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Sheffield City Council (19 018 849)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Aug 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr K complains about how the Council has dealt with his housing situation. During my investigation, the Council has found that its files do not show how it considered all the information available to it and so it will review Mr K’s case and if he is entitled to more priority, it will backdate this. This is a reasonable way to settle this complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mr K complains about how the Council handled his housing situation. In particular, he complains that it:
    • has not properly assessed his application, and should have given him a higher Band A priority; and
    • has not taken into account that his family is homeless because it is not reasonable for his family to remain in the home due to racist attacks and threats.
  2. Mr K says that as a result of the Council’s actions, his family have no permanent home. He was living at his brother’s flat, but it is overcrowded, and they cannot stay there.

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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. I considered the information provided by Mr K and invited him to discuss the issues with me. I considered the information provided by the Council including its file documents. I also considered the law and the Council’s Housing Allocations Policy. Both parties have had the opportunity to comment on a draft of this statement. The Council confirmed it had no comments. Mr K sent me some further information set out below.

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What I found

The law and guidance

Homelessness law

  1. Someone is threatened with homelessness if, when asking for assistance from the Council on or after 3 April 2018:
    • he or she is likely to become homeless within 56 days; or
    • he or she has been served with a valid Section 21 notice which will expire within 56 days. (Housing Act 1996, section 175(4) & (5))
  2. If councils are satisfied applicants are threatened with homelessness and eligible for assistance, they must help them to secure that accommodation does not stop being available for their occupation. In deciding what steps they are to take, councils must have regard to their assessments of the applicants’ cases. (Housing Act 1996, section 195)
  3. A council must secure interim accommodation for applicants and their household if it has reason to believe they may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have a priority need. (Housing Act 1996, section 188)

The Council’s Housing Allocation Policy

  1. The Council’s policy places applicants in bands A to E according to their housing needs. Band A is for those with the most critical needs. These include, families that need to move for a critical safeguarding reason of vulnerable adults or children, or that need an emergency transfer because the applicant is at high risk to life or limb.
  2. Band B is for those applicants who have an urgent case to move. This includes those that have suffered violence or threats of violence, or have suffered severe trauma from extreme harassment, and risk reducing measures that might allow the applicant to stay in the home are no longer an option. Band B is also for homeless applicants who the Council have accepted a full duty to house.

What happened

  1. Mr K lived with his wife and two young children in a Council owned flat. He first contacted the Council for help with his housing in December 2019. He told the Council he and his family had suffered a series of racist assaults, including a physical attack by an adult; a group of eight teenagers kicking in his front door with verbal attacks and throwing stones, and gunshots fired, breaking his front windows. Mr K had reported this to the Police.
  2. Mr K asked the Council to give him priority status because his family needed to move immediately due to critical safeguarding circumstances involving a child. If accepted, this would put Mr K’s application in Band A.
  3. The Council met with Mr K on 12 December to discuss his housing situation. The Council’s files show that it took into account the harassment and racist incidents and it checked these with the Police. It awarded Mr K Band B priority. Mr K asked the Council to award Band A on the basis of safeguarding the children. The notes show that the Council officer explained that to be placed in Band A, Social Services would have to be involved, they were not.
  4. On 17 December, the Council received Mr K’s written request that the priority be reviewed to Band A. The Council’s files show that it considered Mr K’s request. The Council advised Mr K that without a safeguarding recommendation from Social Services, he would remain in Band B. The Council’s file note refers to its Allocations Policy. It says that Mr B’s situation places him in Band B because he has suffered violence and threats thereof.
  5. The Council also considered its discretion to increase his priority. It consulted the Police who advised that they did not think the gun shots were targeted at him. The file notes says that the Council may place an applicant in Band A if there is not alternative accommodation, but Mr K could stay with his brother or the Council could place him in interim accommodation, and so this provision did not apply to him.
  6. At the end of January 2020, Mr K successfully bid on a property. But he refused to move as it would take his daughter over an hour to get to and from school. The Councils files show it considered Mr K’s reasons. The Council wrote to Mr K to let him know that his priority would be cancelled as there was no good reason to refuse the offer of housing.
  7. Mr K contacted the Council. He and his family had left the property to live with his brother and so had not received the Council’s letter. However, there was not enough room at his brother’s house, and he needed Mr K’s family to leave. The Council placed him in interim accommodation (a guest house). Mr K asked the Council to reconsider whether it should cancel his Band B priority.
  8. The Council reviewed its decision but decided that it should still cancel the priority banding. It said that Mr K had bid for this property himself and was aware of where it was, that his daughter could move school, and it had advised him that he would be expected to bid on properties that were not in his preferred areas. Mr K had now made a homeless application and the Council was making enquiries.
  9. On 14 April, the Council confirmed that Mr K was homeless, and it had a duty to rehouse him. The Council offered him a property by way of direct let. Mr K refused to move because he was concerned about doing so in a pandemic and his daughter has asthma.
  10. The Council did not liaise directly with Social Services about any safeguarding risk to the children.
  11. In the course of the investigation, the Council has decided that its records do not adequately show how it considered all the information available to it, or that it liaised directly with Social Services. It will review Mr K’s case and backdate any award of additional priority.

Was there fault by the Council causing an injustice to Mr K

  1. The Council has acknowledged that its records do not show how it considered all the information available to it, or that it liaised directly with Social Services. It has decided to review Mr K’s case and backdate any additional priority he was entitled to.
  2. Mr K responded to a draft of this statement. He said that the Council’s Social Services should have raised a safeguarding concern and it has not responded to his separate complaint about this. We asked the Council to respond and advised Mr K to bring the matter back to the Ombudsman if he was not satisfied with its response, or if it did not respond. We can consider any further impact on his housing situation if Mr K decides to pursue his complaint about Social Services.
  3. Mr K has also said that he is now in Band D. The Council has accepted him as homeless, which would put him in Band B and has made him an offer of housing which he refused due to concerns about the pandemic. I have asked the Council to explain why he appears to now be in Band D as part of its review.
  4. The Council’s offer to review the case and backdate priority is a reasonable way to settle Mr K’s complaint. Mr K can return to us if he is unhappy with the outcome of the Council’s review.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to review Mr K’s case and backdate any additional priority. It should do this within six weeks of the date of this decision and write to Mr K and the Ombudsman to confirm the outcome.
  2. The Council should also consider whether there are any lessons to be learned from Mr K’s complaint and write to the Ombudsman and Mr K about this within 10 weeks of the date of this decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation. The Council has acknowledged fault and will take action to remedy this.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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