria for assistance under the government’s scheme to assist EEA nationals who were looking for work. However, it used its discretion to offer assistance on the same terms. This was on condition that Mr X worked with its officers to look for work. Mr X accepted these terms and moved to new accommodation in early July. The 12 weeks ended in early October following which the Council assisted Mr X to return to his own country.
  4. Officer A was allocated to assist Mr X in May 2020. Officer A was a homeless support worker, not a social worker. The records show officer A was in regular contact with Mr X including:
    • arranging food parcels for him, including from food banks when he moved to his new accommodation;
    • assisting him to open a bank account by visiting the bank with him and providing a letter to confirm his address. The bank refused to open an account due to Mr X’s verbally abusive behaviour by telephone and in person;
    • assisting him to obtain medical and dental advice and assistance;
    • assisting him to register with employment agencies;
    • contacting his landlord to report his concerns about his accommodation and later checking the landlord had inspected and was arranging to carry out repairs;
    • liaised with an immigration advice centre about his immigration status.

The Council said it did not prepare a PHP because Mr X was not eligible for assistance.

  1. The records also show that Mr X:
    • was contacting officer A very frequently, sometimes several times each day and was very unhappy if they were not immediately able to speak to him;
    • wanted action to be taken immediately when he made requests and was very frustrated if he had to make appointments for another day;
    • complained repeatedly about the variety of the food from the food bank, the amount of food provided and the frequency that he got food parcels;
    • complained frequently that no-one was helping him; and
    • was verbally aggressive to those who were trying to help him.
  2. After the 12 weeks ended, the Council agreed to assist Mr X to return to his own country in line with government advice. It offered to book a flight for him but Mr X changed his mind about leaving.

My findings

  1. The Council took a homelessness application. It decided Mr X was not eligible for assistance. It told him about his right to ask for a review and his appeal rights. It was reasonable for Mr X to ask for a review if he disagreed with its decision.
  2. Although the Council considered Mr X did not meet the criteria for support under the government scheme, it did agree to help him. It provided accommodation for him for 12 weeks through the scheme. It also allocated a support worker, officer A, to support Mr X to find work. I have set out above the support officer A provided. The Council has taken the action I would expect and there is no evidence of fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have not found evidence of fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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