The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The complaint is about the way the Council has dealt with a disabled facilities grant application, housing disrepair and an application to its housing register. The Ombudsman’s view is there is no evidence of fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr S, complains the Council has not offered him enough help with his housing problems, given the serious disabilities and illnesses in the family and their unsuitable accommodation. He complains the Council:
- offered a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) which was insufficient to meet the family’s needs, as it only considered the needs of one of the four disabled members of the household;
- asked him to sign the DFG papers. But the grant was in respect of his cousin’s needs, not his;
- unreasonably told him he would have to repay some or all the grant it if he left the property within five years;
- has failed to act about ongoing disrepair issues affecting the home;
- has unreasonably refused his application for social housing.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’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 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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr S;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered its response;
- spoken to Mr S;
- sent my draft decision to Mr S and the Council and invited their comments.
What I found
- European Union (EU) nationals have an initial right of residence for three months after they enter the United Kingdom. But to gain full ‘right to reside’, EU nationals must prove:
- they are an EU national; and
- they are a ‘qualified person’. This is based on EU rules. It means, to be eligible for welfare assistance and some other services, applicants must prove they fit one of the following groups:
- a jobseeker (but only for a short period);
- a worker (or somebody who has met some rules in the past about work in the UK);
- a self-employed person;
- a self-sufficient person;
- a student. (Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, Regulation 6)
- a European Economic Area family permit; or
- a registration certificate; or
- a residence card. (Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, Regulation 8)
Disabled facilities grants
- To qualify for a DFG, an applicant must have a right to reside in the UK.
- Applications for DFGs must be by a property’s owner or tenant. Tenants applying for DFGs must have the landlord’s consent to carry out the works.
- All applications for DFGs must have a certificate saying that either the owner or tenant intends to live in the property for a period of five years, unless health or other issues stop this happening. Leaving a property in that period might lead a council to ask for repayment of the grant. But a tenant would not be liable for repayment of the grant if the landlord ended the tenancy.
The Council’s housing register
- The law regarding local authority housing allocations can be found in Part VI of the 1996 Housing Act. This requires councils to devise allocation schemes for determining priorities between applicants for housing. It gives councils a good deal of discretion over how they allocate their housing stock.
- The Council decides on applications for its housing through its Keyways Housing Allocation Scheme. This says applications will not usually qualify for its housing register if they have housing related debt over £500.
- The Housing Health and Safety Rating System is the way councils assess housing conditions. It lists 29 “hazards” that are risks to the health and safety of the occupiers. If the officer finds a serious hazard, the council has a duty to take enforcement action.
- Councils can take an informal approach to enforcement. This is often the best approach in private sector tenancies, given the limited rights of tenants to stop eviction.
- Mr S is a EU national. For the last 11 years he has been living in the same private rented accommodation. He lives with his wife, his adult daughter, his uncle, his cousin (Mr T) and his wife’s sister.
- In 2013 the Council assessed and agreed a DFG application for Mr S’s household. Mr S withdrew that application, as he intended to move within five years.
- In 2017 the Council again assessed and agreed a DFG application. Mr S complained before to the Ombudsman about the Council’s consideration of this 2017 application. We decided we would not investigate, as Mr S had decided to withdraw his application.
- Mr S has made a new complaint; that he had no choice but to withdraw his application because:
- The Council had only assessed one of the house’s residents as qualifying for a grant. But four of the six family members were disabled. And his wife and daughters were carers.
- The Council said that if they left the property within five years, they might have to re-pay the costs of the grant.
- Mr S, his wife, daughter and Mr T had a right to reside. But, despite requests, it had not seen evidence that the other family members were either qualified persons, or had the necessary documents to qualify as extended family members (see paragraphs 5-7). The Council sent me records showing it had sought information from Mr S and his household about the other family members.
- The Council had assessed the application for Mr T, as he had a right to reside. But its view was the adaptations it had recommended would also assist members of the household who were not eligible to apply.
- Mr S was the named tenant. So he needed to be the applicant.
- Mr S’s landlord had signed a form agreeing to the works.
- On 10 July 2017 Mr S had signed a form saying he intended to stay in the property for five years.
- On 25 July Mr S turned away a contractor. He later told a Council officer he would not be staying in the property for five years.
- On 2 August Mr S confirmed he wanted to cancel his application, as he did not intend to stay in the property for five years.
- It agreed that, if Mr S needed to leave the property within five years of the DFG, because of reasons beyond his control, he would not need to repay the grant.
- Mr S could at any time make a new DFG application. But applications were decided in date order. As his application was closed, he would need to start again at the beginning of the process.
The application for the housing register
- In 2016 the Council decided Mr S was ineligible for its housing register, as he had council tax arrears of nearly £1900.
- The Council confirms Mr S made applications in 2017 and 2018. He remained ineligible because of his debts.
- The Council advise that when a Private Housing Officer visited Mr S in July 2017, s/he found the property was in “excellent condition”.
- In August Mr S contacted the Council about a leak. An officer telephoned the landlord who advised that Mr S had not told him about the leak and that he would contact Mr S.
- The Officer who visited in July, says in August Mr S sent photographs of mould and damp. The Officer’s view was the issues looked minor. S/he wrote to Mr S advising him to contact his landlord. Mr S did not respond.
- In January 2018 Mr S complained to the Council about disrepair in his property. It contacted his landlord.
Was there fault by the Council?
The disabled facilities grant application
- The national rules around DFG applications mean the Council cannot consider adaptations for people who do not have a right to reside. The Council accepts Mr T has a need for adaptations and has a right to reside. But it has not seen evidence to show other disabled household members have a right to reside, despite asking Mr S for this information. I see no fault with that process.
- Mr S had to be the applicant for the DFGs as he is the tenant of the property. So there was no fault.
- Mr S advised the Council he did not intend to stay in the property for five years. The Council is correct to advise Mr S about the rules about how long he needed to stay in the property.
The application for the housing register
- I cannot criticise the Council’s view that Mr S was ineligible for its register while had still had arrears over £500. That is its policy, which is not something the Ombudsman can criticise.
The complaints of housing disrepair
- My view is the repairs Mr S has reported to the Council are, more likely than not, not serious enough for the Council to take formal enforcement action about (see paragraph 13).
- And even if they were serious enough, my view is the Council correctly advised Mr S it was better for him if he contacted his landlord about the minor repairs (for the reasons I set out in paragraph 14). I see no evidence of fault.
- I do not uphold this complaint. I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman