The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was fault in the way the Council dealt with Mr A’s belongings when he was homeless. This caused him a financial loss. To remedy the injustice the Council will apologise, pay him £500 and establish written procedures for officers on the protection of homeless applicants’ property.
- Mr A complains Birmingham City Council (the Council) changed the locks to his temporary accommodation and disposed of his belongings without telling him. He wants the Council to compensate him for the lost belongings.
What I have investigated
- 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
- I considered Mr A’s complaint, the Council’s response to his complaint and documents described later in this statement. The parties received a draft of this statement and I took comments into account.
What I found
- Where a council has reason to believe there is a danger of loss of or damage to any personal property of a homeless applicant because he cannot protect or deal with it and no other suitable arrangements are in place, then it should take reasonable steps to prevent the loss or damage of it. (Housing Act 1996, section 211)
- Where a council ceases to be under a duty or power to prevent loss or damage to property, it should notify the applicant in writing and say why. It should send the notification to the applicant at his last known address or give it to him in person. (Housing Act 1996, section 212((4) and (5))
- The Council provided Mr A and his family with temporary accommodation (a flat) in 2015 as they were homeless. The signed licence agreement says:
- “you must use the accommodation as your main home. If you are absent for more than two nights in a row or more than two nights in any week without our prior knowledge, we may end the occupancy agreement in your absence and remove your belongings from the accommodation”.
- “the Council can end this agreement for any reason....the Council will provide reasonable notice to you..”
- “you must allow representatives of the Council reasonable access to ensure the good maintenance of the property”
Was there fault?
- There is no evidence any council officer tried to phone Mr A or his partner to find out where they were in November 2017 after officers visited for a welfare check, or when Mr A failed to respond to calling cards left by the gas team. This was fault. The Council should have tried to phone Mr A and his partner because it needed to get into his flat for gas checks and it did not know following the welfare check, whether the family were well or not.
- The Council did not serve notification under section 212 of the Housing Act 1996 that it intended to stop storing Mr A’s goods. It could have done so by writing to Mr A. There was also an email address for him. Or it could have phoned Mr A for an address to serve notification. The failure to serve notification that the Council was ending storage was not in line with the law and was fault.
- The Council told me it has no written procedures for protection of property of homeless applicants. This means there is a lack of clarity on what officers are required to do as shown by the lack of notification under section 212 in this case. The failure to have in place procedures so that officers know what to do is fault.
Did the fault cause injustice?
- I have taken into account that Mr A did not tell the Council he and the family were not living at the flat and he should have done so as this was a term of the licence agreement. I do not believe Mr A’s claim that his son was staying in the flat. If the son had been living there, he would have seen the notice on the front door and known to contact the office to get the keys.
- Mr A could have avoided losing his belongings had he told the Council what he was doing. However, the Council did not try to contact him by phone either. There was fault on both sides. Had the Council phoned Mr A to notify him of its intention to stop storing his belongings, which it should have, it is likely he would have asked it to continue with storage. This would have avoided their loss.
- The Council will, within one month:
- Apologise to Mr A
- Pay him £500 to reflect the value of his lost belongings
- There was fault in the way the Council dealt with Mr A’s belongings when he was homeless. This caused him a financial loss. To remedy the injustice it will apologise, pay him £500 and establish written procedures for officers on the protection of homeless applicants’ property.
- I have completed my investigation
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman