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North Devon District Council (16 016 191)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 26 Apr 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council failed to bring to Ms D’s attention formal appeal rights in relation to decisions to end the full housing duty and the suitability of alternative temporary accommodation. The injustice is that Ms D was unable to engage with a formal appeal procedure which might have led to a reversal of the original decision or, if the original decision had been upheld on completion of statutory review, enabled Ms D to appeal to the court. The Ombudsman recommended and the Council agreed to remedy fault by apologising to Ms D, paying Ms D £500 to acknowledge loss of opportunity to engage with an appeal procedure and review procedure and staff training to ensure that similar fault does not recur.

The complaint

  1. Ms F on behalf of her daughter (Ms D) complains about various faults in the way the Housing Team managed Ms D’s housing situation in the period January 2016 to September 2016

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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. If there has been fault, the Ombudsman considers whether it has caused an injustice and, if it has, he may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of my investigation I have:
    • Considered Ms F’s written statement of complaint and the documents Ms F provided
    • Spoken on the telephone with Ms F
    • Considered the response of the Council to Ombudsman enquiries and documents the Council provided
    • Considered law, statutory guidance and Council policy
    • Considered Ms F’s and the Council’s responses to the draft decision

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What I found

  1. Local housing authorities (LHAs) have a duty to provide help to certain people in need of housing. Whether or not the duty arises and the extent of the duty depends on the application of four principles:
    • eligibility;
    • homeless or threatened with homelessness;
    • priority need;
    • intentional homelessness.
  2. A council should accept a homeless application if it has reason to believe that a person may be homeless and eligible. It must make full inquires on which to base a decision about what duty, if any, is owed. Pending the decision on homelessness, the council must provide interim accommodation when it has reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, eligible and in priority need.
  3. If an applicant is found to be eligible, unintentionally homeless and in priority need the LHA will owe the full housing duty. When a full housing duty is established the LHA under s193 of the Housing Act 1996 must ‘secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant’. The full housing duty is a duty to provide temporary accommodation only. The duty can be ended by the Council in a number of ways including the applicant’s refusal of suitable accommodation offered under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 or the applicant becoming homeless intentionally from Part VII accommodation.
  4. The accommodation councils provide to fulfil a homelessness duty must be ‘suitable’. Chapter 17 of the Homelessness Code provides guidance on the factors which LHAs must take into account when deciding the suitability of temporary accommodation provided under homelessness law. The effect of refusing a suitable offer of Part VII temporary accommodation is that no further housing duty is owed. The applicant can be evicted from any Part VII accommodation currently occupied and the LHA has no further duty to house the applicant. The applicant must be told about the possible consequences of refusal and the right to ask for a review of suitability.
  5. The applicant can request statutory review of certain decisions about homelessness status. There is a right of review of a decision about the suitability of accommodation offered following acceptance of the full housing duty. There is also a right of review about a decision that the full housing duty has come to an end. In general the review must be carried out within eight weeks of the request for review. A review must be carried out by someone who was not involved in the original decision and who is senior to the officer who made the original decision. Where the decision is adverse the applicant must be notified of the right to appeal to the County Court on a ‘point of law’. A ‘point of law’ extends to procedural irregularity and unfairness. Chapter 19 of the Homelessness Code gives guidance on the procedure which is underpinned by the Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Review Procedures) Regulations 1999.
  6. Homeless applicants are often unable to keep their property with them because the temporary accommodation is too small or it is furnished. Under section 211 of the Housing Act 1996 LHAs must take reasonable steps to prevent loss or damage to a homeless applicant’s property and possessions. The duty is normally met by the council placing the applicant’s furniture and possessions in storage while they are in temporary accommodation. The Council may make ‘reasonable charges’ and may lay down conditions regarding the disposal of the property.
  7. Section 20.7 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance 2006 – relevant statutory guidance at the time of the complaint – says ‘in some cases where the applicant’s previous home is not to be occupied immediately, it may be possible for the property to remain there, if it can be adequately protected’.
  8. Chapter 5 of the Homelessness Code emphasises the necessity and value of joint working between the housing authority and other public authorities including health services.

What happened/Background

  1. From 2011 Ms D rented a one bedroom flat (property X) in a house in multiple occupation. In mid-January 2016 Ms D contacted the Council’s housing team and asked for help securing alternative accommodation. Ms D said that the environmental health team had recently carried out a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment of property X and established there were category 1 and 2 hazards relating to cold and electrical safety. Ms D said that she was concerned for her personal safety in relation to tenants living in the same housing block (house being used for consumption and sale of illegal drugs). The Housing Advice Officer’s initial view was that it was reasonable for Ms D to continue to occupy property X.
  2. Due to mental ill health Ms D was known to community mental health services including the Psychosis and Recovery Team. Mental health services carried out assessments of Ms D in October 2015 and January 2016. Ms D was also known to adult social care. Following contact between adult social care and Ms D in January 2016 and a home visit on 11 February 2016 adult social care decided that Ms D did not have eligible care and support needs. Adult social care advised Ms D to contact her GP and other agencies.
  3. On 20 January Ms D ceased to occupy property X because of concern for her health and personal safety. Ms D left most of her possessions in property X. On 28 January Ms D contacted the Housing Advice Officer (officer P) and told her that she had spent several nights sleeping in hostel accommodation because of property X’s condition. Officer P offered Ms D Temporary Accommodation (placement in a motel room near a town 12 miles distance from Ms D’s home town). The offer of Temporary Accommodation on 28 January is reasonably understood as offer under s188 of the Housing Act 1996 of interim accommodation pending enquiries into Ms D’s homelessness status. The Council’s intention was to move Ms D into Bed and Breakfast accommodation in the same town as property X as soon as this became available.
  4. Ms D completed a Homelessness Application on 8 February 2016. The Council sent Ms D a letter dated 8 February 2016 stating that the Council would fulfil a duty to provide accommodation pending enquiries into Ms D’s homelessness status.
  5. The Council offered Ms D Bed and Breakfast accommodation (ground floor room in a guest house in Ms D’s home town). Ms D accepted the offer and moved into the Bed and Breakfast accommodation on 11 February.
  6. Ms D paid the Council for the placement with the Council taking responsibility for paying the B and B owner for the room. Due to shortfall between contractual rent (charge for the B & B accommodation) and maximum Housing Benefit allowable, Ms D was required to top up from her own resources. The top up amounted to £23.49 a week (subsequently reduced to £20.19 once it was confirmed that Ms D was no longer having the breakfast provided by the B & B).
  7. In February officer P referred Ms D to a voluntary agency (housing charity) for provision of advice and support on housing and tenancy issues. From February Ms D received independent advice and support on tenancy and housing issues from an officer employed by the voluntary agency.
  8. In the period February to September 2016 Ms D received initial or on-going advice and representation in relation to housing matters from several voluntary agencies including:
    • A general advice agency located in Ms D’s home town
    • Shelter
    • Citizen’s Advice Bureau
    • An agency providing advice on debt management
    • An advocacy service
  9. The Council sent Ms D a letter dated 17 March 2016 saying that following enquiries it accepted that Ms C was statutorily homeless and that it owed her the full housing duty. The letter said that ‘at the time of placement you were advised that you were required to pay the top up on this placement. I note that you have failed to pay any of these contributions. Please note that failure to do will result in this placement being cancelled and you will be found to be intentionally homeless and all duty will end.’
  10. The Council sent an additional letter dated 17 March 2016 saying that the B & B placement was the Council’s offer of temporary accommodation under the full housing duty. The letter pointed out that rent arrears could provide grounds to cancel the B & B placement and end the housing duty. The letter said: ‘While every effort will be made to place you in temporary accommodation in an area of your choice, we cannot guarantee this and you may be placed anywhere within the authority’s district or outside of this area.’
  11. Ms D’s mother (Ms G) says she sent an email to officer P on 16 March suggesting that the Council should remove and store Ms D’s possessions in property X.
  12. In March Ms D told the housing team that she had insufficient income to fund the top-up charge for the B & B placement. Ms D asked the housing team to consider a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the top-up. The Temporary Accommodation Officer sent Ms D an email on 24 March saying ‘there is no one to refer you to regarding DHP as housing officer and manager are on leave’. The email said that Ms D could seek advice about a DHP application from the support worker from a voluntary housing agency due to visit Ms D.
  13. Ms D’s landlord sent Ms D a Notice to Quit letter dated 31 March 2016. The letter said that the landlord required vacant possession of property X by 31 May 2016. The letter referred to outstanding rent arrears of £2204.97 with a further monthly rental payment of £450 due 1 April.
  14. In early April officer P told Ms D that alternative temporary accommodation (self-contained flat in a different town within the Council area) could be offered to Ms D. The Council’s view was that the alternative temporary accommodation (property Y) was more affordable than the B & B placement and that its self-contained nature meant that it was superior to the B & B. Ms D said she was uninterested in the offer of property Y for several reasons including that she would be separated from her support and friendship network.
  15. In late March and April 2016 the housing team sent Ms D letters saying that Ms D was accruing rent arrears in relation to the B & B placement and that the Council would cancel the B & B placement if Ms D failed to make payment in full or enter into a payment plan. These letters referred to the Council’s offer of property Y as alternative temporary accommodation. Officer P and the support officer from the voluntary agency visited Ms D in the B & B on 26 April to discuss rent arrears and entering into a payment plan.
  16. The Council (Temporary Accommodation Lead) sent Ms D a letter dated 4 May 2016. The letter said that ‘to date you have failed to clear the arrears, make a payment plan or contact us to discuss the matter’. The letter said that the Council ‘will be offering you alternative temporary accommodation of a ground floor self-contained flat (property Y). We consider that this property is suitable for your needs, taking into account that support provided by (the support officer from the voluntary agency) can continue and that you would be in a better financial position (as there would be no weekly contribution for this accommodation). We will require you to move to this property as soon as it is available. If you fail to accept this accommodation your placement at the B & B will be cancelled and no further placement will be made’.
  17. Ms D sent a letter of complaint on 5 May 2016 to the Housing Options Head. On 23 May Ms G on behalf of Ms D submitted to the Council a complaint about failure to consider a DHP amongst other matters.
  18. The Council (Housing Service Manager) sent a letter to Ms D dated 13 May 2016 in response to Ms D’s letter dated 5 May. The letter said the following:
    • There was no reason to allocate a new housing officer
    • Ms D’s priority category on the social housing register was Band B. Bids would be automatically placed on suitable properties while Ms D was in temporary accommodation.
    • The housing team acknowledged Ms D’s difficulties with the B & B placement and was therefore making a further offer of Temporary Accommodation
    • The housing team could help Ms D secure her own accommodation in the private rental sector by offering access to a rent in advance/deposit scheme
    • The housing team made the referral resulting in a voluntary sector agency allocating an officer to advise and support Ms D in relation to housing matters
    • The housing team made a referral to adult social care to assess Ms D’s needs
  19. The Council sent Ms D a letter dated 19 May 2016. The letter said that the Council had made an offer of further temporary accommodation (property Y) and that property Y would be available for occupation from 25 May. The Council would cancel the B & B placement on 26 May.
  20. On 12 May a multi-agency meeting was held to discuss Ms D’s housing situation.
  21. In May 2016 adult social care decided to carry out further assessment of Ms D and scheduled this for June.
  22. Ms D sent letters dated 19 and 25 May 2016 challenging the Council’s view that property Y was suitable temporary accommodation.
  23. According to the case log the Temporary Accommodation Lead wrote a letter dated 26 May in response to Ms D’s letters of 19 and 25 May. The housing team case log says the following: ‘(Temporary Accommodation Lead) responded 26/5 that the contents of Ms D’s letter had been considered and that it was still felt the offer of that accommodation was suitable’. (Similarly the Council’s response to Ombudsman enquiries says that on 26 May 2016 the Temporary Accommodation Service Lead ‘responded to Ms D’s letter advising that further to a review the offer is considered suitable and that occupation was required from 01.06.16 terminating her (B & B) temporary accommodation placement.’)
  24. Officer P sent an email to a housing team manager on 31 May saying that ‘housing will still assist Ms D in bidding for properties (Band B) and offer rent in advance and/or deposit for a property in the private rental sector, although this will be reviewed if her circumstances change. We will not have a duty to make a further offer of temporary accommodation’.
  25. Officer P sent Ms D a text on 31 May saying that property Y was now available for Ms D to move into and that the Council would cancel the B & B placement on 1 June.
  26. Officer P advised mental health community services and adult social care to send staff to the B & B to assess and support Ms D on 1 June.
  27. Ms D vacated the B & B on 31 May. Ms D left some of her possessions in the B & B. From 1 June to the beginning of July 2016 Ms D rented accommodation in a holiday home complex. Ms G says that she paid for the cost of the accommodation. Ms D initially did not disclose her whereabouts to the Council.
  28. The Council ended the B & B placement on 1 June. The B & B changed the lock on the room Ms D had occupied.
  29. The housing team made a police welfare check. The police advised the housing team on 6 June that Ms D had been seen in the area and that she appeared safe and well.
  30. In June Ms D asked the housing team on several occasions to provide alternative temporary accommodation in the home town.
  31. Officer P spoke to Ms D and an advice worker on 7 June. Officer P said that no further offer of temporary accommodation could be made. Officer P said that Ms D’s possessions had been removed from the B & B and were now in storage.
  32. Officer P sent her manager an email on 7 June saying that she had told the advice worker to inform Ms D of the following: ‘No further offer of TA. However if Ms D disagrees with this she can put it in writing.’
  33. The housing team sent Ms D a letter dated 7 June saying that Ms D’s possessions had been removed and were in secure storage for a period of two weeks. The letter asked Ms D to arrange a date and location to accept the possessions.
  34. Officer P sent Ms D an email on 9 June suggesting that it was Ms D’s responsibility to find and secure her own accommodation. The housing team could offer Ms D some financial support (payment of rent in advance/payment of deposit) to facilitate a private rented tenancy.
  35. For a brief period in June the Council suspended Ms D’s auto bidding because of uncertainty about her whereabouts. Other than this period the Council continued to make bids for social housing tenancies on Ms D’s behalf.
  36. In June 2016 the Housing Benefit Team awarded Ms D four week dual Housing Benefit covering the period 20 January to 16 February 2016.
  37. Officer P sent Ms D an email on 10 June asking for authorisation from her to allow her mother (Ms G) to represent her in relation to housing matters.
  38. In late May and June Ms D and Ms G submitted complaints to the Council about failure to provide two homes benefit, failure to consider a Discretionary Housing payment and the decision to cancel the B &B placement. Ms D and Ms G also contacted Ms D’s MP and a Councillor to express the same concerns.
  39. On 17 June Ms D and Ms G sent emails asking the Council to make a further offer of temporary accommodation. Ms G said that she would pay for any top up which might be applicable.
  40. Officer P sent Ms D an email on 17 June saying the following:
    • Ms G had sent the housing team an email offering to fund top up (shortfall in Housing Benefit) for a temporary accommodation placement
    • The Council was ‘unable to offer you emergency accommodation as you were asked to leave your last placement due to refusing an offer of temporary accommodation which was assessed as suitable for you. There was also top up arrears accrued at your previous temporary accommodation and a repayment plan was not entered into.’
    • ‘North Devon Council have accepted a homeless duty towards you and this has not changed since your temporary accommodation was terminated. Therefore we continue to offer a high priority for social housing (band B) and auto bidding is in place for you.’
    • ‘We also continue to offer rent in advance and/or deposit for a suitable property in the private rental sector’.
  41. Adult social care cancelled assessment and closed the case in June due to Ms D not attending scheduled appointments. Adult social care decided it could re-activate assessment if Ms D’s needs changed and she was willing to re-engage.
  42. On 30 June and 1 July Ms D sent emails to officer P requesting that the Council provide temporary accommodation.
  43. A housing advocate sent a letter dated 4 July challenging the Council’s decision not to re-offer temporary accommodation for Ms D in June 2016 and suggesting that the Council had not properly considered the suitability of property Y.
  44. In a letter dated 8 July the Council (Temporary Accommodation Service Lead) responded to the letter dated 4 July. The letter said that ‘letters didn’t provide as full an explanation as should have been but I confirm that all factors, including locality, accessibility, affordability and support were taken into account when we determined that it was suitable accommodation’. The letter said ‘North Devon Council considers that offer (of property Y) was suitable and will not make a provision of temporary accommodation’. The letter referred to retention of a ‘duty to assist in securing long-term accommodation’ through consideration of Ms D’s bids under the Band B priority category.
  45. Ms D was admitted as a voluntary patient in a psychiatric hospital from 5 July 2016. Ms D was subsequently detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Ms D was resident in the hospital until early September.
  46. Ms D sent the Council a letter dated 16 July 2016 authorising Ms G to act on her behalf regarding ‘all housing matters’.
  47. In August 2016 Ms G submitted a complaint to corporate complaints. The Council responded at stage 1 in a letter dated 19 August 2016. The Council did not uphold the complaints.
  48. The housing team (allocations) offered Ms D a social housing tenancy (one bedroom flat) in late August. Ms D accepted the offer.
  49. Officer P sent Ms D a letter dated 31 August 2016 stating that the Council owed a section 193 Housing Act duty to Ms D and this would be ended following acceptance or refusal of the offer of the social housing tenancy.
  50. The Council approved a Discretionary Housing Payment for rent-in-advance on the new tenancy.
  51. The Council’s Temporary Accommodation Team closed the case on 12 September.
  52. Ms D started the new tenancy in mid-September 2016.
  53. Ms D’s tenancy of property X ended on 16 September. Ms G says the landlord secured a judgement debt against Ms D regarding rent arrears on property X. Ms G says that the landlord is holding Ms D liable for a rent arrears debt of £750.
  54. In March 2017 the Council’s corporate complaints team issued a stage 2 response to Ms G’s complaint on behalf of Ms D.
  55. On 5 May 2017 the Council wrote off Ms D’s charge arrears in relation to her occupation of the B & B on the grounds that there was no reasonable prospect of payment.
  56. Following receipt of Ombudsman enquiry letter the Council decided to backdate Ms D’s Council Tax exemption on the grounds of severe mental impairment to 1 May 2012. This means that the Council no longer holds Ms D liable for Council Tax arrears for the period January to September 2016.

Analysis

Decision to end placement at B & B and allocate property Y as temporary accommodation

  1. The Council can cancel temporary accommodation and make further temporary accommodation available to the applicant in fulfilment of the full housing duty. In letters and emails sent to Ms D in June 2016 the housing team explained its reasons including property Y’s greater affordability and its comparative advantage to the B & B in terms of cooking and washing facilities. I note that the Homelessness Code says that ‘Bed and Breakfast accommodation caters for very short-term stays only and generally will afford residents only limited privacy and may lack certain important amenities, such as cooking and laundry facilities. Consequently, where possible, housing authorities should avoid using B & B hotels to discharge a duty for homeless applicants.’ I also note that Ms D complained to the housing team on 24 February 2016 about the B & B placement (lack of heating and laundry facilities). I note too that the Council identified a severe shortage of affordable one bedroom flats in Ms D’s home town at the time of allocation.

Decision to end the full housing duty

  1. At the beginning of June 2016 the Council ended the ‘full housing duty’ to Ms D – the duty under s193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 to ‘secure that accommodation is available for occupation’. The Council refused Ms D and her housing advocate’s requests in June and July 2016 for further temporary accommodation under homelessness law. The Council provided reasons for the decision in letters and emails sent to Ms D and the housing advocate in June and July 2016. The Council ended the duty on the grounds that Ms D had refused a suitable accommodation offer under part VII of the Housing Act (offer of property Y) and that Ms D had made herself intentionally homeless from the Bed & Breakfast placement. The Council can end the full housing duty on such grounds.
  2. The Council did not communicate clearly that it had ended the full housing duty to Ms D. Officer P’s email sent to Ms D on 17 June 2016 and the letter dated 31 August 2016 suggested that the Council had not ended a ‘homeless duty’ under section 193 of the Housing Act 1996. The fact that the Council did not demote Ms D from Band B under the Council’s allocations policy and that it offered Ms D access to a deposit/advance of rent scheme to facilitate Ms D securing a private rented property is not evidence that the Council retained the section 193 duty which is to ‘secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant’.

Failure to notify Ms D of right of statutory review

  1. Though the Council considered Ms D’s views on suitability of property Y in a letter dated 26 May 2016 and the letter to the housing advocate dated 8 July 2016, there is no evidence that the Council informed Ms D or her advocate of her right to challenge suitability of property Y and the decision to end the full housing duty by way of statutory review. This is a review procedure with certain procedural safeguards which must be followed through by the council. The injustice to Ms D is that she was unable to engage with a formal appeal procedure which might have led to a reversal of the original decision or, if the original decision had been upheld on completion of review, enabled Ms D to appeal to the county court.

Taking Ms D’s mental health difficulties into account

  1. I am satisfied that housing officers made appropriate referrals to ensure that Ms D, given her mental health needs and vulnerability, had suitable access to advocacy and representation. The housing team sought out and took into account the views of medical professionals familiar with Ms D’s mental health problems. The housing team sought out and took into account the views of professionals appointed to support, advise and represent Ms D. The housing team participated in multi-agency meetings and showed willingness to look at Ms D’s housing needs from a multi-agency angle.

Housing Benefit for Two Homes

  1. In general Housing Benefit can only be paid for one home. When a person moves home but remains liable to pay for the former home, Housing Benefit can be paid for both homes for up to four weeks where the dual liability could not reasonably have been avoided.
  2. Following acknowledgement of Ms D’s request for payment of Housing Benefit on two homes, the Housing Benefit team decided that Ms D met the criteria for Two Homes Benefit and applied this for the period 20 January 2016 to 16 February 2016. The Housing Benefit Team sent Ms D a letter informing her that she had been awarded Two Homes Housing Benefit.
  3. There is evidence that the Council’s Housing Benefit team considered a request Ms D made in July 2016 for Two Homes Benefit to be extended beyond four weeks. This would be a strictly discretionary decision. The Benefits Case Officer sent Ms D a letter dated 20 July 2016 refusing the request and giving reasons including that ‘Two Homes Benefit can only be awarded for a maximum of 4 weeks’. I have no reason to doubt that the Benefits case officer took into account Ms D’s individual circumstances when considering the request.

Discretionary Housing Payment

  1. Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) is a discretionary fund administered by the local housing authority and can be awarded to a person receiving Housing Benefit where the LHA is satisfied that the person needs extra help with housing costs. DHP is paid when there is a shortfall between rent and HB but can also be paid for a tenancy deposit.
  2. Ms D raised the issue of a DHP with the Temporary Accommodation Officer (TAO) in March 2016 in the context of a concern that she could not afford to pay for the ‘top up’ (shortfall between charge for B & B placement and Housing Benefit). The TAO sent Ms D an email on 24 March 2016 saying ‘there is no one to refer you to regarding DHP as housing officer and manager are on leave’. In my view either the TAO, officer P or officer P’s manager should have sent a DHP form to Ms D and asked her to complete this with the assistance of the support officer from the voluntary agency. There is no evidence that this happened. However, on the balance of probabilities it is unlikely that submission of an application for DHP would have resulted in the housing team exercising discretion in favour of Ms D and funding the top up. The housing team would have taken into account the support officer’s view on affordability of the top up. Concern was expressed at the multi-agency meeting on 12 May 2016 about Ms D not fully disclosing her financial circumstances. The support officer’s said at the meeting that ‘a payment off TA debt was affordable as (Ms D) receives ESA circa £250 fortnightly.
  3. I note that in May 2017 the Council wrote off Ms D’s debt of £362.85 caused by Ms D failing to pay the top up for the B & B placement.

Storing possessions

  1. Ms D contends that as early as February 2016 she requested the Council to store possessions and that failure to act on the request meant that she was liable for rent on property X which she had ceased to occupy.
  2. I accept the Council’s view that there is insufficient evidence that Ms D or Ms G made a clear request to the Council to remove Ms D’s possessions from property X and store them on her behalf in the period February to September 2016. However, Ms D’s reference to removal and storage of possessions from property X in the letter dated 5 May 2016 to the Head of Housing Options might have triggered consideration of the section 211 Housing Act 1996 duty.
  3. The Ombudsman is unable to investigate the landlord’s decision to hold Ms D liable for rent for the period 20 January to 15 September 2016. I note that a landlord might hold a tenant liable for rent even if the tenant no longer lives in the rented accommodation and has removed all their goods and possessions from the accommodation.

Representative

  1. I am satisfied that the Council considered Ms G a suitable representative once it had secured Ms D’s clear authorisation for Ms G to act on Ms D’s behalf. The Council could not consider Ms G a suitable representative without this authorisation.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council failed to bring to Ms D’s attention formal appeal rights in relation to decisions on the full housing duty and suitability of property Y. The injustice is that Ms D was unable to engage with a formal appeal procedure which might have led to a reversal of the original decision or, if the original decision had been upheld enabled Ms D, to appeal the matter further. To remedy fault causing injustice the Ombudsman recommended and the Council agreed to carry out the following action:
    • apologise in writing for the fault;
    • pay Ms D £500 to acknowledge loss of opportunity to engage with the formal appeal procedure; and
    • review procedure and staff training needs to ensure that similar fault does not recur

The Ombudsman is satisfied that recent change in procedure and delivery of training by the Council makes it unlikely that similar fault will recur.

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Final decision

  1. The agreed action suitably remedies fault. The complaint is therefore closed.

Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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