The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss B complained about the way the Council dealt with her housing situation. We have not found fault with the Council’s actions, which caused Miss B an injustice.
- Miss B complained that Brighton and Hove City Council (the Council) in respect of her housing situation:
- failed to ensure repairs were complete at her previous address;
- failed to award medical priority for her son’s and her own medical needs;
- removed her from the housing register;
- delayed in carrying out a review of that decision;
- failed to accept a homeless application from her; and
- failed to provide more secure accommodation.
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)
- We cannot question whether an organisation’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Miss B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
Housing allocations policy
- The Council’s policy says that medical awards can be made as follows:
- Band A
Overriding (severe and immediate) medical priority awarded by the assessor where there is a need to move - where the housing conditions are having a severe and immediate adverse effect on the medical condition of the applicant or member of the current household as to warrant emergency priority.
- Band B
High (major) medical priority awarded by the Medical Advisor –where there is a need to move where the housing conditions are having a major adverse effect on the medical condition of the applicant or member of the current household as to warrant extra priority.
- No award
Where a person does not meet the criteria to be awarded Band A or B then no award will be made under this policy on medical grounds.
- The Council placed Miss B and her three children in a three bedroom house in 2013 using its powers under section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in its area. The property was leased from a private landlord. The Council had housed her in this way because it had decided she was intentionally homeless.
- Miss B applied to the Housing Register in 2016 and was placed in Band D as the Council considered she was suitably housed. In December 2016 she applied for larger, more secure permanent accommodation. She was concerned her son’s room was too small: he had autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and needed more space. The Council considered she was suitably housed and did not award any more priority.
- In September 2018 the Council changed its housing allocations policy. In December 2018 it asked Miss B to complete a new application under the new policy. Miss B submitted an application in January 2019 saying her son’s bedroom was too small for his needs, they were overcrowded, repairs needed doing and their health was declining.
- In March 2019 the Council notified Miss B that it was removing her from the housing register as she had no housing needs. Miss B requested a review of that decision in April 2019. In June 2019 she submitted evidence showing her son had been diagnosed with ASD and provided further evidence of her need to move from other agencies.
- The Council acknowledged the review request in February 2020 and in July 2020 completed the review: the decision remained unchanged. It concluded her son’s room was a standard single size, he did not have any mobility issues as his main problems were around speech language and social interaction. It did not consider her tenancy was insecure as the lease was continually extended and there was no reason why this would not continue. If it did change the Council would still have a duty to house her and her children under section 17 of the Children’s Act.
- In July 2020 the owner of the property gave notice to the Council that they required the property back. Miss B with the support of her social worker, put in a homeless application. The Council took some advice about whether to accept a homeless application from her as she had been housed under a different route and previously found to be intentionally homeless. The advice was that the Council should accept an application from her. But if the Council accepted a prevention duty, she may have to accept emergency accommodation in a different town while waiting for permanent housing. It concluded that Miss B might be better accepting alternative privately rented accommodation from social services.
- In January 2021 the Council offered Miss B an alternative property but she refused it as she thought it was too small. The Council only accepted the refusal because the property owner had withdrawn their notice at that point. Miss B submitted a second homeless application in March 2021. She also made a formal complaint about the failure to complete repairs to the property, including rotten cupboards and a mice infestation) and the failure to provide her with alternative suitable accommodation
- In June 2021 the Council responded to her complaint at stage one of the complaints procedure. In its view most of the repairs had been completed but some remained outstanding (decking and kitchen unit doors) because she had not provided access or any alternative dates. The Council clarified that she was on the three-bed priority temporary transfer list. It understood the situation was stressful, but it explained she would not have to leave the property until somewhere new had been found. It apologised for the delay in dealing with the review of the decision to remove her from the housing register and explained the reasons for this.
- Miss B escalated her complaint to stage two of the complaints procedure. She said the Council had not properly considered her or her son’s medical needs and had given an inaccurate account of the repairs.
- In September 2021 the Council offered a second alternative property. Miss B said she was not happy to accept it due to the lack of clarity around future housing options. In November 2021 the Council said it would start court proceedings as Miss B had not moved into the second property and the owner wanted the property back.
- Miss B complained to us
- The Council responded to her complaint at stage two of the procedure in December 2021. It apologised for the delay and said this was due to a very high volume of complaints and staff absence. It explained that in order to award medical priority the Council must be satisfied that a person’s current housing was having a severe or major impact on the medical condition of the applicant or a member of the household. It confirmed the Council had considered all the information Miss B had supplied but did not consider the house had an adverse impact on either her or her son’s medical conditions.
- It noted she had refused two properties which the Council considered were suitable for her household’s needs. It advised her to seek advice from a housing charity as her options were now limited. In respect of the repairs, it said Miss B had not provided evidence to show the Council’s version of events was inaccurate. It advised her to contact the Council to arrange an appointment to finish the works.
- In February 2022 Miss B moved into a new property following a joint approach from housing and social services.
- The Council said in June 2021 the repairs were largely completed except for the kitchen unit doors and the decking. Miss B disagreed with this summary but did not provide any evidence to support her view. I cannot reach a conclusion on this point. But I note the disputed repairs were not major items and Miss B has now moved to a new property.
Medical priority/removal from the housing register
- I have not identified fault in the way the Council considered Miss B’s and her son’s medical needs. The Council assessed their medical priority in March 2019 and concluded their medical needs were not affected by the housing conditions in a severe and immediate or major way and so they were not eligible for medical priority. As the Council considered they were suitably housed it removed her application from the housing register. Miss B requested a review of this decision in April 2019 and provided further information in support of her case.
- Due to the large number of review requests following the policy change, the Council did not acknowledge the review request until February 2020 and did not carry out the review until July 2020. This was fault. But I do not consider the delay caused Miss B an injustice as she was living in a three-bedroom property in accordance with her assessed housing needs. If the review had been carried out sooner, it would not have changed her position. The Council considered all the information she provided but did not consider it supported her view that their current housing was significantly affecting their medical conditions. That is a decision for the Council to make and I have not identified fault in the way it was made.
- In respect of the security of tenure, the Council did not consider her housing was insecure: she had lived in the same house since 2013 and the lease had been repeatedly extended. Even if this changed, the Council still had a duty to house her under its section 17 duty. I am satisfied the Council properly considered Miss B’s review and upheld its decision to remove her from the housing register.
- There was some delay by the Council in deciding how to treat Miss B’s homeless application and I have not seen evidence that the Council communicated with her adequately during this period of discussion. This created a sense of uncertainty for Miss B as she was unsure what her housing options were and knew the owner wanted the property back.
- However, I do not think this period caused her significant injustice as she remained living in her property, the Council continued to make offers of accommodation under its section 17 duty, and she was rehoused in February 2022. If the Council had accepted her homeless application, the situation would not have been better, and it is likely it could have been worse if she had to move to alternative temporary accommodation in a different area. It is also likely the Council would have sought to discharge any housing duty with private sector housing which would not have provided Miss B with any greater security of tenure.
- I have completed my investigation as I am unable to find fault causing injustice in the actions of the Council towards Miss B.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman