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London Borough of Redbridge (21 009 838)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We found fault with the way the Council handled Mr X’s housing application. We did not find fault with the way the Council responded to Mr X’s homelessness. The Council offered to review its banding decision. This is a suitable remedy for the injustice to Mr X.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about the way the Council assessed his housing and homelessness application.
  2. He said this meant he stayed living in unsuitable accommodation and this affected his health and wellbeing.

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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 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint. I made enquiries with the Council and considered its response with relevant law and guidance.
  2. 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

Law and guidance

Allocations

  1. A local housing authority (council) must have an allocation scheme for deciding priorities and allocating accommodation. The scheme must give reasonable preference to applicants who fall within reasonable preference categories. (Housing Act 1996 s.166A (1,3) and s.167 (1, 2))
  2. The Housing Act 1996 s.166A sets out the reasonable preference categories, these are:
  • people who are homeless and eligible under the Housing Acts 1985 and 1996.
  • people occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or living in unsatisfactory housing conditions.
  • people who need to move on medical or welfare grounds.
  • people who need to move to a particular locality and a failure to move would cause hardship to themselves or to others.
  1. The Council may give 'additional preference' to applicants within the reasonable preference categories, provided they have urgent housing needs.
  2. Councils must notify applicants in writing of the following decisions and give reasons:
  • that the applicant is not eligible for an allocation;
  • that the applicant is not a qualifying person;
  • a decision not to award the applicant reasonable preference because of their unacceptable behaviour.
  1. The Council must also notify the applicant of the right to request a review of these decisions. (Housing Act 1996, section 166A(9))

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. Someone is threatened with homelessness if, when asking for assistance from the Council:
  • 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))
  1. 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)
  2. After completing inquiries, the council must give the applicant a decision in writing. If it is an adverse decision, the letter must fully explain the reasons. All letters must include information about the right to request a review and the timescale for doing so. (Housing Act 1996, section 184, from 3 April 2018 Homelessness Code of Guidance 18.32 and 18.33)
  3. There are no statutory time limits for completing inquiries. However, the Homelessness Code of Guidance recommends that councils aim to complete their inquiries within 33 working days.

What happened

  1. What follows is a brief chronology of key events it does not cover all the information I reviewed during my investigation.
  2. Mr X applied to join the council’s housing list in 2018. He was living in privately rented accommodation.
  3. In August 2020 the Council wrote to Mr X with its housing application decision. It told Mr X he did not qualify to join the housing list because he was ‘adequately housed’. It closed his application.
  4. Mr X requested a review of the Council’s decision.
  5. In February 2021 the Council reviewed Mr X’s case and awarded him band 3 (medical need). He was able to join the housing list.
  6. In May 2021 Mr X’s landlord issued him with a notice to quit (NTQ). They told Mr X he needed to leave the property by 6 June 2021. Mr X told the Council. It told Mr X he needed to complete a homelessness application.
  7. Mr X complained to the Council about the delay assessing his housing application. He also complained he had not received a review decision about his medical banding. He told the Council he needed housing urgently because of the NTQ.
  8. The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint. It told him a housing officer would contact him about his homelessness application. It said he did not have a right of a further review of the banding decision.
  9. Mr X was unhappy with the complaint response. He asked for his complaint to be escalated.
  10. The Council spoke to Mr X in June. It asked him for more information about the NTQ and homelessness.
  11. The Council spoke to Mr X again in July. It asked him for more information about his landlord and housing situation. It says Mr X refused to provide the information and declined any further help.
  12. The Council provided Mr X with its final complaint response in August. The Council:
  • Apologised for the delay with his housing application and review.
  • Said he was not disadvantaged because the application was backdated.
  • Told Mr X the complaint process was not the correct way to challenge the decision because he had a right of review.
  • Explained the homelessness application process and what enquiries it needed to make.
  • Invited Mr X to contact the housing officer if he needed support to prevent homelessness.

My findings

  1. I have summarised my findings under the main headings of Mr X’s complaint.

Housing list

  1. There was some fault with the way the Council handled Mr X’s housing application.
  2. It delayed processing the application from 2018 to 2020. There were also delays reviewing the decision from August 2020 to February 2021.
  3. However, this did not cause Mr X a significant injustice. The Council backdated the decision and because of housing shortages Mr X would not have been offered a property even if the review had been completed earlier.
  4. There was also fault with the information the Council gave Mr X about his right of review. The information the Council gave Mr X about his right of review in its complaint correspondence was confusing. It accepted this and explained:

“As Mr X had already exercised this right and a decision on review issues; he does not therefore have any further right of review, having already exercised it. Having said this, the Council acknowledges that the approach in this case to confirm the assessment details in the way that it did has caused confusion and therefore if Mr X still wishes to pursue a further review, we will conduct one”

  1. We welcome the Councils response to our investigation. Its offer to carry out a further review is a suitable remedy. I do not have anything further to add to this part of the complaint.

Homelessness

  1. I did not find fault with the way the Council responded when Mr X told them his landlord had issued a NTQ.
  2. The Council told Mr X to complete a homelessness application and requested information from him to assess the application. Mr X did not provide all the information the Council requested. He also refused to answer all the questions the Council asked about his landlord and housing situation.
  3. During its complaint process it explained why it needed the information and invited him to submit it so it could work with him to prevent him becoming homeless.
  4. In response to my investigation the Council reiterated that if Mr X is at risk of homelessness he should contact the Council for advice and support. This option remains open to Mr X.

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Final decision

  1. I found fault with the Council. The Council offered a suitable remedy for any injustice to Mr X. I completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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