The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs C complains that the Council provided her with unsuitable interim accommodation under the homeless duty it owed her. She said her daughter’s room was too small and this affected her mental health. We find fault by the Council because it did not inform Mrs C of her right to appeal to court when it told Mrs C her property was suitable.
- Mrs C complains the interim accommodation provided to her by the Council was unsuitable and had a negative effect on her daughter’s mental health.
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 read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I spoke to Mrs C on the telephone about the complaint.
- I invited Mrs C and the Council to comment on the draft decision and considered any comments made in response.
What I found
- Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities set out councils’ powers and duties to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
- If a council has ‘reason to believe’ someone may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must take a homelessness application and make inquiries. The threshold for taking an application is low. The person does not have to complete a specific form or approach a particular council department. (Housing Act 1996, section 184 and Homelessness Code of Guidance paragraphs 6.2 and 18.5)
- 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 law says councils must ensure all accommodation provided to homeless applicants is suitable for the needs of the applicant and members of his or her household. This duty applies to interim accommodation and accommodation provided under the main homelessness duty. (Housing Act 1996, section 206 and (from 3 April 2018) Homelessness Code of Guidance 17.2)
- Homeless applicants may request a review of the suitability of accommodation offered to the applicant after a homelessness duty has been accepted (and the suitability of accommodation offered under section 200(3) and section 193). Applicants can request a review of the suitability of accommodation whether or not they have accepted the offer.
- Councils must complete reviews of the following decisions within eight weeks of the date of the review request:
- eligibility for assistance
- not in priority need
- intentionally homeless
- suitability of accommodation
- notice being given of deliberate and unreasonable refusal to cooperate and the effect of the notice is to bring the relief duty to an end.
These periods can be extended if the applicant agrees in writing.
The council must advise applicant of their right to appeal to the county court on a point of law, and of the period in which to appeal. Applicants can also appeal if the Council takes more than the prescribed time to complete the review. (Housing Act 1996, sections 202, 203 and 204
- Mrs C complained to the Council in 2021 about the suitability of the interim accommodation she had been provided by the Council as part of an accepted homeless duty.
- She said her daughter has autistic tendencies and her bedroom was too small. Mrs C said her daughter did not like to share the open plan kitchen / living area with the rest of the family. She said this meant her daughter had to spend more time in her room and it was having a negative effect on her mental health as it was so small.
- Mrs C also told the Council about some laminate in the bathroom which was lifting.
- The Council responded in August 2021 and said that it had considered Mrs C’s accommodation and current circumstances. It said it believes the accommodation to be suitable as tested against the standards set out in suitability laws. It also invited Mrs C to provide measurements of the room she considered to be too small so it could be checked.
- Mrs C and her family have since been placed in permanent accommodation.
- The Council considered the relevant information and provided Mrs C with a suitability decision. However, when communicating that decision, it did not inform Mrs C of her right to appeal the decision to county court. This was fault.
- Mrs C has since been placed in permanent accommodation, which means the injustice to her is limited, however the Council should ensure it presents complainants with their appeal rights when making suitability decisions.
- To remedy the injustice caused and prevent similar future incidents occurring, the Council has agreed to take the following action within one month of this decision.
- Apologise to Mrs C for not informing her of her right of appeal.
- Remind its officers involved in making similar decisions of their responsibility to inform complainants of their appeal rights.
- I close this case with a finding of fault against the Council for the reasons detailed in this statement. I have recommended actions the Council can take to remedy the injustice caused and to make service improvements.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman