Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

London Borough of Redbridge (21 000 799)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained about the Council’s actions and decisions around her housing and homelessness applications between 2019 and 2021. The Council was at fault. It delayed issuing Mrs X with a homelessness decision letter and then delayed issuing her Personal Housing Plan for seven months. It meant on balance that Mrs X remained in interim accommodation for longer than necessary. The Council agreed to apologise and pay her a total of £1,100 to recognise the distress, uncertainty and time and trouble caused.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained about the Council’s actions and decisions relating to her housing and homelessness applications from August 2019 onwards. She complained the Council:
    • acted with fault when it made its decision to end its relief housing duty in 2019 and 2021;
    • failed to provide her with a Personal Housing Plan in 2019 which she says left her in interim bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than necessary; and
    • failed to provide her with adequate financial support to store her personal belongings following her eviction from a property in 2019. As a result, Mrs X said she had to borrow £600 from a friend to cover the cost.
  2. Mrs X said the Council’s errors have caused her distress, uncertainty, time and trouble and financial loss.

Back to top

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. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mrs X’s son, Mr Y about Mrs X’s complaint.
  2. I considered the Council’s response to my enquiry letter and the information it provided.
  3. Mr Y and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered comments before I made a final decision.

Back to top

What I found

Relevant Law and guidance

  1. Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Code of Guidance set out councils’ powers and duties to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
  2. If there is reason to believe that a person may be homeless, or threatened with homelessness within the next 56 days, the housing authority must carry out an assessment to determine if this is the case, and whether the person is eligible for assistance. ‘Reason to believe’ is a low threshold. The housing authority must then carry out inquiries into what duty, if any, is owed to the applicant.
  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)
  4. Councils must take reasonable steps to secure accommodation for any eligible homeless person. When a council decides this duty has come to an end, it must notify the applicant in writing. I will refer to this as the relief duty. (Housing Act 1996, section 189B)
  5. Most decisions on homelessness can be challenged through an internal review (also known as a statutory review). These include decisions on ending the prevention, relief or main housing duties. If the applicant remains dissatisfied, they can appeal to the county court on a point of law.
  6. The county court's primary role is to ensure that the local authority has correctly understood and applied the law and has followed a fair decision-making process. An appeal to the county court does not usually allow the court to consider the facts.
  7. After carrying an assessment the authority must prepare a Personal Housing Plan (PHP) with the applicant to prevent or relieve their homelessness, depending upon the circumstances. The PHP sets out the steps both the authority and the applicant will take to try to resolve the applicant’s homelessness. 
  8. Assessments and PHPs must be kept under review throughout the prevention and relief stages, and any amendments notified to the applicant. Housing authorities will wish to establish timescales for reviewing plans, and these are likely to vary according to individual needs and circumstances.
  9. Section 211 of the Housing Act 1996 outlines a council’s duty to protect or store a person’s personal belongings.
  10. Where a council owes an applicant a housing duty and it has reason to believe there is a danger of loss of, or damage to an applicant's personal property because the applicant cannot protect it or make other arrangements the council must take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of or damage to it (this may include removing and storing property).
  11. The Homelessness Code of Guidance (the Code) says a council must take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of the property or mitigate damage to it. This applies regardless of whether the Council is still subject to a housing duty.
  12. The Code states a danger of loss or damage to personal property means there is a likelihood of harm, not just that harm is a possibility. Applicants may be unable to protect their property if, for example they are ill or are unable to afford to have it stored themselves.

What happened

  1. Mrs X was an asylum seeker and was given leave to remain in the UK. In June 2019 Mrs X made a homelessness application to the Council as she was about to be evicted from her temporary home office accommodation. Mrs X included her two adult children on the application.
  2. Records show Mrs X met with Council officers who recorded advising Mrs X it was likely she was not in priority need. The case was allocated to a Council officer.
  3. Mrs X met with the officer in August 2019. Case notes show the officer advised Mrs X to look for accommodation in the private sector and that it may be able to help with a deposit. The Council did not issue Mrs X with a decision notice or a PHP.
  4. Records show Mrs X was evicted from her property in mid-August and the Council allocated her interim accommodation at a bed and breakfast. Mrs X signed an agreement with the Council and it provided her with a grant of £200 towards the storage of her personal belongings which she was unable to safely look after herself due to living at the bed and breakfast. The agreement meant Mrs X was responsible for ongoing charges to store the property once the £200 had ran out.
  5. Mrs X’s solicitor wrote to the Council on a number of occasions asking for an update and asking it why it had not issued a formal decision.
  6. The Council issued Mrs X with a formal decision at the end of December 2019 informing her she was not in priority need. It did not issue her with a PHP at this time.
  7. Mrs X used her right of appeal and asked the Council to review this decision. She remained living in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Council issued Mrs X with an eviction notice to leave the bed and breakfast at the end of December 2019. This was extended pending the outcome of the review; however there is no record showing the Council notified Mrs X of this.
  8. Mrs X’s solicitor wrote to the Council asking it for help paying towards the cost of ongoing storage of her property. Mrs X said she was currently borrowing money off friends to meet the cost. Mrs X said the Council refused to make any further contributions towards the cost of storing her property.
  9. At the start of 2020 Mrs X was still living in temporary accommodation at the bed and breakfast. In February 2020 the Council reviewed its decision that Mrs X was not in priority need. It was at this point the Council identified Mrs X had not been issued with a PHP since she approached it with her homelessness application in 2019.
  10. At the start of March 2020 Mrs X’s solicitor wrote to the Council again asking it to assist Mrs X with finding accommodation. They said Mrs X had been searching for accommodation however they were all unaffordable and required a guarantor which she did not have. The solicitor asked the Council to use its discretion and continue providing Mrs X with temporary accommodation while she searched for secure alternative accommodation.
  11. Records show Mrs X missed the timescale to appeal to court about the Council’s decision that she was not in priority need. However, she provided the Council with further medical evidence for the Council to consider. The Council allocated the case to an officer for assessment.
  12. Mrs X attended an interview with a Council officer in early March 2020. Case notes show the officer told Mrs X they would refer her to a Housing Partnership who would assist her with the initial deposit and rent for an assured shorthold tenancy. Records show that the Council issued Mrs X with her PHP. The PHP was brief and did not contain details of Mrs X’s specific circumstances or give any detail on what steps Mrs X should take to search for more secure accommodation. Mrs X said the list of agencies and web links provided to her were out of date. The Council extended Mrs X’s stay at the bed and breakfast due to COVID-19.
  13. In early May 2020, having considered the medical evidence, the Council decided Mrs X was not in priority need and ended its relief duty.
  14. Mrs X complained to the Council via her solicitor about its handling of her homelessness application. She said the Council had failed to provide her with help and assistance in finding more secure accommodation. The Council responded and said its records show it provided her with information in August 2019 and again in March 2020 about finding more secure accommodation. However, it accepted there was a delay in issuing her with a PHP. The Council said it had no plans to withdraw her temporary accommodation during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  15. Records show the Council found Mrs X alternative temporary accommodation (property 2) which she moved into with her sons in June 2020. The Council arranged to delivery Mrs X’s personal belongings from storage at her request.
  16. Mrs X remained at property 2 during 2020 however received an eviction notice for December 2020. This was extended, again, due to COVID-19.
  17. In January 2021 Mrs X submitted a new homelessness application to the Council. The Council issued its decision in February 2021 and decided again that Mrs X was not in priority need and ended its relief duty. The notice included information about how to request a review of the decision. There is no evidence showing the Council carried out a review of Mrs X’s PHP.
  18. In April 2021 Mrs X requested a review of the Council’s decision that she was again not in priority need. Mrs X provided information about her son’s medical issues. The request however was late and the Council decided the initial decision had already considered the information provided by Mrs X. It therefore declined to carry out the review on the basis it was late.
  19. Mrs X complained to the Council in April 2021. She complained she had to borrow £600 to meet the ongoing cost of storing her property during her time at the bed and breakfast. Mrs X said the Council failed to consider all the medical evidence when it decided she was not in priority need. The Council decided it had already responded to Mrs X’s concerns in its initial complaint response to her complaint in 2020 and in its homelessness review letter it sent her in February 2021.
  20. In July 2021 the Council received notification that Mrs X was remaining at property 2 on an assured shorthold tenancy.
  21. Mrs X remained unhappy and complained to us. She raised the same issues as above but also complained she had to cover the cost of all the rent and bills when she moved into property 2, despite the Council saying it would assist.

The Council’s response to our enquiry letter

  1. In response to my enquiry letter the Council has accepted a number of faults. It accepted it failed to:
    • issue Mrs X with a main duty decision letter in August 2019;
    • provide Mrs X with a PHP until March 2020, a delay of 7 months;
    • address Mrs X’s ongoing issues and costs regarding the storage of her personal belongings;
    • follow up on its referral to the housing partnership about an assured shorthold tenancy for Mrs X; and
    • carry out regular reviews of Mrs X’s PHP.
  2. We welcome that the Council has recognised it acted with fault in this case. I have reviewed the faults below and made recommendations to remedy the injustice caused to Mrs X by the faults.

My findings

  1. Certain decisions about homelessness can be challenged by seeking a review and by using a right of appeal to the county court on a point of law. The Council decided in both 2020 and 2021 that Mrs X was not in priority need of housing. We would not normally investigate complaints about decisions such as this where rights of review and appeal apply, as long as councils have properly informed complainants of those rights. Mrs X used her right of appeal against the decision in 2020 and was out of time to appeal in 2021. It is at the Council’s discretion to whether it will accept a late review request. On both occasions it considered the medical information Mrs X provided. There is no fault in how the Council made its decisions, so, I will not investigate this matter further.
  2. When Mrs X approached the Council as homeless in 2019 the Council case notes indicated it thought Mrs X was not in priority need. However, it did not issue her with a decision letter. The Council has accepted this was fault and caused Mrs X uncertainty. It caused Mrs X uncertainty and meant she was unable to request a review of the decision until early 2021.
  3. The Council has already accepted it acted with fault when it delayed by seven months in issuing Mrs X with a PHP. There is no evidence the Council provided Mrs X with assistance in finding secure accommodation during this seven-month period despite regular communication about the matter from her solicitor. This was further fault. During this time, Mrs X remained in bed and breakfast accommodation. The fault leaves Mrs X with uncertainty around whether she could have found secure accommodation sooner had it properly communicated and provided her with a PHP when it should have done.
  4. When the Council did issue Mrs X with a PHP it failed to put any detailed or meaningful information in it. There is nothing about Mrs X’s specific circumstances or anything about the steps Mrs X should take to secure accommodation. The links and information the Council did provide Mrs X were out of date. The lack of information in the PHP was fault and on balance, hampered Mrs X from finding secure accommodation sooner.
  5. Mrs X entered into an agreement with the Council where she accepted a £200 grant towards the storage of her property. However, the faults identified above meant Mrs X remained in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than necessary and had to borrow £600 to meet the ongoing costs. The Council has accepted it failed to address this despite a number of letters about it from Mrs X’s solicitor. That was fault. The Council has accepted in its response to my enquiry letter that it should compensate Mrs X the £600 borrowed from friends which is appropriate to remedy the distress and financial loss caused to her due to the identified faults.
  6. The Council referred Mrs X to a housing partnership in 2020 for an assured shorthold tenancy. There are no records showing the Council chased the outcome of this referral. That is fault and caused Mrs X uncertainty. The Council told Mrs X it would assist financially with a deposit if Mrs X found a shorthold tenancy. Had it reviewed her PHP at regular intervals it may have been able to assist her when she converted her agreement at property 2 to an assured shorthold tenancy. The Council accepted this was the case in its response to my enquiry letter. Not doing so was fault and led to a missed opportunity to assist Mrs X.
  7. The Council’s handling of Mrs X’s housing and homelessness applications between 2019 and 2021 was poor. There was a general lack of communication and a lack of care and attention to its duties towards her. The identified faults caused Mrs X uncertainty about whether the outcome may have been different.

Back to top

Agreed actions

  1. The Council agreed within one month of the final decision to:
    • Write to Mrs X and apologise to her for the distress, uncertainty and time and trouble caused by the delay in issuing her housing decision letter in 2019, for the seven-month delay in issuing her PHP and for failing to regularly review the PHP. It should further apologise for the distress and uncertainty caused by the general lack of communication and for failing to adequately respond to concerns about the storage of her personal belongings.
    • pay Mrs X a total of £1,100 in recognition of the injustice the faults identified in this decision statement caused her. This amount includes the unnecessary £600 Mrs X spent on storing her personal belongings while in bed and breakfast accommodation.
    • Circulate the final decision to relevant staff and highlight the faults found. The Council should consider whether to include the findings in relevant training to prevent recurrence of the faults.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I completed my investigation. I found fault and the Council agreed to my recommendations to remedy the injustice caused by the fault.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page