The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complains the Council failed to provide adequate support when she and her partner were being evicted from their property. The Council is at fault as it failed to provide adequate support to Miss X and Mr Y with their housing. It failed to refer them for floating support and failed to contact them for several months. As a result Miss X and Mr Y were caused significant distress. The Council has agreed to remedy Miss X and Mr Y’s injustice by apologising and making a payment of £250 to them.
- Miss X complains that the Council:
- Failed to make a referral to a floating support agency to provide housing support to her and her partner to assist them in looking for alternative accommodation when their landlord served a section 21 notice.
- Failed to respond to her and her mother’s contact and emails between July and December 2020.
- Miss X says that as a result she and her partner were caused significant distress due to a lack of support from the Council when they were facing eviction.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 have:
- Considered the complaint and the information from Miss X;
- Discussed the issues with Miss X;
- Made enquiries of the Council and considered the information provided;
- Invited Miss X and the Council to comment on the draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- 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)]
- Councils must complete an assessment if they are satisfied an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness. The Code of Guidance says, rather than advise the applicant to return when homelessness is more imminent, the housing authority may wish to accept a prevention duty and begin to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness. Councils must notify the applicant of the assessment. Councils should work with applicants to identify practical and reasonable steps for the council and the applicant to take to help the applicant keep or secure suitable accommodation. These steps should be tailored to the household, and follow from the findings of the assessment, and must be provided to the applicant in writing as their personalised housing plan. (Housing Act 1996, section 189A and Homelessness Code of Guidance paragraphs 11.6 and 11.18)
- In May 2020, Miss X and her partner, Mr Y, contacted the Council for assistance as their landlord had served a section 21 notice to end their tenancy. The Council’s records noted Miss X and Mr Y’s mental health conditions and Miss X had been assessed for autism spectrum disorder.
- The Council decided it owed the prevention duty to Miss X and Mr Y and drew up a personalised housing plan (PHP) setting out the action the Council and Miss X and Mr Y would take to prevent their homelessness. The Council’s actions included that a referral to floating housing support would be beneficial to support Miss X and Mr Y secure alternative housing.
- The section 21 notice was due to expire in August 2020. However, evictions were banned at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic so Miss X and Mr Y’s landlord did not evict them.
- The Council’s records note Miss X’s mother, Ms Z, contact the Council asking if it could provide a guarantor or rent assurance for a property Miss X and Mr Y wanted to rent. The records show officer 1, housing officer, spoke to the letting agent but there is no record of the outcome.
- In November 2020 Miss X made a complaint to the Council as she and Mr Y had not received any floating support or contact from the Council. She said this caused significant distress to her and Mr Y as they were left without support despite being under the threat of eviction. Miss X made her own referral to adult social care for floating support.
- The Council responded at stage one of its two stage complaints procedure. The Council said:
- officer 1 made the referral for floating support but it did not reach the floating support team.
- It acknowledged it could have been more proactive and ensured Miss X and Mr Y received floating support at an earlier stage.
- officer 1 did not respond to Miss X and her mother’s emails.
- it would provide details of an organisation which may provide financial support with housing.
- It apologised for the distress caused to Miss X and Mr Y.
- Miss X escalated her complaint to stage 2 of the complaints procedure. The Council upheld Miss X’s complaint and said, on balance, it considered the referral to floating support had not been made but it could not say with any certainty. It also offered a payment of £50 to acknowledge the distress caused to her as a result of the delay in contacting her between July and December 2020.
- Miss X and Mr Y moved to a new property in late December 2020.
- In response to my enquiries the Council has said it has undertaken a number of actions to improve its procedures to ensure similar issues do not recur. These include introducing a series of targets for customer contact, a prevention toolkit to enable staff to access the resources and services available to support homeless households and updated factsheets. The Council is also restructuring its housing needs service with the aim of developing the experience of officers who work with homeless households.
Referral for floating support.
- The Council cannot provide evidence to show it referred Miss X and Mr Y to floating support for support with their housing. In view of the lack of evidence, I consider, on balance, the Council did not make the referral and this is fault.
- The Council has acknowledged that officer 1 did not contact Miss X and Mr Y between July and December 2020 and this is fault. I also have concerns that the Council did not refer Miss X and Mr Y to the organisation which could provide financial support with housing when it became aware in July 2020 that they needed a guarantor to secure a private rented property. This was a missed opportunity to provide assistance to them.
Injustice to Miss X and Mr Y
- The failure to refer Miss X and Mr Y for floating support and the delays in contacting them between July and December 2020 meant the Council did not provide adequate support to them. I am mindful Miss X and Mr Y were not evicted from their property but they had the threat of eviction hanging over them. The Council was also aware both Miss X and Mr Y had mental health conditions so required support. The Council’s failure to provide adequate support to Miss X and Mr Y therefore caused significant distress to them.
- In response to my enquiries the Council has increased its offered payment to £100. I do not consider this to be sufficient to acknowledge the distress caused to Miss X and Mr Y.
- That the Council sends a further written apology to Miss X and Mr Y and makes a payment of £250 to them to acknowledge the distress caused by the inadequate support provided to them. The payment is in accordance with our guidance on remedying complaints. The Council should take this action within one month of my final decision.
- The Council is at fault as it failed to provide adequate support to Miss X and Mr Y with their housing as it failed to refer them for floating support and failed to contact them for several months. As a result Miss X and Mr Y were caused significant distress. The Council has agreed to remedy this injustice in a proportionate way so I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman