The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault by the Council in the way it dealt with Miss B’s homeless application or her concerns about the condition of her accommodation.
- Miss B complains that the Council:
- led her to believe that the accommodation it placed her in when she was homeless was a temporary placement only;
- failed to tell her that she would be removed from the housing register and unable to bid on alternative properties;
- failed to properly deal with her complaints about the condition of the property; and
- failed to provide alternative accommodation when she told the Council that the property was unsuitable, and in particular that its condition was affecting her child's health.
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)
- 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
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
- discussed the issues with the complainant;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council has provided; and
- given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Miss B approached the Council in early 2017 because she was threatened with homelessness. The Council placed Miss B and her five-month-old son in emergency accommodation in September 2017.
- After assessing Miss B’s application, the Council decided that she was homeless and that it had a legal duty to ensure that accommodation was available for her occupation.
Discharge of homeless duty
- In January 2018, the Council discharged its duty to Miss B by arranging for a private landlord to make Miss B an offer of an assured shorthold tenancy in the private rented sector.
- Miss B says that she believed it was a temporary placement only and that she would be able to remain on the Council’s housing register and bid for more suitable accommodation.
- I have considered the Council’s letters to Miss B. In September 2017, the Council wrote to Miss B explaining that it intended to make use of its power to discharge its full housing duty by way of a private rented sector offer. Then, when the Council wrote to Miss B in January 2018 offering her an assured shorthold tenancy, it explained that if she accepted the offer, it would have fulfilled its duty to her as a homeless applicant. It also said that she would no longer be eligible to remain on the housing register.
- I am satisfied that the Council did not lead Miss B to believe the accommodation was a temporary placement only, and that it told her that she would be removed from the housing register and unable to bid on alternative properties. I have found no evidence of fault here.
Suitability of the accommodation
- Miss B says she would not have accepted the accommodation if she had known it was not a temporary placement because it only has one bedroom and it is on the first floor. She says that she needs ground floor accommodation because she finds it hard to get up and down stairs.
- The letter the Council sent to Miss B in January 2018 explained that she had the right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation. If Miss B believed the accommodation was unsuitable, I consider it would have been reasonable for Miss B to request a review.
- Miss B says that the accommodation was acceptable until it became infested with mice. She says that she had to move out in September 2018 because the infestation was affecting her son’s health. Since then, Miss B has been living with family in overcrowded accommodation.
- Miss B considers the Council should provide her with alternative suitable accommodation. The Council has no duty to do so because it has fulfilled its duty to Miss B as a homeless applicant. The accommodation is privately rented and so it is the landlord, and possibly also Miss B, who are responsible for dealing with the mice infestation. Councils will generally only become involved if a landlord is not taking action to deal with the issue.
- I have considered how the Council has dealt with Miss B’s concerns about the property. Miss B first contacted the Council about a mice infestation and other repair issues in August 2018. The Council arranged for an impromptu joint home inspection to take place on the same day. Some evidence of mice was found and Miss B’s landlord agreed to take action to eradicate the infestation and carry out repairs.
- The evidence shows that Miss B did not initially respond to emails from her landlord and the Council asking about her availability for Pest Control to visit. Pest Control then visited on four occasions in around five weeks. On the first occasion, Miss B was not at home and so they could not gain access. On the second and third visits, Pest Control completed the first two stages of a three-stage eradication programme. They were unable to complete the third stage because Miss B was not at home when they attended the agreed appointment. Miss B’s landlord asked Miss B to arrange another appointment with Pest Control but she did not do so.
- In January 2019, Miss B complained to the Council that she was still finding mice droppings in the property. In the Council’s response, it said that it was satisfied that the Council and her landlord had responded quickly but that the issues had continued for longer than necessary because she did not keep appointments that had been agreed with the Pest Control Team.
- In May 2019, Miss B contacted the Council to say that the mice infestation had still not been resolved. The Council contacted Miss B’s landlord again and he agreed to take further action. Pest Control was unable to visit immediately because Miss B did not respond to calls and emails asking for her availability.
- Miss B arranged for a professional inspection of the property to be carried out on 3 July 2019. The inspection report shows that evidence of a mice infestation was found and it identifies two possible places where mice can enter the property.
- Pest Control visited the property in July 2019. Miss B has not reported any further concerns to the Council since then.
- I do not consider the matter has remained unresolved for so long as a result of any fault by the Council. It contacted Miss B’s landlord when she reported concerns and it was satisfied that the landlord responded appropriately. I have found no evidence of fault with the Council’s actions. I do not consider there were grounds for it to take any further action to resolve the issue.
- Miss B has recently applied to join the Council’s housing register. She says there is still a mice infestation at the property and if she lives there it will affect her son’s health. I have not considered how the Council has dealt with Miss B’s housing application as part of this investigation. However, I note that the Council’s Housing Allocations Scheme says that it will not place applications on the housing register where only minor repairs to an applicant’s accommodation are needed, or where a household only needs one extra bedroom.
- I have completed my investigation and do not uphold the complaint. There was no fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman