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London Borough of Brent (21 008 573)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 22 May 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the way the Council dealt with his homelessness application. He complains the Council was wrong to refer him to another council and wrongly ended his temporary accommodation without notice. This led to him being street homeless. The Council’s failure notify Mr X, following the referral, of the decision and his review rights, and to inform him it would no longer provide interim accommodation amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mr X an injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complained about the way the Council dealt with his homelessness application. He complains the Council was wrong to refer him to another council and wrongly ended his temporary accommodation without notice.

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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 an organisation’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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Homelessness

  1. 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.
  2. If a council has ‘reason to believe’ someone may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must take a homelessness application and make enquiries to establish if the council has a duty to assist them.
  3. If a council is satisfied someone is homeless and eligible for assistance it must take reasonable steps to secure accommodation for them. This is known as the council’s relief duty. (Housing Act 1996, section 189B)
  4. 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)
  5. If a council’s enquiries determine an applicant has a local connection with another council, it can refer the case to the other council. Before making the referral, the notifying council must be satisfied the applicant is homeless and eligible for assistance and therefore owed a relief duty.
  6. The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that the notifying council must notify applicants when they intend to, or have notified another local authority, and when, following the referral it has been decided the conditions for referral have or have not been met.
  7. The Guidance also confirms that from the date the first notice is issued the council will not be subject to the relief duty. However, if they have reason to believe the applicant may be in priority need, they will have a duty to provide interim accommodation whilst a decision is made on whether the conditions for referral are met.

What happened here

  1. Mr X presented to the Council as homeless on 13 July 2021 following a fire where he was living. The Council placed Mr X in emergency accommodation while it assessed his application. Its records state that Mr X was in priority need as he lost his accommodation due to a fire.
  2. On 20 August 2021 the Council wrote to Mr X accepting it owed him a relief duty and that for the next 56 days it would help to find him somewhere to live. The letter confirmed the Council was satisfied Mr X was eligible for assistance and homeless but had not reached any decisions on his priority need or intentionality. An officer telephoned Mr X the same day to advise that as he did not have a local connection to Brent it would refer his application to another local council where he had a local connection. It suggested Mr X approach this other council.
  3. The Council sent Mr X a second letter on 20 August 2021 confirming it had made a referral to the council where he had a local connection and would contact Mr X again when it received a reply. The letter advised Mr X of his right to request a review of this decision.
  4. According to the Council’s records, the other council confirmed on 26 August 2021 that it had arranged an assessment for Mr X on 3 September 2021. On 31 August 2021 the Council cancelled Mr X’s emergency accommodation and closed its file on the basis the other council had accepted a duty. There is no evidence the Council contacted Mr X to advise him of its actions.
  5. Mr X states he was told by the manager of the emergency accommodation on 1 September 2021 that the Council had stopped paying for his room and he would have to leave immediately. Mr X states he was street homeless for two days and was then forced to travel abroad to find accommodation there.
  6. Mr X complained to the Ombudsman about the Council’s actions. As Mr X had not complained directly to the Council, we forwarded his complaint and asked the Council to respond in line with its complaints process.
  7. The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint on 19 November 2021. It set out the action the Council had taken in Mr X’s homelessness case and noted that the other council had carried out an assessment on 3 September 2021 and referred Mr X to its team that deals with rough sleepers. The Council advised Mr X the homelessness legislation was complex and offered to explain the criteria for assistance to him over the phone, with an interpreter.
  8. Mr X was not satisfied by the Council’s response. He asked the Council to assist him in returning to the UK and to provide accommodation. The Council responded in December 2021. It again set out the action it had taken and confirmed it was entitled to refer homeless applicants to other local authorities if they considered the applicant had a local connection to that authority.
  9. As Mr X has now completed the Council’s complaints procedure, he has again asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint.

Analysis

  1. Section 198 allows councils to refer a case to another council at the point of the relief duty or the main housing duty, but they are not required to make a referral. There is no evidence of fault in the Council’s decision that Mr X had a local connection to another council’s area but having made this decision, we would expect it to follow the proper process.
  2. Although the Council notified Mr X it intended to make a referral to another local council, it did not notify him, following the referral, of the decision on whether the conditions for referral had been met. As a consequence, Mr X was not notified of his right to request a review of this decision. The failure to notify Mr X, following the referral, of the decision and his review rights is fault.
  3. The Council states the other council confirmed on 26 August 2021 that they had accepted the referral. The other council’s email of 26 August 2021 does not expressly accept the referral but states “A telephone appointment has been arranged for Friday 3rd September at 11:00am”. There is no record of any further correspondence between the councils.
  4. It is clear from the Council’s records it was organising a coordinated response to assist those affected by fire at the property where Mr X was living. The Council had accepted Mr X’s homeless application and provided him with emergency accommodation as he was in priority need having lost his accommodation due to fire. It therefore had a duty to continue to provide Mr X with interim accommodation until a decision was made on whether the conditions for referral were met.
  5. The referral did not advise the other council it had provided interim accommodation on the basis Mr X was in priority need. The Council stated it “gave the client temporary accommodation until we conducted further investigations in the client local connection.” This suggests it was no longer accommodating Mr X, which was not the case at the time of the referral. I consider the lack of clarity in the Council’s communication with the other council regarding Mr X’s priority need and the ongoing provision of interim accommodation amounts to fault.
  6. The Council advised its booking team on 31 August 2021 to cancel Mr X’s accommodation as the other council had accepted the referral. However, it did not inform Mr X this accommodation would cease. I consider the failure to inform Mr X it would no longer provide interim accommodation amounts to fault.
  7. Having identified fault I must consider whether this has caused Mr X a significant injustice. The failure to notify Mr X that the other council had accepted the referral or of the decision to end his interim accommodation caused Mr X distress and anxiety. Mr X also lost the opportunity to request a review.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to:
    • apologise to Mr X and pay him £100 in recognition of the distress and anxiety he has experienced as a result of the failings in the way the Council dealt with his homeless application.
    • provide reminders/training to ensure that staff understand the Council’s duty to notify applicants in writing of decisions on their homeless applications and to inform they of their right to request a review of the decision.
  2. The Council should take this action within one month of the final decision on this complaint.

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Final decision

  1. The Council’s failure notify Mr X, following the referral, of the decision and his review rights, and to inform him it would no longer provide interim accommodation amounts to fault. This fault has caused Mr X an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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