Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 23 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint that the Council had unreasonably failed to assess the housing needs of a man who said he was homeless. This is because there is no sign of fault in the way the Council has dealt with this matter.
- The complainant, who I shall call Mr C, complained that the Council had unreasonably failed to assess his case after he approached it for homelessness assistance. In addition he said the Council was in breach of the housing benefit (HB) Regulations 2006 in its failure to help him.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if, for example, we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr C provided with his complaint. I also considered his comments in response to a draft of this decision. In addition I took account of information from the Council about its recent contacts with Mr C.
What I found
- Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (‘the Act’) and the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities (‘the Code’) set out councils’ powers and duties to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
- The Code says councils’ homelessness services should be readily accessible to the public, and they should provide applicants with clear explanations about their arrangements for making homelessness applications. The Code also says applications for homelessness assistance can be expressed in any particular form.
- Where a council has reason to believe a person is homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must make enquiries necessary to satisfy itself what, if any, duty it owes the person under Part 7 of the Act. The courts have said it is ultimately for councils to decide what enquiries are necessary
- In February 2018 Mr C delivered a letter to the Council addressed to its Chief Executive. In his letter Mr C referred to a complaint he had about the way the Council dealt with an earlier approach as homeless he made to it in 2013. But he also said he continued to be homeless, and he asked the Council to find him suitable housing within 24 hours.
- Two days later a housing officer emailed Mr C in response to his letter. The officer advised Mr C he should telephone a housing and homelessness duty officer, or call at the Town Hall to have his entitlement to housing assessed.
- Around two weeks’ later, Mr C made two telephone calls to duty officers and was put though to a homelessness officer on the second occasion. Mr C told the officers the Council would need to contact another council (Council X) to obtain details about how he became homeless in 2011. In response the homelessness officer said it was not the Council’s role to police other authorities. But the officers all advised Mr C to come to the Town Hall for his case to be properly assessed.
- The following week a housing officer wrote to Mr C to confirm the Council’s advice to him. In particular the officer re-iterated the advice that Mr C should come to the Town Hall if he wished to be considered for housing assistance. As regards contacting Council X, the officer said the Council would contact other local authorities or organisations during its enquiries if it was reasonable and relevant to do so.
- So far Mr C has not been to the Town Hall to pursue a homelessness application. He considers the Council is unreasonably obstructing him in this respect, and in obtaining proper advice and assistance, because it will not commit in advance to contacting Council B.
- But I do not see sign of fault in the way the Council has responded to Mr C’s request for housing assistance. In particular I do not see it is reasonable for Mr C to set pre-conditions on any enquiries the Council makes in his case. It is for the Council to decide for itself what investigations it needs to carry out in respect of a homelessness application.
- I also consider the Council responded to Mr C’s initial contact in good time, and has given him appropriate advice on how to proceed in making a homelessness application. It is now open to Mr C to follow this advice if he wishes to have his housing needs and entitlement to housing assessed, and I do not see the Council is obstructing him in doing so.
- Mr C also complained the Council had breached the HB Regulations in his case. However he has not specified what this alleged breach is and which of the Regulations he is referring to.
- But entitlement to HB relies on a person having accommodation in the area for which they are liable to pay rent. Since Mr C says he has not rented any accommodation in the Council’s area in recent years, I do not see how there can have been any breach of the Regulations in his case. In the circumstances I see no sign of fault by the Council regarding this matter.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr C’s complaint that the Council has unreasonably failed to assess his housing needs as a homeless person. This is because there is no sign of fault on its part in Mr C’s case.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman