Bedford Borough Council (14 005 870)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Feb 2015

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was fault in the way the Council dealt with the complainant’s homeless applications. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy the complainant’s injustice.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains that there were failings in the way the Council dealt with his homelessness applications. A charity has supported Mr B to make his complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She 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, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
  2. If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr B says that he has acquired brain injury which affects his memory and he is alcohol dependent.
  2. In February 2014, Mr B stayed in hospital for around a week after breaking his leg. A few days after he was discharged from hospital, he had a fall and was re-admitted to hospital.
  3. While Mr B was in hospital, his landlord took possession of his flat and it was re-let. The Council was contacted as Mr B had nowhere to live. A Housing Officer visited Mr B in hospital and he completed a homeless application. The Council’s records show that the Officer arranged for temporary accommodation to be made available to Mr B by a housing charity, subject to an assessment. The Officer arranged for Mr B to meet with representatives of the housing charity but Mr B missed the appointment.
  4. The hospital discharged Mr B the following day. Hospital staff arranged for Mr B to go to the local night shelter. Mr B did not want to go to the shelter so contacted the Housing Officer. The Officer contacted Mr B’s sister who agreed that he could stay with her for one night. Mr B’s sister says that she felt pressured to allow him to stay and the Officer told her that if she did not agree, Mr B would have to sleep rough.
  5. Mr B stayed with his sister for a few days but had to contact the Council’s out of hours service when his sister asked him to leave. The Council arranged for Mr B to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation for the weekend.
  6. The Housing Officer told Mr B about a room in a shared house that was available through a private landlord. Mr B says the Officer told him that the Council would not provide any further assistance if he did not accept the accommodation. He says the Officer told him that it was his only option.
  7. Mr B moved into the room but did not stay there regularly due to concerns about unsanitary conditions and because he had received threats from another tenant. He also says that he could not afford to pay the difference between the rent and the Housing Benefit Allowance.
  8. In April 2014, the Council wrote to Mr B with its decision on his homeless application. It said that it had decided that he was not homeless because he had accommodation that he was entitled to occupy and was available to him. It said that it had no further duty to secure suitable accommodation because he had secured housing at the privately rented property.
  9. Mr B visited the Council the following week and explained the problems he was having in the accommodation. The Council wrote to him that day with its decision that he was not homeless. It said that it had considered information from the landlord and it was satisfied that it was reasonable for him to continue to live there.
  10. Mr B says that an associate of the landlord threatened him and told him to leave the property. The next day, Mr B returned to the property to find the locks changed and someone else living in the room. He says that he slept rough that night.
  11. Mr B made another homeless application in May 2014. The Council provided Mr B with temporary accommodation while it was making enquiries. In July 2014, the Council accepted a full homeless duty to Mr B. He has now been re-housed through the Council’s choice based lettings scheme.

Proposed remedy

  1. The Council says that it received Mr B’s homeless application at a time of significant pressure for the team. It accepts that its case notes are not sufficiently detailed and some of its documentation is not in evidence. Also the Housing Officer involved in this case is no longer employed by the Council. In view of this, the Council has proposed a remedy to settle the complaint.
  2. The Council has proposed to pay £821.50 to Mr B in recognition of its failings and for the inconvenience and time and trouble Mr B has been put to pursuing the matter. It also says that it will write to Mr B to apologise.
  3. The Council says that since Mr B’s experience of the service, it has carried out a full review of its working practices, documentation and staff capability. It says that it has issued a full set of procedures to staff, casework templates are now used to evidence decisions and there have been staffing changes.
  4. Mr B is not satisfied with the Council’s proposed remedy and would like the Ombudsman to continue to investigate the complaint. I have decided that the Ombudsman should not do so. This is because I consider the Council’s proposal is sufficient to remedy Mr B’s injustice. I do not consider further investigation could achieve any more for Mr B.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to take the action contained in paragraph 17 above. The Council has also sent me copies of the new procedures it now has in place as evidence of its service improvements.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr B’s complaint. There was fault by the Council which caused injustice to Mr B. I am satisfied that the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy his injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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