Housing applications

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have applied to the council for housing and have problems with the way the council is dealing with their application and may be considering making a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

I need to move urgently but the council has not yet rehoused me. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. But we cannot question decide if or when the council should rehouse you. 

The Ombudsman can consider your complaint if you have applied direct to a council, you think the council has made a mistake in dealing with your application and you think this is the reason that you have not been rehoused or it has caused you other problems.

We cannot deal with complaints about housing applications you make directly to registered social landlords such as housing associations for their own properties only. But we can consider complaints about housing applications if the housing association is actingon behalf of the council, for example if it is prioritising applications under a common allocation scheme administered by the council. Complaints about housing associations should be made to the Housing Ombudsman Service.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter - we think 12 weeks is reasonable - you can complain to us.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process

If you can consider my complaint what does the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your application which has caused you problems. By law the council has to give reasonable preference in its allocation scheme to homeless people, people living in insanitary, overcrowded or other kinds of unsuitable housing, people who need to move on welfare or medical grounds or people who need to move to another area to avoid hardship to themselves or others. If you are given priority need as homeless, this does not mean you will receive extra priority through the allocations scheme beyond the priority given to other homeless people.  Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • is using an allocation scheme that is not clear
  • failed to apply the allocation scheme properly 
  • failed to follow the Government’s code of guidance on housing allocation
  • did not take relevant information into account in reaching its decision, or took irrelevant information into account
  • did not operate its choice-based lettings scheme properly
  • failed to give you information you should have (for example, about the priority awarded to your application or how to challenge the priority given to it), or
  • delayed in dealing with your application, changes in your situation, or with a review request from you about the priority given to your application.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

The Ombudsman cannot usually overturn a council’s decision on the priority given to your application or its decision that you are ineligible for housing allocation.

But if we find that something has gone wrong in the way your application was dealt with that might have affected the decision, we may ask the council to carry out a review and correct its mistakes.

In certain circumstances, we may ask the council to offer you a house or flat. This only happens occasionally where, for example, it is clear that the allocation scheme has been applied wrongly and you have been denied a housing offer as a result.

We may ask the council to make a payment to you. Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong, for example, whether you have lived in unsatisfactory housing for longer than you should have done.

We may also recommend that the council reviews its allocation scheme or procedures so that the problems you experienced don’t happen to other applicants. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs X applied to join the council’s housing register because she was living in unsuitable accommodation following a period of homelessness. She complained the council delayed in considering her application, delayed in reviewing that decision and then delayed in reviewing its housing priority decision. We found the council delayed at all three stages and as a result she missed out on the offer of a council property. The council agreed to apologise and make a payment to Mrs X.
Miss B complained that the council did not fully consider her circumstances when it refused to award medical priority to her housing application. We did not find fault with the council’s decision not to award medical priority. It took into account the information she provided but concluded she did not qualify for extra priority in accordance with its allocations scheme. We did find the council delayed in dealing with her review request. The council apologised for the delay. As the decision did not change we considered the apology was a suitable remedy.  

Other sources of information

You can contact the Housing Ombudsman Service at www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk by telephone on 0300 111 3000, or by email at info@housing-ombudsman.org.uk

Further advice may be available from Shelter – england.shelter.org.uk or call their helpline on 0808 800 4444.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please phone 0300 061 0614.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

April 2023

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