The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to provide Mr X with accommodation when he asked for help when he became homeless. Mr X has a physical and mental health issues and had to sleep in a car for five months. The Council should pay Mr X £2500 to acknowledge the distress caused and risk to his health. The Council should also write to Mr X to apologise and take action to improve its services to ensure similar cases do not arise in future.
- Mr X complains the Council failed to provide him with assistance when he became homeless in 2016. Mr X says he has medical needs and the Council failed to provide him with accommodation and as a result he had to sleep in his car for 6 months over the winter and as a result his medical conditions worsened.
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)
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, 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
- I have spoken to Mr X about his complaint and considered the information he provided to the Ombudsman.
- I have also considered evidence the Council has provided in response to my enquiries. This includes:
- Records of contact with Mr X and his representatives.
- An assessment of Mr X’s care needs.
What I found
- When a person applies to a council for accommodation and it has reason to believe they may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, a number of duties arise, including:
- to make enquiries;
- to secure suitable accommodation for certain applicants pending the outcome of the enquiries;
- to notify the applicant of the decision in writing and the right to request a review of the decision.
- people with dependant children;
- pregnant women;
- people with serious health problems;
- some elderly people.
Adult social care
- Sections 9 and 10 of the Care Act 2014 require local authorities to carry out an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support. They must provide an assessment to all people regardless of their finances or whether the local authority thinks an individual has eligible needs. The assessment must be of the adult’s needs and how they impact on their wellbeing and the results they want to achieve. It must also involve the individual and where suitable their carer or any other person they might want involved.
- The Council must carry out the assessment over a suitable and reasonable timescale considering the urgency of needs and any variation in those needs. Local authorities should tell the individual when their assessment will take place and keep the person informed throughout the assessment.
- The Care and Support (Eligibility Criteria) Regulations 2014 sets out the eligibility threshold for adults with care and support needs and their carers. The threshold is based on identifying how a person’s needs affect their ability to achieve relevant outcomes, and how this impacts on their wellbeing. To have needs which are eligible for support, the following must apply:
1. The needs must arise from or be related to a physical or mental impairment or illness.
2. Because of the needs, the adult must be unable to achieve two or more of the following:
- Managing and maintaining nutrition;
- Maintaining personal hygiene;
- Managing toilet needs;
- Being appropriately clothed;
- Being able to make use of the adult’s home safely;
- Maintaining a habitable home environment;
- Developing and maintaining family or other personal relationships;
- Accessing and engaging in work, training, education or volunteering;
- Making use of necessary facilities or services in the local community including public transport, and recreational facilities or services; and
- Carrying out any caring responsibilities the adult has for a child.
3. Because of not achieving these outcomes, there is likely to be, a significant impact on the adult’s well-being.
- Where local authorities have determined that a person has any eligible needs, they must meet these needs. When a local authority has decided a person is or is not eligible for support it must provide the person to whom the determination relates (the adult or carer) with a copy of its decision.
- Mr X visited the Council’s offices on 1 September 2016 to ask for help as he was homeless. Mr X’s relationship with his wife had ended and he had left the family home. The Council has no records of what happened when Mr X approached it on that day but he completed an online homeless application the following day.
- In the application Mr X said he was homeless and sleeping rough. Mr X says he was sleeping in his car and indicated he had health issues. The Council’s records show it contacted its Adult Social Care department to make enquiries about Mr X in September and November 2016. The Adult Social Care department advised the housing department that it was in contact with Mr X.
- Mr X contacted the Adult Social Care department on 15 September 2016. The Council says it’s Adult Social Care department considered the medical information Mr X provided and found he “needed support with personal care” and referred him to the “Complex Care Management Team”.
- On 14 October 2016 the Council’s housing department received a court order which said Mr X and his wife were divorcing. The court documents were dated 28 September 2016 and said the tenancy would transfer into Mr X’s wife’s name once the divorce was finalised. The court documents also said Mr X was subject to a “non-molestation order” which would usually restrict his ability to access the family home or contact his wife.
- On 8 December 2016 the Council’s Adult Social Care department carried out an assessment Mr X’s care needs. During the assessment Mr X informed the Council he was homeless and was sleeping in his car. Mr X informed the Council had had mobility issues and walked using a crutch. Mr X also informed the Council he had been diagnosed with depression and was on medication to manage this.
- During the assessment Mr X told the Adult Social Care department that the housing department had “advised that he is technically not homeless since his name is still on the Tenancy Agreement of the council accommodation that he lived with his family… he will not be considered to be homeless until it is absolute that his name has been removed from the Tenancy Agreement”.
- The assessment of Mr X’s care needs found that:
“It was clear from assessing [Mr X’s] needs that his primary concern is housing. His current homeless situation has the potential of significantly impacting his physical and mental health wellbeing, and his ability to be in control over his day to-day life. [Mr X] could be at risk of self-neglect, neglect, abuse and physical harm by others if he is to continue living in his car. He has informed that he occasionally receives help from his friends and family, but they cannot accommodate him due to cultural reasons. [Mr X] has informed that his ability to carry out activities of daily living has been impacted by a combination of physical health problems that include depression, hypertension, gout, joint and muscular pain.
- The assessment concluded by saying:
“It is my professional opinion after assessing [Mr X’s] needs that he is fairly independent with most activities of daily living. He is trying to cope as much as he can with the help of family and friends. [Mr X’s] care and support needs will in my opinion be appropriately met through preventative means if he is to be housed. Once he is housed, he will benefit from having a functional assessment by an Occupational Therapist, who may be in a position to recommend appropriate equipment or adaptations to help him with activities of daily living”.
- The Council allocated Mr X’s homeless application to an officer on 14 December 2016. The Council says at the time of Mr X’s application it was experiencing “a high volume of emergency cases at a very busy period”.
- The Council says it phoned Mr X to ask him to provide proof of his current income and medical needs but there was “no response”. The Council sent Mr X an e-mail on the same day requesting the information. Mr X says he did not have access to his e-mails as he was living in his car. Mr X says he never received a voice messages from the Council asking him to get in touch.
- Mr X’s solicitors wrote to the Council on 16 January 2017 saying it had failed to accept a homeless application from Mr X and provide him with accommodation. The solicitors said Mr X had numerous health issues.
- The Council phoned Mr X on 26 January 2017. The Council’s notes say it left a voice message requesting information from Mr X about his income, previous addresses and medical needs.
- The Council also contacted Mr X’s solicitors on 26 January 2017 and advised what evidence Mr X should provide to progress his application.
- The Council e-mailed Mr X on 30 January 2017. The Council said “all attempts to contact you using the mobiles on your file has [sic] been unsuccessful as you have failed to respond to the numerous messages let [sic] on your voice mail”.
- The Council phoned Mr X on 1 February 2017 and spoke to him. Mr X said he did not receive any of the Council’s e-mails as he had no access to his e-mail due to being homeless. The Council made an appointment for Mr X to attend its offices that day to provide proof of his income and provide further details about his medical needs.
- Mr X attended the appointment and advised the Council he was sleeping in his car and was homeless following the breakdown of his marriage. The Council said Mr X failed to provide his passport at the appointment.
- The Council phoned Mr X’s solicitors on 1 February 2017 to say Mr X needed to provide his passport “for his eligibility to be established under the Act”.
- The Council’s records show Mr X provided the Council with a copy of his British passport on 6 February 2018. The record was created at 6:25 am.
- The Council contacted Mr X’s solicitors on 6 February 2017 to say it would provide Mr X with accommodation whilst it completed its enquiries into his homeless application. Mr X’s solicitors advised the Council that Mr X had left the country on 4 February 2017 to care for a sick relative. The Council put Mr X’s application “on hold”.
- Mr X visited the Council’s offices on 13 February 2017. He said he had returned to the UK on 12 February and did not have any accommodation but had been able to stay with family for one night but was unable to stay with them any longer. The Council told Mr X was told to come back to its offices on 15 February 2017 and it would provide him with accommodation.
- Mr X’s solicitor e-mailed the Council on 14 February 2017 to say that Mr X had been forced to sleep in his car after the Council failed to provide him with accommodation following his return to the UK. Mr X’s solicitor asked for confirmation that the Council would provide Mr X with accommodation.
- The Council replied to the solicitor’s e-mail on 15 February 2017 to confirm that Mr X could attend its offices and would be provided with accommodation. Mr X was provided with accommodation that day.
- The Council phoned Mr X on 16 March 2017 to ask for an update on court action and his wife’s application for a “non-molestation order”. Mr X returned the Council’s call and said the non-molestation order had been withdrawn. The Council’s notes of the conversation said Mr X “needs to further discuss on his case”.
- On 19 March 2017 notes on the Council’s system say Mr X’s homeless application had been “completed”. The notes indicated Mr X would be owed a full housing duty by the Council.
- The next record on the Council’s system is from 17 May 2017 when it e-mailed Mr X’s solicitors to say it would take “a few more days” to reach a decision on Mr X’s homeless application. The e-mail said the Council had discussed Mr X’s application with his solicitor on 12 May 2017. There is no record of that conversation on the Council’s files.
- On 1 June 2017 the Council accepted a full housing duty to Mr X. Mr X continues to reside in temporary accommodation provided by the Council.
- I have investigated what happened since September 2016. Mr X complained to the Council in January 2018 about what happened. Mr X says he did not complain earlier because of the stress of dealing with his housing situation. Mr X spent approximately five months sleeping in a car between September 2016 and February 2017. This would have had an impact on his ability to complain and so it is not reasonable to expect him to have complained sooner.
- The Council is at fault for failing to make enquiries about Mr X’s circumstances when he approached as homeless in September 2016. The Council had reason to believe Mr X was homeless. The statutory Code of Guidance in force at the time says the threshold for having “reason to believe” is low.
- It seems likely Mr X was advised by the Council that he had a legal right to remain in the family home as his name was on the tenancy. This is based on what he told the Council’s Adult Social Care department when he was assessed. Having a legal right to occupy accommodation is only one consideration for the Council when a person says they are homeless. The Council also has to consider whether accommodation is available for a person to occupy, whether they are entitled to occupy it and whether it is reasonable for them to occupy it. Mr X was subject to a “non-molestation” order and his relationship with his wife had broken down and they were divorcing. If the Council had properly explored this with Mr X when he first approached is seems likely it would have begun enquiries into his circumstances.
- When Mr X approached the Council in September 2016 he told the Council he had medical issues. A subsequent assessment by the Council’s Adult Social Care department found he was suffering from a significant number of health issues which means the Council would have had reason to believe he was in priority need. This means the Council should have offered him interim accommodation in September 2016. Failure to do so was fault.
- When the Council began dealing with Mr X’s application in December 2016 it applied too high a threshold when deciding if it had reason to believe he was eligible, homeless and in priority need. The statutory Code of Guidance in force at the time said having “reason to believe” was a low threshold. However, the Council insisted that Mr X provide evidence of his eligibility and required him to provide more evidence regarding his medical conditions even though it’s Adult Social Care department already held this information on its files. This is fault. Whilst the Council was entitled to make enquiries into Mr X’s eligibility and priority need this should have taken place whilst Mr X was in interim accommodation.
- The Council also failed to provide Mr X with interim accommodation when he returned from caring for his sick relative overseas. At that point the Council had accepted it had reason to believe Mr X was homeless, eligible and in priority need and had confirmed it would provide Mr X with accommodation. However, when Mr X approached the Council he was turned away and told to return two days later. This meant Mr X had to spend a further two nights sleeping in his car.
- Overall Mr X spent five months more than he should have sleeping in his car. This was during a period of cold weather which would have had a significant impact on Mr X’s diagnosed physical and mental health issues and caused him distress.
- In my draft decision I made recommendations to the Council setting out how it could remedy the injustice caused to Mr X as a result of the fault I had identified. The Council has agreed to:
- Write to Mr X to apologise for its failure to deal with his homeless application promptly and its failure to provide him with accommodation.
- Pay Mr X £2500 to acknowledge the distress and risk to his health caused due to him having to sleep in his car as a result of the Council’s failure to accommodate him.
- Ensure the Council has plans in place to meet any increases in demand.
- Develop a joint working protocol between the Council’s housing department and Adult Social Care to ensure effective communication and information sharing between the departments.
- Remind staff about threshold for having “reason to believe” and entitlement to interim accommodation.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found fault causing injustice. The action I have recommended is a suitable way to remedy this.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman