The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr D complains the Council gave him an incorrect email address and failed to reply to contact from him regarding his homeless application in 2018. The Ombudsman has not found any evidence of fault by the Council. He has completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.
- The complainant (whom I refer to as Mr D) says the Council gave him an incorrect email address which meant it did not see information he provided in support of his homeless application. Mr D also says the Homeless Officer failed to reply to contact from him. He further states he did not receive a copy of the homeless decision letter until after the deadline to request a review had expired.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
- 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 considered the information provided by Mr D. I asked the Council questions and examined its response.
- I shared my draft decision with both parties.
What I found
- In January 2018 Mr D attended a Council office and completed a homeless application form. He says the Homeless Officer gave him her email address. In February and March Mr D sent emails to the Homeless Officer, however he was misspelling her name so the emails were never received by the Council.
- At the end of March Mr D called the Council and asked for the Homeless Officer to call him. She returned his call the next day and explained what evidence he needed to provide.
- In May the Council reached a decision on Mr D’s application and found him to be homeless but not in priority need. It says it was aware his postal address was no longer valid and retained a copy of the decision letter on his file for him to collect.
- At the end of June Mr D attended the Council and was told about the homeless decision. He asked the Council to consider an “out of time review” two days later. The Council refused.
- Mr D pursued his complaint about the Homeless Officer with the Council in July. The Council responded in August that Mr D had been using an invalid email address and that was not an error by the Council. Mr D continued to complain and the Council sent its final response in September. It reiterated that it had correctly handled the homeless application and had not received an evidence from Mr D to show he was in priority need.
- I started my investigation in November and asked the Council about Mr D’s request for a review. The Council told me in January 2018 that it had assessed all the information provided by Mr D, including his complaint to the Ombudsman. It had now accepted his out of time review request and would be in touch with him.
What should have happened
- When a person applies to the Council as homeless they are allocated a Homeless Officer who will investigate and consider their application. The applicant can send the Council any additional evidence in support of their case.
- If the Council is aware that an applicant’s postal address is no longer valid they can, under the Housing Act 1996, s.184 (6), retain the decision letter to the applicant’s file and ensure it is available for the applicant to collect.
- If an applicant disagrees with the homeless decision they can ask the Council to carry out a review. A review request should be made within 21 days of the original decision. An applicant can request an out of time review. The Council will assess whether there are valid reasons for the delay.
Was there fault by the Council
- Mr D says the Homeless Officer gave him an incorrect email address. I have seen no evidence, such as a written note from the Officer to Mr D for example, to show this was the case. In the absence of any evidence to show the Officer gave an incorrect address (where she misspelt her name) I cannot say the Council is at fault.
- Mr D complains the Council did not reply to his contact about his application. The Council’s records show Mr D called once in March and the Housing Officer spoke to him the next day. There is no record of any other contact from Mr D. As explained above he sent his emails to an invalid address so they were never received by the Council and therefore the Council could not reply. I see no evidence of fault by the Council in this matter.
- Mr D also says he did not receive the homeless decision letter. The Council acted in line with procedures by placing the decision letter on file for Mr D to collect. It does not have to send out a letter if it believes the postal address on record is no longer valid. Mr D says that receiving the letter late meant he lost a chance to have his case reviewed. The Council has now accepted his out of time review and will be in contact with him shortly.
- I have completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman