Scarborough Borough Council (18 007 712)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 07 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr F complains the Council placed him in unsuitable interim accommodation when he applied as homeless. The Ombudsman has found no fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. Mr F complains about the interim accommodation he was placed in when he applied to the Council as homeless. He says the property was filthy and the flooring was damaged, causing him to trip and resulting in a head injury.
  2. He also complains about the way the Council dealt with his complaint as it did not consider the video and photographic evidence he sent.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mr F about his complaint and considered the information he sent, the Council’s response to my enquiries and:
    • The Housing Act 1996
    • The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
    • Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities 2018
    • Schedule 3 to the Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 (SI No 2006/373)
  2. I gave Mr F and the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. When a person applies to a council for accommodation and it has reason to believe they may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, the council must make enquiries and secure suitable accommodation for certain applicants pending the outcome of the enquiries. This is known as emergency or interim accommodation.
  2. Councils must assess an eligible applicant’s needs if they are satisfied they are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Suitability of accommodation

  1. The law says councils must ensure interim accommodation is suitable for the needs of the applicant. (Housing Act 1996, section 206 and Homelessness Code of Guidance 17.2)
  2. The council must therefore consider if the accommodation is:
    • affordable
    • in good enough condition
    • available in a suitable location
    • the right size
    • suitable for any health issues or disabilities
  3. The Court of Appeal held that what is suitable is a matter for the council to determine; it can only be challenged where it is clearly inadequate. (Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire District Council [2004] EWCA Civ 925 [2005] HLR 1, CA)
  4. Accommodation is not suitable if it falls below certain minimum standards. The Homelessness Code of Guidance recommends that any accommodation should, as a minimum, be free of Category One hazards assessed under the Housing Health and Safety Rating system. A Category One hazard is a hazard that poses a serious threat to someone’s health or safety, such as exposed wiring.

Standards of Bed and Breakfast accommodation

  1. Where a Bed and Breakfast is being used as interim accommodation, it falls within the definition of a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO).
  2. The Government has set minimum standards for shared amenities and facilities in HMOs. These include that communal areas should be clean, there should be no tripping hazards and no Category One hazards.
  3. Councils must be satisfied that HMOs are suitable and meet those standards for a property to be granted an HMO licence. The Council’s environmental health officers inspect HMOs.

What happened

  1. Mr F moved to the Council’s area. He went to the Council on 22 June 2018 and made a homelessness application. Mr F told the Council he had mental health needs and had been in prison in the past.
  2. The Council placed him in interim accommodation (Hotel 1, a bed and breakfast) whilst it carried out enquiries. It asked Mr F to return for an assessment on 25 June 2018.
  3. In response to my enquiries, the Council said it had previously used Hotel 1 for temporary accommodation for applicants with mental health problems and that local mental health services had not raised any concerns about Hotel 1’s impact on their clients' mental health. It had last inspected Hotel 1 in November 2017.
  4. Mr F went to Hotel 1. He says it was in a poor condition; the bathroom was filthy and unhygienic, the carpets were dirty, old and damaged, the flooring was very unstable and he saw no fire exit signs. He also says there was no toilet roll or towel, and the kettle was on the bedside table, which he considered was dangerous.
  5. On the first night Mr F says he stumbled on a loose floor tile in the bathroom and banged his head on a fixture on the wall, causing a gash. He went to hospital to have the cut glued and reported the incident to the Council. Mr F says he did not want to return to Hotel 1, so after retrieving his belongings he spent the night on the streets.
  6. Mr F went to the Council the next day for the assessment. He complained about the condition of Hotel 1 and showed the Council pictures of the property. The Council tried to find alternative accommodation but none was available in the town. The Council says Mr F became uncooperative and abusive and left before the assessment could be completed.
  7. Mr F returned on 26 June 2018 to complete the assessment. The Council placed him in Hotel 2. It then made enquiries which found Mr F posed a serious risk to himself and others. The Council considered Mr F had behaved in an abusive and threatening manner towards staff. It decided he should not be able to enter any Council building for twelve months and could only contact the Council by telephone, email or online. It asked the Police to hand deliver a letter to advise him of this and carried out a multi-agency risk assessment on 2 July 2018.
  8. Following Mr F’s complaint, officers inspected Hotel 1 on 5 July 2018. They found the property to be in a good state of repair with no major concerns. The inspection did not find any loose or missing tiles in any of the bathrooms and found these to be clean. There was a loose floorboard in Mr F’s room, but this was not considered dangerous. It found the correct fire signage in place. The inspection did not identify the fixture Mr F had hit his head on.
  9. On 6 July 2018, the Council found that another local housing authority (Council B) had accepted a full homelessness duty to Mr F. Council B had closed the case as Mr F had left the temporary accommodation and it had had no contact with him since.
  10. The Council therefore decided Mr F was not at threat of homelessness and not eligible for assistance. It wrote to him on 10 July 2018 advising that, as Council B still owed him a full homelessness duty, the Council would not be processing his homelessness application or providing any further temporary accommodation. Mr F said he would continue to stay at Hotel 2, funding this himself.
  11. The Council responded to Mr F’s complaint about Hotel 1. It said the property met the required standards and there was a regular cleaning routine. Mr F’s complaint was therefore not upheld. He asked for it to be escalated to the next stage and sent a video showing a loose floor tile in the bathroom.
  12. Mr F contacted Council B on 13 July 2018. It said it had discharged its homelessness duty to him in October 2017 but had been unable to send the discharge of duty letter as it did not know his whereabouts. It sent him this letter and advised the Council.
  13. Mr F complained to the Council about its refusal to process his homelessness application. The Council replied it had been unaware the homelessness duty had been discharged by Council B, but it did not consider Mr F was now threatened with homelessness as he was staying at Hotel 2.
  14. The Council sent its final response to Mr F’s complaint about Hotel 1 in August 2018. It did not uphold his complaint. The letter did not refer to Mr F’s video or photographs.
  15. Mr F complained to the Ombudsman. He said the Council had not considered his mental health needs when it placed him in Hotel 1. He also said the Council had treated him as a criminal and intimidated him by sending the Police with letters. He considered it was wrong to make people live in accommodation that was in poor condition.

My findings

  1. I have seen Mr F’s video and photographs of Hotel 1, but it is not for the Ombudsman to say whether Hotel 1 was suitable; that is the Council’s decision. I cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. I must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached.
  2. On the day Mr F presented to the Council as homeless, it had to find interim accommodation for him. The Council considered his circumstances and found the most suitable accommodation available on the day. It had used Hotel 1 before for applicants with mental health needs. The property had an HMO licence and had been inspected seven months earlier. It was affordable, in a suitable location and the right size. I find no fault in the way the Council decided Hotel 1 was suitable.
  3. It is unfortunate there was a loose floor tile and that Mr F tripped. However, as long as the Council regularly inspect accommodation to check it is and remains suitable, we cannot expect them to know about every possible maintenance issue. In the normal run of things, Mr F would have noticed the trip hazard and reported it for repair. It is regrettable he was injured, but that was not caused by fault by the Council. It would be for Mr F to make a negligence claim against the landlord.
  4. When officers inspected the property ten days later they found no loose tiles, which indicates it had been repaired by then.
  5. The Council’s final letter responding to Mr F’s complaint does not refer to Mr F’s video. In response to my enquiries the Council said the video had been viewed and officers had noted it differed to the inspection outcome. It would have been good practice to acknowledge this in the letter to Mr F.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault by the Council. I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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