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London Borough of Bromley (19 016 745)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council placed her in unsuitable accommodation and failed to move her despite saying it would. The Council accepts it did not provide interim accommodation while dealing with Ms X’s homelessness application and left her in unsuitable accommodation for 20 months. A suitable remedy for the injustice caused to Ms X is agreed.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council placed her in unsuitable temporary accommodation and has failed to move her to suitable accommodation despite saying it would.
  2. Ms X says as a result she has suffered anxiety and her condition has worsened from having to use stairs at the property.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and invited their comments.

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What I found

  1. Ms X completed an online form in January 2018 seeking help as she was homeless. The Council started the homelessness process but did not offer Ms X any interim accommodation.
  2. In April the Council decided she was homeless but not in priority need and so it had no duty to house her. She was placed on the housing register. Ms X requested a review of the homeless decision saying her medical needs had not been taken into account. Ms X provided medical evidence from her GP.
  3. In July 2018 Ms X asked the Council for accommodation. It provides interim accommodation in a studio flat. The Council says this was the most appropriate available accommodation on that day.
  4. A few days after moving into the property, Ms X contacted the Council saying it was not suitable for her needs. The Council agreed it was not suitable and that it would offer alternative accommodation.
  5. On 6 August 2018 the Council upheld the homelessness review request and accepted a duty to provide Ms X with accommodation.
  6. On 17 August Ms X tells the Council about problems with bed bugs at the property. She says the landlord arranged for treatment on the day she moved in. Council says it has asked the landlord to continue to treat the bed bugs.
  7. In October 2018, Ms X advises the Council the steepness and configuration of steps at the property has aggravated her medical conditions and she has been signed off work. Ms X makes a formal complaint about the suitability of the property.
  8. On 17 October the Council offers Ms X alternative accommodation. Ms X refuses the offer saying she is too unwell to move at that time. The Council responds to Ms X’s formal complaint on 31 October 2018 saying it upholds the complaint and it will try to move her within a week.
  9. Ms X had some further correspondence with the Council in April and May 2019 about other tenancy issues. The Council changed her housing register band due to rent arrears.
  10. In October 2019 Ms X makes a complaint about her housing situation. The Council upholds the complaint on the grounds of lack of communication. It makes an offer of alternative accommodation to Ms X in November which she refuses saying the property is riddled with damp. The Council does not agree with this but agrees to withdraw the offer.
  11. Ms X complains to the Ombudsman in January 2020. In response to my enquiries about this case the Council accepts fault and proposes a remedy.

Analysis

  1. I have carefully considered the information provided by the Council. With one minor amendment to the proposal, I consider the Council’s remedy is appropriate to remedy the injustice suffered by Ms X.
  2. The Council accepts it failed to provide accommodation when Ms X first presented as homeless. It should have offered interim accommodation while it was considering her application. When Ms X approached the Council in July specifically asking for interim accommodation it did provide it. However, Ms X was not provided with accommodation for the period January to July 2018 when she should have been.
  3. The Council says it had previously identified that procedures followed in 2018 did not property cover the provision of temporary accommodation. It has provided training for officers about when it should provide accommodation while enquiries are being made on homelessness applications as well as instructions on what to record about such decisions.
  4. The Council accepts it failed to provide suitable temporary accommodation for Ms X. It says the officer who made the offer no longer works for the Council and there is no record of his suitability assessment on the file. However, the Council did accept it was not suitable for Ms X’s needs once she made representations.
  5. Although the Council made one offer of alternative accommodation, it failed to make further offers when Ms X was unable to move due to illness. The failure to make further offers is fault. The Council says it has implemented a new IT system that assists housing officers to manage cases so they cannot be “lost” in the system and overlooked as happened in this case.
  6. I am satisfied the Council has taken appropriate action to improve its systems to prevent similar problems happening again.

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused to Ms X as a result of the Council’s fault it should, within one month of my final decision:
    • Provide a written apology to Ms X for its failings;
    • Make a direct offer of one bedroom social housing which should be on the ground floor or lifted to meet her medical needs;
    • Pay Ms X £1,650 for not providing interim accommodation between January and July 2018. This is 5.5 months at £300 per month;
    • Pay Ms X £3,000 to recognise the distress caused as a result of staying in unsuitable accommodation. This is £150 per month from July 2018 to March 2020. The Council should continue to pay Ms X £150 for each month until she is offered suitable alternative accommodation;
    • Pay Ms X £350 for the distress caused as a result of the bedbugs; and
    • Pay Ms X £250 to recognise her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.
  2. The total amount payable of £5,250 can be offset against rent arrears owed by Ms X which currently stand at around £4,000.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault for the reasons explained in this statement. The Council has agreed to implement the actions I have recommended. These appropriately remedy any injustice caused by fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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