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London Borough of Barnet (21 012 763)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was at fault for the way it dealt with Ms X’s homelessness review. As a result Ms X had to wait longer for decision. The Council has agreed to apologise to Ms X and make a payment to Ms X.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about the way the Council handled her homeless application and delayed in providing her with a review decision.

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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. As part of this investigation, I considered the information provided by Ms X and the Council. I discussed the complaint with Ms X over the telephone. I sent a draft of this decision to Ms X and the Council and considered comments received in response.

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What I found

Law and guidance

  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. If a council is satisfied an applicant is homeless, eligible for assistance, and has a priority need the council has a duty to secure that accommodation is available for their occupation (unless it refers the application to another housing authority under section 198). (Housing Act 1996, section 193 and Homelessness Code of Guidance 15.39)
  3. 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)
  4. Homeless applicants may request a review within 21 days of being notified of the decision on their homelessness application. (Housing Act 1996, section 202)
  5. The review must be carried out by someone who was not involved in the original decision and who is more senior to the original decision maker. The reviewing officer needs to consider any information relevant to the period before the decision was made (even if only obtained afterwards) as well as any new relevant information the Council has obtained since the decision. (The Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018, Homelessness Code of Guidance Chapter 19)
  6. 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
  7. These periods can be extended if the applicant agrees in writing.
  8. 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)
  9. The main housing duty under s.193 only ends when the applicant either:
    • is no longer eligible for assistance; or
    • accepts an offer of a tenancy made under Part 6 (an offer under the allocations scheme); or
    • accepts an offer of an assured tenancy from a private landlord; or
    • refuses a final offer of suitable Part 6 accommodation (having been informed of the possible consequences of refusal and the right to a review about suitability); or
    • refuses an offer of suitable Part 7 temporary accommodation (having been informed of the possible consequences of refusal and review rights); or
    • becomes intentionally homeless from the accommodation secured by the authority; or
    • voluntarily ceases to occupy the section 193 accommodation secured by the authority; or
    • accepts or refuses a private rented sector offer. (Housing Act 1996, section 193)

What happened

  1. Ms X approached the Council in 2020 for assistance. At this time she was completing an educational placement and lived in accommodation provided by the education provider.
  2. In January 2021 the Council accepted a homeless application for Ms X. Ms X’s accommodation was due to end as she had completed her educational placement. In February 2021 the Council arranged, with the education provider, for Ms X to be able to stay at her current accommodation for a few more weeks.
  3. In March 2021 the Council decided Ms X was not in priority need and provided her with a decision on her homeless application. Ms X requested a review of this decision.
  4. In late May 2021 Ms X made a complaint to the Council about the way it had treated her while dealing with her homeless application. Ms X said she had not been provided with information on her application and has not received the outcome of her review. Ms X said she did not receive a response from the Council to her complaint.
  5. On 2 June 2021 the Council provided Ms X with its review decision. This upheld the Council’s original decision that Ms X was not in priority need.
  6. Ms X appealed this decision to the County Court with the help of legal representatives. On 31 August 2021 the court issued a consent order as the Council agreed to withdraw its original review decision, from June 2021, and provide a new review decision by 12 October 2021.
  7. Ms X contacted the Council about her review decision in September 2021 as she was concerned about her living situation at the education provider’s accommodation. The Council told Ms X it would issue a review decision by 12 October 2021, but it would likely uphold the original decision. The Council also told Ms X it would make her an offer of accommodation in the private sector and invited Ms X to view two properties. Ms X did not consider these properties were suitable for her medical needs as they did not have a bath.
  8. The Council issued its review decision on 30 November 2021. This stated Ms X was a “borderline priority need” case. The review decision did not say what, if any, duty the Council owed Ms X, nor did it notify Ms X of her appeal rights. The Council sent the review decision to the solicitor who represented Ms X during the appeal, however the decision was not passed onto Ms X by the solicitor.
  9. In January 2022 the Council contacted Ms X to offer her a viewing of a property in the private sector which had become available. Ms X told the Council she had not received the outcome of her review.
  10. Ms X remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman. Following Ms X’s complaint we sent her a copy of the review decision from the Council. Ms X has since confirmed the Council made her an offer of accommodation in the private sector and she is due to move into the property in March 2022.

Analysis

  1. The Council was at fault for delaying in providing Ms X a decision on her review. The Council agreed to do this by 12 October 2021 but did not send a copy of the decision to Ms X’s representative until 30 November 2021. I cannot see any reasons to justify the delay or that Ms X was kept updated about the delay in providing the review decision.
  2. In addition, the review decision said Ms X was a “borderline priority need” case. It is not clear from this whether the Council has awarded Ms X the main housing duty or not. The review decision should tell Ms X what decision the Council has made and whether this is in her favour or not. The review decision provided by the Council does not do this. The review decision also did not inform Ms X of her right to appeal it. This is fault. In response to the draft decision the Council confirmed the decision was in Ms X’s favour.
  3. The Council was also at fault as it did not respond to Ms X’s complaint in May 2021. The Council should have provided Ms X with a formal response to her complaint or explained why it would not deal with it and signposted her to the Ombudsman.
  4. As I have found fault I need to consider what injustice this caused Ms X. The Council has made Ms X an offer of accommodation in the private sector, and she is due to move into this property. Even if the Council, had properly carried out the review and said it would accept the main housing duty, Ms X could still have received the same outcome of an offer of accommodation in the private sector. Therefore I do not consider the outcome of Ms X obtaining accommodation in the private sector would have been different because of the above fault.
  5. However Ms X has suffered distress and inconvenience due to the Council delaying in providing her with a review decision and not responding to her complaint. She has spent time pursuing this with the Council because of the delay. In addition, Ms X is uncertain about what duty the Council owed her due to the review decision not specifying this, and was not informed about her appeal rights should she wished to have challenged the decision. Ms X therefore could not have known what assistance she was entitled to from the Council following the review decision.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my final decision, the Council agreed to carry out the following and provide evidence to the Ombudsman it has done so:
    • Apologise to Ms X for the above faults.
    • Pay Ms X £100 to recognise the distress and time and trouble she experienced because of the above faults.
    • Remind staff to ensure decision letters under section 202 Housing Act 1996 contain a paragraph informing applicants of their right to appeal and clearly state the outcome of the review.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found there was fault by the Council which caused injustice to Ms X. The Council has agreed to the above actions to remedy the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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