The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms D says the Council delayed progressing her housing and medical assessments in a timely manner. The Ombudsman has found some evidence of fault. He has completed the investigation and upheld the complaint. The Council has agreed to our recommended actions including an apology to Ms D.
- The complainant (whom I refer to as Ms D) says the Council failed to assess her housing need in a timely manner during 2018. In particular that it delayed requesting documents, failed to properly assess her medical need and sought unnecessary documentation.
- I have looked at the actions of the Council. I have not looked at whether there is fault by the Ms D’s Landlord because it is a housing charity and falls outside of the Ombudsman’s remit.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She 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, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
- The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. She 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 spoken to Ms D and carefully considered the information she provided. I asked the Council questions and examined its response along with its policies and procedures.
- I shared my draft decision with both parties.
What I found
- Ms D currently lives in supported housing (a hostel) provided by a housing charity. I refer to the housing provider as the Landlord during this statement.
- I previously investigated a complaint by Ms D. I found some fault by the Council and on 19 December 2017 completed the investigation. The Council agreed to reassess Ms D’s housing application. I stated, “it would be reasonable for the Council to require a fresh application with up-to-date information”. It should then consider the evidence “fully and promptly”. The next day the Council emailed Ms D’s Support Worker, who worked for her Landlord, asking if Ms D was submitting a new housing application. Ms D emailed her housing application on 22 December. The Council assessed the information and notified her four days later that she did not qualify as having housing need and had no housing points awarded. At the end of December, the Council spoke to Ms D and agreed to carry out a review of its decision. It would look at whether Ms D was entitled to move-on points and had medical need. It requested Ms D supply any relevant medical evidence within two weeks. The Council also emailed the Landlord asking if it was completing a move-on application.
- On 4 January 2018, the Council emailed the Landlord setting out what documentation was needed to assess Ms D’s housing case. That included a Pathways independent tenancy assessment form (tenancy assessment form), support plan, risk assessment and proof of income. On 16 February, the Landlord sent some of those documents to the Council. On 5 March, it also sent the Council evidence for Ms D’s medical need and an action plan and risk assessment. The next day the Council chased up the Landlord for the outstanding documents including benefit award letters and the tenancy assessment form. On 19 March, the Council told Ms D it intended to review her medical evidence once her eligibility for move-on had been agreed. The Council did a further chaser to the Landlord for documents on 22 March.
- On 3 April, the Council received some further evidence from the Landlord including a signed tenancy agreement form. It emailed the Landlord two days later for additional information that was still not received. It also asked for a pre-tenancy training certificate for Ms D. The Council sent another chaser to the Landlord on 23 April. I understand Ms D was out of the country from the end of April until early August.
- On 10 August Ms D contacted the Council asking what documents remained outstanding. The Council said it would get back to her. On 14 August, the Landlord advised the Council that it was decommissioning the accommodation site where Ms D lived. It would be serving a Notice to Quit to the residents and then supporting them to move onto other accommodation. The next day the Council contacted the Landlord for an update on the case.
- On 17 August, the Council passed Ms D’s medical application to its Independent Assessor to consider. All of the documents provided by Ms D were supplied. On 20 August, the Council emailed Ms D and explained her medical case was being considered. It listed the documents being looked at and asked her to confirm if anything was missing. On 24 August, the Landlord sent the Council a risk assessment and bank statements for Ms D’s move-on application. On 29 August, the Council reached a decision on Ms D’s medical application. There was no evidence her current housing had a detrimental impact on her conditions. It therefore did not award any medical points. The Council notified Ms D of its decision. It also explained why a medical assessment had not been done sooner. Ms D exchanged emails with the Council about its decision. She said it was wrong to assess her medical conditions against her current housing. The Council stated it should have asked for a medical review in late March, the Officer said, “sorry I didn’t”.
- On 7 August, the Council sent a further chaser to the Landlord for missing documents including rent statements and confirmation of pre-tenancy training. It also asked that it update the tenancy assessment form. The Council sent Ms D copies of the information provided by the Landlord and explained it had started work on the case again once Ms D was back in the UK. On 7 September Ms D asked the Council to remove her Landlord from the process. A week later the Landlord sent some more documents to the Council. The Council replied the same day explaining documents were still outstanding including appointment letters, benefit information and confirmation of the pre-tenancy training. The Landlord said pre-tenancy training evidence was not needed. The Council queried this because it was a mandatory requirement for applicants. On 19 September, the Council emailed Ms D that it had to work with the Landlord especially because of the decant issue. The same day the Council confirmed to the Landlord the information it still had not received which included copies of appointments, an updated tenancy assessment form and confirmation of pre-tenancy training. On 25 September Ms D emailed the Council. She had sought advice and understood the pre-tenancy training information was not needed. The same day the Landlord said it would make an appointment with Ms D about the pre-tenancy training.
- On 4 October, the Young Person’s Commissioner contacted the Council stating Ms D became a resident before pre-tenancy training was a mandatory part of the move-on application process. The Council was asked to exercise discretion and obtain a written statement instead from the Landlord. The Council agreed to this the same day and confirmed with the Landlord that it still needed Ms D to sign the “appendix A” form which related to accepting private sector rented accommodation if she was not eligible for social housing. The same day Ms D emailed the Council that she did not want to sign appendix A because it would preclude her from social housing. The Council then emailed the Landlord to clarify Ms D’s options. It said she had no medial priority and was only likely to be eligible for 50 support points meaning she could not secure social housing. Private sector rented housing would be the option most likely open to her as part of the move-on process. It also said that if her medical situation had changed she could make a new application and submit evidence. Ms D confirmed she would send in medical evidence.
- On 17 October, the Council told Ms D it was waiting for a written assessment relating to the pre-tenancy training and had sent a chaser that day. It also usually required a new application for general housing applications but would re-open the previous application once Ms D had been accepted for the move-on process because she was moving away from supported accommodation. The next day the Landlord supplied the Council with some information. The Council confirmed it still required a signed appendix A and an assessment. The pre-tenancy training information was received by the Council the next day. Ms D asked to review it. On 22 and 25 October, the Council asked Ms D if she was happy with the assessment document and that is still needed a signed appendix A. Ms D said she would supply the appendix A and send in medical information.
- In November Ms D supplied a Health and Disability Questionnaire form to the Council setting out her conditions. The Council also received a detailed letter from her GP setting out how her conditions have impacted on her wellbeing and the explaining the impact of her current housing. The Council reviewed this information and awarded Ms D 150 medical points.
What should have happened
- If a housing applicant is in supported accommodation for care leavers they should be in contact with the Council’s Pathway Team. That Team will liaise with key workers at the supported housing and with the applicant to assess if they are ready to move away from supported to independent living under the Council’s move-on process. In order to determine if an applicant is ready to live independently the Council has to assess evidence. It will ask the Landlord to provide a range of documents including a move-on referral form, risk assessments, a signed appendix A form, proof of income. A pre-tenancy training certificate (which shows the person can live independently) is needed from the Landlord in most cases. It is only discretionary where a person moved into the accommodation before the requirement was mandatory. In such cases the Council can accept a written statement from the Landlord about the person’s ability to live independently.
- The Council cannot reach a decision about whether a person is ready to move-on until they have all the necessary evidence from the Landlord.
- The Council operates a choice based letting system to allocate social housing. It will assess a housing application to see if there is evidence of housing need and priority (such as medical need). It will then allocate points to the applicant reflecting the level of need identified. A person accepted as ready to move-on from supported housing is allocated 50 points. Medical need is assessed by an Independent Assessor who considers whether there is evidence the applicant’s current housing is having a significant detrimental impact on their condition. Only if this is found will the Council consider awarding points for medical need. The Council is not assessing whether someone is unwell, only whether their home is impacting adversely on their health.
- If a person who is part of the move-on process is not eligible for social housing the Council will look to assist them with private rental accommodation. As part of this process the Council requires move-on applicants to sign an appendix A form which agrees to view private rental properties and be provided with two reasonable offers of accommodation.
Was there fault by the Council
- The Council delayed assessing Ms D’s medical information. It received her evidence on 19 March but said it wanted to review it once she was agreed as eligible to move-on from her accommodation. Whilst I can see the basis for the Council’s view at that point I also note that it subsequently accepted it was wrong. In August, it told Ms D it should have asked for a review of the medical evidence sooner and apologised. In my view, the Council could and should have progressed the medical assessment at the end of March and could have made a decision in April. Instead it reached a decision in September. That delay should not have happened. Without the delay, it is probable that Ms D would have asked for a review sooner and submitted additional evidence before she left the UK at the end of April. Ms D could then have asked for a further review, as she did in October. Given Ms D was out of the UK from the end of April until August I consider it unlikely she would have been able to contact her GP to submit a letter or complete the questionnaire until her return to the UK. As such I see it likely that, had the fault not occurred, Ms D would have been able to submit the key additional evidence by mid-September and receive medical points by the end of that month. That would have been two months earlier than what happened.
- Ms D complains the Council unnecessarily sought a pre-tenancy training certificate as part of the move-on process. She believes in doing so this delayed her application. There is fault by the Council because it did repeatedly request a pre-tenancy training certificate from the Landlord when it was not a mandatory requirement in Ms D’s case. The Council failed to consider whether Ms D had become a resident before the mandatory requirement came into effect until Ms D raised the issue and got advice from a third party. The Council should have considered whether the pre-tenancy training certificate was applicable to Ms D much sooner. That said I explain below why I do not see this cause a significant injustice.
- Ms D also complains the Council delayed requesting documents and should have reached a decision on her case sooner. The evidence shows that up to April the Council was in regular contact with the Landlord asking for and chasing up documentation. The Council could not reach a decision on whether Ms D was eligible for move-on points until it had all the necessary documentation from the Landlord. However, there is fault by the Council because it failed to continue chasing up the landlord after April. There was no reason for this cessation in activity given the Council has told me it was unaware Ms D was out of the Country. The Council only started to progress matters again once Ms D contacted it in August on her return to the UK. I find a period of over three months delay by the Council which is not acceptable. However, I explain below why I do not see this delay resulted in an injustice to Ms D. I also see that once Ms D was back in the UK the Council again chased up the Landlord repeatedly. The Council could not reach a decision on the case without a signed appendix A or up to date assessments. The Council only received this information in October along with an undertaking from Ms D that she would supply the appendix A form.
Did the fault cause an injustice
- The Council delayed assessing Ms D’s medical evidence. Had it acted sooner Ms D could have received her medical points two months earlier. This would have alleviated some distress for Ms D who was in a difficult position and concerned about her housing.
- I do not see the Council’s incorrect requirement of a pre-tenancy training certificate or the period of delay chasing up the Landlord resulted in a significant injustice to Ms D. That is because the delays in receiving documentation to reach a view on the case were not founded only on the pre-tenancy training certificate. Even if this had not been sought by the Council it would have been unable to reach a view on the move-on case any sooner because other important documents also remained outstanding. Those documents required a signature or input from Ms D (such as the signed Appendix A document) and I consider it unlikely she would have been in a position to sign papers whilst out of the Country or interact with her Landlord.
- In order to redress the injustice caused to Ms D the Council has agreed to my recommendations that it should:
- Pay Ms D £200 for the distress caused by its delay regarding the medical assessments (within four weeks of this case closing);
- Apologise to Ms D (within four weeks of this case closing);
- Confirm to the Ombudsman whether Ms D lost an opportunity to successfully bid for property (based on her 250 housing points) between the start of October to the end of November. If there was a lost opportunity the Council should then consider paying Ms D additional financial redress (again, within four weeks of this case closing).
- I have completed the investigation and upheld the complaint.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not looked at the actions of Ms D’s landlord because they fall outside of the Ombudsman’s remit.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman