The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains the Council did not respond to his complaint about his supported accommodation. This caused Mr B frustration and put him to time and trouble pursuing his complaint. We found fault with the Council causing injustice. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy this injustice.
- Mr B complained the Council did not respond to his complaint about his housing conditions.
- This caused Mr B frustration and put him to time and trouble pursuing his complaint.
What I have investigated
- I investigated the Council’s complaint handling.
- I did not investigate Mr B’s complaint about his accommodation. This is because it has not been through the Council’s complaint procedure.
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)
- 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.
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint unless we are satisfied the council knows about the complaint and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to notify the council of the complaint and give it an opportunity to investigate and reply (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(5))
- This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.
- 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:
- Mr B’s complaint and the information he provided;
- documents supplied by the Council;
- relevant legislation and guidelines; and
- the Council’s policies and procedures.
What I found
Legislation and Guidance
- The Equality Act 2010 says councils must make sure that a disabled person can use a service, as far as is reasonable, to the same standard as a non-disabled person.
- A person has a disability if—
- they have a physical or mental impairment, and
- the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Council’s complaints procedure
- The Council has a three-stage complaints procedure.
- Stage 1: A service manager will investigate and send the complainant a response within 20 working days. The manager will let the complainant know what the Council can do to resolve their complaint.
- Stage 2: The Council will write to complainants within 25 working days with its stage 2 complaint decision.
- Stage 3: An independent adjudicator will review the complaint and send a response to the complainant within 20 working days.
- This chronology includes key events in this case and does not cover everything that happened.
- In February 2020, Mr B’s MP’s office contacted the Council about Mr B. Mr B’s MP’s office explained he was having difficulties with his accommodation and had been unable to access an advocate.
- In March 2020, Mr B sent a complaint to the Council about his supported accommodation. He complained his health was at risk from other residents and he was not receiving the support he was entitled to. The complaints department did not receive this letter. It appears the letter may have been forwarded to a different department. Mr B has proof of postage, paid for the letter to be signed for on delivery and addressed it to the complaints department.
- Mr B wrote to the Council 12 days later because he had not received a response to his complaint. He said he was being exposed to toxic smoke and his mail was being stolen. The Council has no record of receiving this letter.
- At the end of the month, Mr B wrote to the Council again. He complained that it had not responded to his complaints. He said he was being harassed and other residents were not following the rules introduced because of COVID-19. The Council has no record of receiving this letter.
- Mr B phoned the Council in May 2020 and complaint it had not responded to a complaint he made to his MP. The Council replied to Mr B’s MP’s office two days later. It advised it had found an advocate for Mr B but they had been unable to meet because of COVID-19. It advised Mr B’s care coordinator had recommended move to alternative supported accommodation that could better meet his needs.
- In June 2020, the Council responded to Mr B about the issues he had raised with his MP. It addressed each of Mr B’s concerns about his accommodation.
- Mr B responded to the Council. He raised concerns about his living conditions and said he was not getting the support he needed. The Council said it did not receive this letter. Mr B has proof of postage and paid for the letters to be signed for on delivery.
- Mr B wrote to the Council again in June 2020. This letter referenced the previous letter he had sent in June. In the letter he complained he was not receiving the support he should have been given by his housing provider, was having problems with his accommodation and had not been re-housed. Mr B asked the Council to deal with these issues.
- The Equality Act 2010 says councils must make sure that a disabled person can use a service, as far as is reasonable, to the same standard as a non-disabled person. This includes a council’s complaints procedure. Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, as the Council considered Mr B to have a mental impairment, it had a duty to make sure Mr B could use the complaints procedure, as far as was reasonable, to the same standard as a non-disabled person. It must be noted, Mr B says he does not have a mental impairment.
- When we contacted the Council to see whether it had considered Mr B’s complaint, it said it responded to Mr B in June 2020. It believed this response answered Mr B’s complaint. The letter the Council sent to Mr B in June 2020 was not a response to his letters of complaint to the Council, but it did address some of his concerns.
- When we asked the Council to consider Mr B’s complaint, it said Mr B was unwell because of a mental impairment and it did not know what response it could give would be helpful. It advised it was working with Mr B and his supported accommodation provider to create solutions. In response to my first draft decision, the Council advised it had found no evidence that Mr B’s supported accommodation provider failed to provide Mr B with the support expected. The Council said his supported accommodation provider had responded to complaints Mr B had made to the provider.
- Not investigating Mr B’s complaint under its complaint procedure was fault. Given Mr B received a response from the Council in June 2020 and was unhappy with it, the Council has agreed to consider his complaint at stage 2 of its complaint procedure. If Mr B is unhappy with the Council’s response, once its complaint procedure has been exhausted, he can raise a new complaint with us.
- The Council did not receive all the letters Mr B sent. Mr B advised he paid for his letters to be signed for on delivery and has provided evidence of this for three letters he sent. On the balance of probabilities, Mr B sent all the letters he provided copies of to the Council. The Council’s failure to process his letters correctly was fault. It is recognised that this fault occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic when normal administration processes may have been disrupted. However, the Council needed to develop new procedures to ensured mail was recorded and reached the right department.
- The failures in the Council’s complaint handling caused Mr B frustration and put him to time and trouble pursuing his complaint.
- The Council will:
- Within 25 working days of the final decision, provide Mr B with a stage 2 complaint response and escalate his complaint to the next stage if he wishes.
- Within one month of the final decision, apologise to Mr B for the faults identified in this decision statement.
- Within one month of the final decision, pay Mr B £100 for the time and trouble he was put to.
- Within two months of the final decision, will review how it processes mail to ensure it is recorded and reaches the right department.
- Within two months of the final decision, will provide all staff involved with its complaints procedure with training and guidance about its responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
- I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr B’s complaint. Mr B has been caused an injustice by the actions of the Council. The Council has agreed to take action to remedy that injustice.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I did not investigate Mr B’s complaint about his supported accommodation. This is because it has not been through the Council’s complaint procedure.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman