The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council has placed him in the wrong band on the housing register as it has wrongly decided he has not been resident in the borough for the last three years. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mr X’s application to join the housing register.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council has placed him in the wrong band on the housing register as it has wrongly decided he has not been resident in the borough for the last three years.
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 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, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their comments. I have considered the Council and Mr X’s responses.
What I found
- Mr X applied to join the housing register in 2011. At that time he advised the Council he was homeless and asked for correspondence to be sent to his brother’s address (Property 1). The Council assessed his application and placed Mr X in Band C.
- The Council cancelled Mr X’s application in December 2014 as it believed Mr X had moved and was no longer residing at Property 1. Its records show it had telephoned Mr X several times to discuss properties and he had been abroad each time. Mr X contacted the Council in Janaury 2015 and provided documentation relating to his work which gave his address as Property 1. Based on this information the Council reinstated his application in September 2015.
- Mr X made a homeless application in May 2016. He stated he had slept in the back of his taxi since March 2011. The Council’s records state it provided advice on renting privately and gave Mr X information on looking for assured shorthold tenancies. It then closed his application.
- In November 2016 the Council cancelled Mr X’s housing register application as it had received information Mr X was no longer living in the UK. Mr X disputed this and made a new application. The Council contacted Mr X in March 2017 and asked for further information about Mr X’s addresses. Mr X provided additional information and in August 2017 the Council placed Mr X in Band D. Mr X was now in a lower band as the Council was not satisfied he had resided in the borough for the previous three years.
- Mr X disputed this decision and made a formal complaint. He was unhappy the Council’s records wrongly stated that he lived in Spain, and wanted the records correcting. Mr X asserted he had lived in the borough all of his life, but was now homeless and it was impossible for him to provide any documentation. Mr X also complained he had made a homeless application, but had not received a response.
- The Council advised Mr X his banding and his points on the housing register were based on his recent application and his current situation. His application in 2011 was based on his circumstances then, and attracted different banding and points. The Council did not consider the information submitted with his recent application was sufficient to confirm he was resident in the borough. The Council suggested he provide further current information which showed he resided in the borough.
- In May 2018 Mr X applied to the Council for housing assistance and homelessness prevention. He gave his address as Property 1 and said he had to leave by 30 May 2018. Mr X said he was sleeping rough as he had not been allowed to take on his brother’s tenancy. Mr X is unhappy he was given advice on renting private sector accommodation as he considers this to be unaffordable.
- Mr X maintains he has provided all of the information he can and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate. He states he has a brother who lives in Spain, and he will occasionally visit him, but he does not live there. Mr X wants all references to him living abroad removed from the Council’s records.
- The Council’s records note that when Mr X’s brother died in October 2016, an officer from the housing association for Property 1 contacted Mr X as his next of kin. The officer told the Council Mr X said he lived in Spain and would return to England to collect his brother’s death certificate and complete the necessary paperwork.
- Mr X wanted to succeed his brother’s tenancy for Property 1, but his application was unsuccessful as he was unable to show he had lived at Property 1 continuously for the previous 12 months. Mr X was not recorded on the council tax records or electoral register as residing at Property 1, and the supported housing staff could not confirm Mr X had lived there.
- The Council’s records state Mr X agreed to hand back the keys and confirmed he had only stayed at the property for short periods over the previous three to four years. Mr X was unable to return the key in person as he was working in Suffolk.
- The Council charged Mr X council tax for the period following his brother’s death when he stayed at the property. Mr X contacted the Council in February 2017 to say it had registered him in error as he had never lived at Property 1. The Council has since reimbursed Mr X the amount he was overcharged.
- In response to the draft decision Mr X states that he lived with his brother at Property 1 until his brother’s death. He states he provided letters from other residents confirming he lived at Property 1, but the council has ignored these. Mr X reiterated he visits another brother in Spain but has never lived there.
- Mr X also states that he was not his brother’s next of kin. He disputes that the housing officer contacted him following his brother’s death, or that he collected his brother’s death certificate. Mr X asserts the Council has got its facts wrong, and any reference to a brother living in Spain related to another brother who lives there, not Mr X.
- The Council has provided a copy of a letter from a resident dated November 2016, which confirms Mr X had lived at Property 1 with his brother for the last 12 months. The Council’s records show it subsequently received information which cast doubt of the authenticity of this letter.
- The Council has also confirmed that Mr X was not recorded with the Emergency Response team as his brother’s next of kin. It states the person identified is not mentioned in other records or known to the estate management team. The Council states neither the estate manager nor the warden services team were aware of any other brother, and only had Mr X’s details.
- When considering complaints, we may not act like an appeal body. We cannot question the merits of the decision the Council has made or offer any opinion on whether or not we agree with the judgment of the Councils’ officers. Instead, we focus on the process by which the decision was made.
- The Council has accepted Mr X’s application to join the housing register but has awarded low priority as it is not satisfied he has been resident in the borough for the last three years. Mr X disagrees with this decision, but there is no evidence of fault in the way it was taken.
- The Council’s allocation policy states:
“Applicants will be placed into Band D, or lowest available band, if they have not been resident within the borough for a continuous minimum period of three years immediately preceding their application.”
- Mr X has provided the Council with documents relating to his employment which give his address as Property 1. He has also provided evidence he is registered with a GP in the borough. The Council has considered this information but does not consider it sufficient to confirm Mr X resides in the borough.
- Mr X has been inconsistent in his statements about his connection to Property 1. It is clear he has used Property 1 as a correspondence address, and in making this complaint he asserts he lived at the property for some time prior to his brother’s death. But he has also repeatedly confirmed he did not live at Property 1, both in his application forms and in correspondence with the Council. The Council’s records also suggest that Mr X advised an Officer in November 2016 that he lived in Spain, and that he told another officer in January 2017 that he was working outside the borough.
- I recognise it is difficult for Mr X to provide proof of his residency in the borough if he is staying with friends or sleeping in his car. But unless he can show he was continuously resident in the borough for at least the last three years, it is not fault for the Council to place him in Band D of its allocation scheme.
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mr X’s application to join the housing register.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman