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London Borough of Haringey (20 008 763)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 26 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman found fault by the Council on Miss Q’s complaint about it failing to provide her with suitable temporary accommodation. It failed to show an inspection and necessary checks were done before she moved in. It delayed dealing with reports about mould and damp. It also failed to move her to suitable alternative temporary accommodation for 18 months. The agreed action remedies the injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. Miss Q complains about the Council failing to:
      1. provide her with suitable temporary accommodation when it decided she was homeless in October 2019; and
      2. move her and her young children out of their property, which suffered from damp and mould, before July 2021.
  2. As a result, she and her young children slept together in one bed in a single room whose walls were damp and mouldy.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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Housing Allocations Policy 2015 (as amended)

  1. The Council’s housing allocation policy considers the number and ages of the people who may occupy a property. Where a member of an applicant’s household is pregnant, this does not entitle them to an extra bedroom. The application is amended on receipt of the birth certificate. (paragraph 8.7.2)
  2. Under its guidance on bedroom entitlement, 1 adult is entitled to a bedsit. An adult with 2 children of the opposite sex under 10, or 2 children/young people of the same sex, is entitled to 2 bedrooms. (paragraph 8.7.3)
  3. Following an assessment, an application is placed on the housing register in one of 3 housing needs bands. These are Band A, B, and C, with Band A containing the highest housing need applicants.
  4. Applicants living in temporary accommodation are actively encouraged to bid for properties through the choice-based lettings scheme. (paragraph 6.12.1)
  5. To minimise the cost of temporary accommodation (and the amount of time homeless households spend in temporary accommodation), the Council may bid for properties on behalf of the applicant, or exceptionally, make them a direct offer of suitable accommodation. (paragraph 6.12.2)

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Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities (February 2018)

  1. Under the Code, a housing authority, when deciding whether accommodation meets the requirements set out in Article 3 (Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012), are advised to ensure it is visited by a local authority officer, or someone acting on their behalf, able to carry out an inspection. Attention should be paid to signs of damp or mould and indications the property would be cold as well as to a visual check made of electrical installations and equipment. (paragraph 17.17)
  2. Article 3 is concerned with the suitability of privately rented accommodation offered to certain applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. It sets out when accommodation is unsuitable, which includes the housing authority deciding it is not in a reasonable condition.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered all the information Miss Q sent, the notes I made of our telephone conversation, and the Council’s response to my enquiries, a copy of which I sent her. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Miss Q and the Council. I considered their responses.

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What I found

  1. In October 2019, Miss Q moved into her temporary accommodation after presenting herself to the Council as homeless as her previous landlord asked her to leave when she became pregnant. The Council provided her with a privately rented studio flat.
  2. In December, the Council accepted it owed Miss Q a full homelessness duty. The same month, she had twins. Records show an officer spoke to her and said the Council would look to find alternative temporary accommodation or, an assured shorthold tenancy for her.
  3. Despite reporting problems with damp and mould in the room, she says nothing more was done to resolve the problem other than the managing agent arranging for a contractor to visit to wash and re-paint the walls every few weeks. Miss Q was understandably worried about the health of her young children.
  4. She wanted the Council to move her to a more suitable property as she was a single parent sharing a single room with twins. Miss Q is unhappy with the time it took the Council to move her.
  5. In response to my enquiries, the Council explained there is no record of officers inspecting the property before offering it to Miss Q. It says it would have checked her household information to ensure there were no area restrictions, medical issues, or other reasons why it could not place her in this property. The Council identified she needed self-contained accommodation as she recently had a c-section. It would also have carried out compliance checks, such as an energy performance certificates for example. It did not send evidence of these checks.
  6. She contacted officers in January 2020 saying the property was damp and overcrowded. The Council placed her on the internal transfer list for alternative temporary accommodation because of overcrowding. It later apologised to her for the 6-week delay between carrying out the assessment and placing her on the list.
  7. In August, she again reported mould and an officer sent an email to her about agreeing a transfer but, this went to her old email address. In response to my enquiries, the Council said it referred her report to the team dealing with managing agents. She also received an email saying the Lettings Team would contact her when they had a suitable alternative temporary accommodation or assured short hold tenancy for her in the private sector.
  8. The following month, she again contacted the Council about the condition of the property.
  9. In October, the agent painted the property but, the problem returned. The agent said Miss Q needed to ventilate the property as this was identified as causing the problem.
  10. The following month the agents told the Council the accommodation needed permanent vents but, Miss Q refused to allow these works. She also refused to open the windows for ventilation either and the agent considered the problem involved Miss Q’s refusal to change her lifestyle.
  11. The Council awarded her Band 3 (C) on the transfer list because of overcrowding. This was later changed to the highest priority when it agreed to transfer her. Since December 2019, Miss Q bid for one property in July 2021, and she is now in a 2-bedroom temporary accommodation. It also made a payment of £500 to her because of the delays moving her.

Analysis

Complaint a): suitable temporary accommodation

  1. Miss Q had no right of review against the suitability of the property when the Council placed her in temporary accommodation in October 2019.
  2. I found fault on this complaint. This is because:
  • When it placed her in the accommodation, officers failed to visit, or have someone do so on their behalf, to inspect it. This would have recorded whether the property had any pre-existing problems with damp and mould. This is a breach of the Code; and
  • There is no evidence of the checks the Council says officers would have done before Miss Q moved in.
  1. I am satisfied the fault caused her an injustice. This is because she has the uncertainty of not knowing whether the Council would have still placed her in this accommodation had it carried out the proper inspection and checks.

Complaint b): delay moving her

  1. When the Council placed Miss Q in the accommodation in October 2019, it was large enough for her.
  2. When she had her twins, the Council accepted she was overcrowded and agreed to transfer her. It apologised for not actioning this decision sooner and gave her £500 for the delay.
  3. I found fault on this complaint because:
  • I am satisfied the Council knew Miss Q lived in unsuitable temporary accommodation from January 2020. It told her at the time it would find her suitable alternative accommodation but failed to do so. I am also satisfied this caused Miss Q an injustice as she lived for 18 months in unsuitable accommodation which did not meet her needs; and
  • There was no evidence showing what the Council did following her report of damp and mould in January 2020. The evidence shows the agent was contacted in September when works were done to resolve the mould and damp in the property. This caused her injustice as apart from the frustration of no action by the Council during this period, she also lived in the flat with these problems.

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Agreed action

  1. I considered our guidance on remedies, and I took account of the apology the Council gave Miss Q for the delay in actioning the transfer decision and the £500 it paid for the failure to transfer her sooner.
  2. The Council agreed to take the following action within 4 weeks of the final decision on this complaint:
      1. Send Miss Q a written apology for it failing to: carry out, or arrange, an inspection of her accommodation before she moved in; show evidence of the checks it says officers would have done before she moved in; find her alternative suitable temporary accommodation when aware of her overcrowding; show it acted in January 2020 on her reports of damp and mould for 8 months;
      2. Pay Miss Q £2,200 for the 18 months she remained in unsuitable accommodation (18 months x £150 - £500);
      3. Act to ensure inspections by, or on behalf of, the Council are carried out along with necessary checks of accommodation;
      4. Act to ensure requests for repairs are referred promptly to landlords/management agents and followed up to ensure they are done; and
      5. Act to ensure applicants in unsuitable accommodation are found suitable accommodation promptly.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman found fault on Miss Q’s complaint against the Council. The agreed action remedies the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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