The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains the Council didn’t deal with his application for housing properly. The Council was not at fault when it considered Mr B’s medical conditions and the impact of his housing on his health. The Council have since given Mr B the highest medical priority as he provided further medical information and Mr B has now obtained a property.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr B, complains the Council:
- Failed to consider all evidence about his health and the impact of his housing on his health, when deciding his housing priority band, which meant it did not properly allocate him a correct housing priority band.
- Has wrongly amended his housing priority band based on works the Council have directed his landlord to undertake to his property, rather than the condition of his housing that is adversely impacting his health.
- Has refused to rehouse him while works to his property are carried out.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 have spoken to Mr B about his complaint and considered the information he has provided to the Ombudsman. I have also considered the Council’s response to his complaint and its response to my enquiries.
- I have written to Mr B and the Council with my draft decision and given them an opportunity to comment.
What I found
- The Housing Health and Safety Rating System assesses hazards and the effect each may have on the health and safety of occupants of a property. Hazards that are a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety are category 1 hazards. Less serious or urgent issues are category 2 hazards. A Council can issue improvement notices if it identifies hazards and can take enforcement action if those hazards are not dealt with. (Housing Act 2004 ch 34)
- An applicant’s medical conditions are taken into account when an assessment is carried out to determine what priority should be given to an application for housing. The assessment will look at whether those medical conditions are affected by the applicant’s current housing situation and any treatment, care or support an applicant is receiving. The Council may seek advice and guidance from its medical adviser when making a decision. (Section 3.6 Adur Council Choice Based Lettings Policy 2014)
- There are four Housing Priority Bands, A to D which set out a range of categories within each band. The Band categories give priority to groups of applicants including those who need to move on medical grounds. (Section 5 Adur Council Choice Based Lettings Policy 2014)
- Band A6 - High medical priority awarded where the housing conditions are having such a major adverse effect on the medical condition of the applicant, or member of the household, or there is an overriding medical need for settled accommodation in Adur as to warrant emergency priority.
- Band B5 - Medium medical priority or priority on social and welfare grounds.
- Band B4 - Private sector households occupying properties in Adur which have Category 1 Hazards under the Housing Act 2004 Housing, Health & Safety Rating System (report required from Environmental Health) and where the Category 1 Hazards cannot be remedied within a reasonable period.
- Band C5 - Low medical priority or priority on social and welfare grounds.
- Band D2 - Housing applicants with no other housing need.
- Band D4 - Housing applicants given reduced priority because:
Reason R2 - Applicants who have deliberately worsened their own housing circumstances which would result in a greater need for a social housing allocation, and those circumstances would place them in a higher Band.
- Housing applicants can ask for a review of any decision made about their priority. The Council should provide a response within 8 weeks, including reasons. (Section 19 Adur Council Choice Based Lettings Policy 2014)
- Mr B lived in a private rented flat. He suffered from medical problems including arthritis, heart and lung problems. He applied for housing in April 2017 and then submitted a medical needs application form. Mr B did not provide any supporting information from medical professionals.
- The Council placed Mr B into Band D and asked for supporting medical information. Mr B supplied two copies of supporting medical information from his doctor and a letter from himself explaining the impact of his medical condition in detail.
- Mr B reported issues with his home to the Council. The issues he raised related to cold, damp, mould and inadequate drainage and smells. Officers from environmental health assessed Mr B’s property and found category 1 and category 2 hazards.
- An improvement notice under the Housing Act 2004 was served on Mr B’s landlord in September 2017. This required works to be carried out to fix the category 1 and 2 hazards by December 2017.
- Because of the environmental health inspection, the Council re-assessed Mr B’s circumstances and placed him into Band B4.
- In November 2017, the Council asked its independent medical advisors to assess Mr B’s medical circumstances. The advisors recommended that Mr B should be in band B.
- Mr B’s landlord appealed against the improvement notice. In February 2018, the First Tier Tribunal heard the appeal and decided that Mr B’s landlord had to provide an effective heating system and ensure the drains worked properly.
- Mr B did not want to remain in the property while improvement works took place. Mr B tried to negotiate with the Council to move out of the premises. The Council was clear it thought Mr B could live there while the work took place. Mr B’s landlord did some work on the drainage and arranged installation of a gas supply for a heating system.
- At Mr B’s request, the Council agreed that it would not chase Mr B’s landlord about works at his home, to allow Mr B and his landlord to negotiate dates and times for works to take place. It advised Mr B that if he prevented work from happening it could consider that he was worsening his own housing situation. The Council said it could reduce his priority by placing him in band D4.
- Mr B sent more supporting medical information to the Council. In April 2018, the Council asked its independent medical advisors to reassess Mr B. The advisors recommended Mr B be placed in band C, because there was no change to his medical situation, his landlord had agreed to correct the problems with his home and he had prevented works taking place. The Council then placed him into band C, on medical grounds.
Mr B’s complaint
- In May 2018, Mr B asked for a review of the decision, because the Council assumed he had prevented works and did not take into account the impact of his housing circumstances on his health.
- Mr B confirmed to the Council that he agreed for works to take place and that arrangements had been made for some work to start very soon. He referred to his worsening health and being admitted to hospital.
- The Council shared information about Mr B’s circumstances between departments. It confirmed that a review of his housing priority was dependent on dates being arranged for work to be done.
- The Council responded to Mr B’s request for a review after 21 days. The review confirmed that Mr B should be in band C with low medical priority.
- Mr B complained that he was not happy with the result of the review. He said the Council had not taken proper account of his medical conditions and the impact on his health was because of his landlord delaying work.
- The Council did not uphold his complaint at stage 2, because the independent medical advisors recommended the banding based on information from Mr B.
New medical information
- In November 2018 Mr B was diagnosed with cancer. He supplied medical information about this to the Council. The Council placed him in band A, with the highest medical priority. Mr B has now successfully bid for a property based on his increased priority.
Initial assessment of Mr B’s housing priority
- The Council took account of all medical information provided by Mr B when it first received his application and determined his priority should be band D.
- When the Council became aware of the category 1 and category 2 hazards found by the environmental health inspection, it took this into account and changed his priority to band B4. The first independent medical assessment took account of all medical information provided by Mr B. It also recommended band B and implied that Mr B’s situation could possibly be an emergency if his landlord did not deal with the problems quickly.
Second assessment of Mr B’s housing priority
- By the second independent medical assessment, Mr B’s medical situation had not changed. Some drainage work had already taken place at his home, but there was still work outstanding. The Council had served a building notice on Mr B’s landlord about the remaining drainage issue. There was evidence Mr B’s landlord planned to initiate the heating work very soon.
- The independent medical advisor took into account all medical evidence provided by Mr B and recommended Mr B should be in band C. The reasons for their recommendation included reference to Mr B refusing entry to his home for works to be completed. The list of material supplied by the Council which the medical advisor considered does not support all the comments made by the medical advisor in the recommendation.
- Evidence shows that Mr B looked for ways to not live in the property while works took place, but that he accepted this would have to happen. There is no evidence that he obstructed any work from taking place. Evidence shows that Mr B’s landlord was evasive about dealing with the drainage problems identified by environmental health officers. The medical assessment was flawed about its assessment of Mr B’s actions.
- The Council changed his priority to band C on medical grounds, following the recommendation of the medical advisor. It said it considered the impact of his circumstances on his health. The Council did not place Mr B in band D for worsening his own housing situation.
- The impact of Mr B’s housing circumstances on his health was in part brought about by his request to the Council not to chase his landlord about outstanding works.
- The flaw in the medical assessment was not the reason the Council decided to reduce Mr B’s priority. The reduction in priority was based on the evidence that Mr B’s landlord had taken some action about drainage, was going to undertake imminent works to begin installing heating and these actions would reduce the adverse impact of Mr B’s housing circumstances on his health.
The review of Mr B’s housing priority
- The Council reviewed Mr B’s housing priority decision. It took 21 days to complete its review. This is within the eight weeks that the lettings policy says a review should be completed within. The review considered Mr B’s medical situation and the impact of his housing circumstances on him.
The decision not to rehouse Mr B
- There was no duty on the Council to rehouse Mr B while works were completed. The Council decided that it was possible to remain in the property while works took place. Subsequent analysis by independent drainage experts confirmed this.
Action taken by the Council after the review
- The Council said it would review Mr B’s banding if further medical information became available and it would inspect whether works had been carried out by Mr B’s landlord as arranged.
- The Council later raised Mr B’s priority after he provided further information about his health and placed him in band A with high medical priority.
- At Mr B’s request, the installation of the gas supply for heating was delayed until after he had been rehoused.
Is the Council at fault?
- The Council was not at fault in the way it dealt with Mr B’s application for housing and the impact of his circumstances on his medical situation.
- The Council was not at fault in the way that it dealt with Mr B’s housing application. I have now completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman