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South Ribble Borough Council (19 013 023)

Category : Housing > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 30 Oct 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained the Council did not carry out adaptations she needed to meet her assessed needs and did not provide accommodation suitable to meet her needs. Ms X says she has suffered physically and mentally because of this situation. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complained the Council failed to carry out housing adaptations she needed to move around safely in her home.
  2. She also complained the Council discriminated against her by not providing accommodation suitable for her needs.
  3. Ms X said this has caused her physical, mental, and emotional difficulties.

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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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate complaints about the provision or management of social housing by a council acting as a registered social housing provider. (Local Government Act 1974, paragraph 5A schedule 5, as amended) The Housing Ombudsman deals with complaints abouts councils as registered social landlords.
  3. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  4. 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 contacted Ms X and discussed her view of the complaint.
  2. I made enquiries and considered the information provided by the Council. This included complaint correspondence shared between the Council and Ms X and Ms X’s OT referrals.
  3. I wrote to Ms X and the Council with my draft decision and gave both the opportunity to comment before I made my final decision.

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What I found

Disabled Facilities Grants

  1. Local housing authorities have a duty under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 to award a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) to help meet the cost of adapting a property to meet the specific needs of a disabled person.
  2. Owner-occupiers, council tenants and private tenants can apply to the council for a DFG to make their home more accessible. DFGs must be used to meet the cost of adapting a property to meet specific needs, for example providing ramps or adapting/providing accessible washing facilities.
  3. A council should give the applicant a decision on a grant application as soon as reasonably practicable. This must be within six months of the grant application.
    If a council refuses a grant it must explain why.
  4. In most cases social landlords carry out and fund the installation of disabled adaptations. We consider the social landlord to be acting on behalf of the social care authority where the social landlord has carried out an OT assessment and has concluded adaptations are necessary.
  5. Ms X has raised this complaint against a Borough Council. Borough Councils are not responsible for adult social care services. That responsibility lies with the County Council. It is the County Council’s role to ensure Ms X’s eligible care needs are met. The Borough Council’s role is to decide whether it is reasonable and practicable for the adaptations to be allocated DFG funding, taking into account the costs of the works and the condition of the property in which the adaptation is to be installed. This complaint concerns the actions of the Borough Council only.

The Council’s Allocated Housing Scheme

  1. Local authorities are required by the Housing Act 1996 to have a published allocations scheme.
  2. The Council’s scheme is called Select Move. The aim of the scheme is to ensure that homes are allocated to eligible and qualifying applicants in a fair, consistent and accountable manner in accordance with legislation and guidance.
  3. Housing legislation requires that applicants be assessed to determine whether they are eligible for an allocation of accommodation. If the applicant is eligible, their application is assessed against the Select Move qualifying criteria.
  4. The Select Move partner receiving the application will be responsible for investigating and determining the application, although transfer applications will be passed to the tenant’s landlord for assessment. Applicants are notified in writing of the outcome of their application.
  5. Homes will be allocated to applicants after taking into account the following: their housing needs and choices, their financial situation and ability to manage a tenancy, the local community and the locality whilst ensuring the best use of housing stock.
  6. The Select Move scheme operates with five bands A to E. Band A is the highest priority and band E is the lowest.

Background

  1. Ms X has mobility issues and needs a wheelchair to move around. She is also autistic and suffers with her mental health. She has lived in a property she rents from a social landlord for several years.
  2. In November 2015, Ms X submitted a DFG application to the Council because her property required adaptations to accommodate her needs. The Council received a referral from an occupational therapist (OT), which said Ms X would benefit from a wet room style bathroom and a ramp fitted at her back door. Ms X says the OT later visited again and advised that Ms X’s property was not suitable for her and she would need to move into a bungalow.
  3. The Council visited Ms X’s property in April 2016 to inspect the property. Ms X’s landlord told the Council it would not carry out the adaptations because Ms X had applied to move to another property. The landlord told the Council it would consider fitting a ramp and the Council sent the landlord the plans for the ramp in May 2016. Ms X says she did not want to move but was acting on the advice of the OT.
  4. The Council next spoke with Ms X in August 2016. The Council has provided a file note from the conversation, “Spoke with Ms X who said that [landlord] has still not done her ramps and she feels that she does not want to stay in the property but is struggling to find a new one…she asked if I could put the application on hold for another couple of weeks to see if she can find another property.”
  5. In September 2016, the Council closed the DFG application at Ms X’s request. Ms X says this was because her landlord told her they would install the ramp she needed. However, she says her landlord later decided this would cost too much. She says it then carried out adaptations which were unsafe.

Ms X’s complaint

  1. Ms X complained to the Council in December 2019. She said the Council had refused to carry out the adaptations recommended by the OT. She also said she wanted to live in a bungalow and felt the Council was giving suitable properties to people in lower bandings than her.
  2. The Council responded later that month and explained it asked Ms X’s landlord for permission to make the adaptations, but the landlord would not allow this. The Council said it closed Ms X’s DFG application at her request in 2016.
  3. The Council confirmed it placed Ms X in Band A of its housing scheme, but two-bedroom bungalows were uncommon. The Council also said Ms X declined two bungalows she was offered because she was not happy with the location. The Council maintained it was willing to carry out the adaptations recommended by the OT but could not do so until her landlord gave permission.
  4. Ms X says the Council offered her a bungalow she could not accept because it was unsuitable for an electric wheelchair user and another bungalow which was too far away. Ms X responded to the Council later that month. She said her OT told her she needed a bungalow and when she had placed bids on houses, the Council turned her down. She also said the Council told her it would not carry out the adaptations because she was going to move to another property.
  5. Ms X referred her complaint to the Ombudsman shortly after this. She said the Council unnecessarily delayed carrying out the adaptations she needed, and she developed agoraphobia as a result. She said this left her feeling unable to move to a different property.
  6. The Council visited Ms X’s property on 11 January 2020 along with Ms X’s landlord. At the meeting it was agreed her landlord would carry out adaptations which would make it easier for Ms X to use her bathroom. The Council advised Ms X there was a one-bedroom bungalow near her which had become available and agreed to provide Ms X with a list of properties in the area which were available.
  7. The Council sent its final response to Ms X’s complaint in January 2020 and repeated its previous explanation for why it had not carried out the adaptations.
    It explained the property that may have been suitable for Ms X was no longer available and indicated that Ms X would need to move quickly to secure similar accommodation in future.
  8. During the investigation, the Council said it had not received contact from Ms X following the January 2020 meeting. The Council also provided a list of properties Ms X had bid on between 2013 and 2020, which showed Ms X was offered several properties which she either declined or was not suitable for.

Findings

  1. Ms X is unhappy the Council has not carried out the adaptations recommended by the OT. Usually, the Ombudsman would not investigate a complaint older than 12 months. This is because depending on the length of time that has passed, it is not always possible to achieve a worthwhile outcome. In this instance, the Council has been able to provide evidence showing the actions it took after receiving Ms X’s DFG application. The evidence shows the Council followed the correct process but closed the DFG application at Ms X’s request. I cannot criticise the Council for taking this action. The Council is not at fault.
  2. The evidence also shows Ms X’s landlord would not permit the Council to carry out adaptations due to Ms X’s desire to move to another property. Ms X has said the landlord later carried out adaptations to her home, which were not safe. The Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction over the actions of the landlord. It is open to Ms X to refer her complaint to the Housing Ombudsman if she remains unhappy with her landlord’s actions.
  3. Ms X complains the Council delayed allocating her a property that would be more suitable for her needs. She says the length of time she has waited for a more suitable property has caused her to suffer with agoraphobia and she now is unable to move to a different property. Ms X also says the Council did not place her in the correct priority banding until she complained about the matter for several years.
  4. I have not investigated Ms X’s banding since 2014. If Ms X had concerns about her banding in 2014 it was open to her to complain about it at the time.
    The Council has provided evidence showing it has offered Ms X several properties and Ms X is in the highest priority banding. There were occasions where the Council did not allocate the property to Ms X as it did not consider the property suitable for Ms X’s needs. Ms X has also declined other properties and withdrawn her bids for some. Recently, the Council provided Ms X with a list of properties which met her requirements but states it has not received further contact from Ms X. She may wish to contact the Council about this. I cannot comment on Ms X’s statement that the Council’s actions led her to develop agoraphobia. There is no fault in the Council’s actions.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault in the Council’s actions. I have therefore completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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