The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complained about the support the Council provided after she applied as homeless in 2020. There was no fault in how the Council responded to Miss X’s reports about the condition of her property or how it dealt with her application for social housing.
- Miss X complained about the support the Council provided after she applied as homeless in 2020. She said:
- the Council failed to properly consider the reasons she became homeless;
- the accommodation it has provided since is in poor condition; and
- the Council has unfairly barred her from applying for social housing.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated parts b) and c) of Miss X’s complaint.
- The final section of this decision explains my reasons for not investigating the rest of the complaint.
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)
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
- When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened.
- 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 considered:
- the information Miss X provided and discussed the complaint with her;
- the Council’s comments on the complaint and the supporting information it provided; and
- the relevant law, guidance and Council policy.
What I found
- Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities (the code) set out councils’ powers and duties to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
- While it is assessing a homelessness application, 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)
- Councils must also take reasonable steps to help to secure suitable accommodation for any eligible homeless person. This is called the ‘relief duty’ and usually lasts 56 days. When a council decides this duty has come to an end, it must tell the applicant in writing (Housing Act 1996, section 189B)
- If a council decides someone is intentionally homeless (that they are responsible for the loss of their former home) then it will not have a duty to secure accommodation for them after the relief duty ends.
- The code says that where certain groups of people, including those who are responsible for children, are intentionally homeless councils must secure accommodation for them for a period of time that will give them a reasonable opportunity to find their own accommodation.
- Homeless applicants may request a review within 21 days of being notified of a decision on their homelessness application, including whether they are intentionally homeless. (Housing Act 1996, section 202)
- After considering a review, councils must advise the applicant of their right to appeal to the county court on a point of law, and of the period in which to appeal. (Housing Act 1996, sections 202, 203 and 204)
- Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 says councils must safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need.
- A child is in need if:
- they are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development unless the council provides support;
- their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired unless the council provides support; or
- they are disabled.
- Every local housing authority must publish an allocations scheme that sets out how it prioritises applicants, and its procedures for allocating housing. All allocations must be made in strict accordance with the published scheme. (Housing Act 1996, section 166A(1) & (14))
- Before allocating housing, councils must ensure the applicants are both ‘eligible’ and ‘qualified’ persons. (Housing Act 1996, section 160ZA)
- The Council’s allocation scheme says it will verify applications to join, including for ‘eligibility. Applicants must provide various documents to support their application, including identity, residence and nationality documents. The scheme says that until an applicant has supplied the required documents, the Council will not process their application further.
Miss X’s homelessness
- Miss X applied to the Council as homeless in early 2020. The Council arranged interim accommodation for Miss X under the relief duty. At the time of her complaint, Miss X was still living in that interim accommodation with her two adult children and Y who is 16.
- In 2020, the Council decided that Y was a child in need, mainly due to the lack of a permanent home. The Council says it still considers Y in need, but that Miss X has not attended any of the child in need review meetings it has invited her to.
- In December 2020, the Council decided Miss X was intentionally homeless and so it no longer had a duty to house her. With the help of a solicitor, Miss X asked the Council to review its decision. The Council gave Miss X extra time to provide information for the review and decided, in March 2021, it would not change its decision. The Council told Miss X she had a right to appeal to the County Court, but Miss X did not do this.
- In June 2021, the Council decided to continue to provide Miss X with accommodation under section 17 of the Children Act, to meet Y’s needs. It wrote to her and explained this was a temporary measure while it provided her with further help to find suitable accommodation. It told Miss X this would likely be private rented property because it did not have a duty to house her.
Problems with Miss X’s accommodation
- Miss X said there were problems with the accommodation provided by the Council since March 2020 when she moved in. She said these included problems with damp, pests, and a lack of heating or hot water.
- The Council does not dispute that Miss X’s property needed repairs. However, the Council said Miss X first told it about problems with the property in October 2020. In response to Miss X’s reports it contacted the agent responsible for the property and asked it to arrange repairs. The Council said it followed up these repairs over the following months but Miss X often cancelled or missed appointments with the Council and repair staff which meant the repairs could not be completed.
Miss X’s housing applications
- Miss X applied to the Council’s housing allocation scheme in June 2019 and October 2021. On both occasions, the Council wrote to Miss X asking her for documents to verify her application. The Council said Miss X did not provide the necessary documents, so her applications remain suspended.
Condition of Miss X’s property
- The evidence provided by the Council shows it made several attempts over several months to address Miss X’s concerns about the condition of the property including:
- liaising with the letting agent and repair staff on Miss X’s behalf;
- encouraging Miss X to contact the letting agent and repair staff to arrange appointments;
- reminding Miss X about appointments and;
- visiting Miss X at home, both with and without arranging this with Miss X in advance.
Miss X’s application for social housing
- The Council explained it has not decided Miss X cannot apply for social housing, but that before it can assess her application she needs to provide the necessary documents and evidence. The Council wrote to Miss X after both applications and told her what she needed to provide. It said Miss X failed to do this.
- The law requires councils to verify eligibility before it allocates any housing. The Council’s policy sets out what documents and evidence are required. I am satisfied there was no fault in the Council suspending Miss X’s applications until she provided the required evidence.
- I have completed my investigation. There was no fault in how the Council responded to Miss X’s reports about the condition of her property or how it dealt with her application for social housing.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated Miss X’s complaint about how the Council decided she was intentionally homeless.
- This is because Miss X could have appealed the Council’s decision she was intentionally homeless to the County Court. At the time, Miss X had support from a solicitor who was willing to help her appeal. I am satisfied it would have been reasonable for Miss X to appeal the Council’s decision, so I cannot consider her complaint about this.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman