Decision date: 23 Sep 2019
a) Homelessness and Housing Support
Mr C lived in privately rented accommodation (Property W). In October 2018, the landlord of Property W issued Mr C with a Section 21 eviction notice.
Mr C contacted the Council requesting it support his housing need. As Mr C wanted to secure a private tenancy, the Council worked outside of the statutory homelessness procedure to arrange a housing provider.
As none of the private landlords approached would offer Mr C a tenancy (for reasons not explained in the report), Mr C contacted the Council and asked to be considered for a council tenancy at a two-bedroom property (Property X). The Council approved Mr C’s request as a reasonable adjustment (under its allocations policy, Mr C would have only been entitled to a one-bedroom property).
Mr C signed a tenancy agreement for Property X.
Mr C raised concerns about the safety of the electrics at Property X, prompting the Council to organise an electrical inspection. The results of the inspection confirmed the property was safe, but recommended some minor works be completed.
The Council contacted Mr C’s landlord and negotiated that the eviction process would be suspended until works had been completed at Property X and it was ready for Mr C to move in to.
Mr C then told the Council that he planned to stay at Property W and fight the upcoming eviction proceedings.
The Council told Mr C if he were to stay at Property W, there was a risk he could be evicted by the Courts, which could cause him further stress. The Council asked Mr C to confirm if he still wanted to move into Property X. Mr C did not, and terminated his tenancy at Property X.
The Council asked him to reconsider and offered some improvements to Property X.
Mr C went on to explain to the Council that an incident had happened at Property W surrounding an assault and that he ‘suspected the landlord was responsible’. The LGO report was extremely vague on the events that occurred, but whatever actually transpired, Mr C told the Council that he did not want to move to Property X, as he would not feel safe there because it was so close to Property W.
During this period Mr C sent a large amount of emails to the Council. The Council therefore made the decision to create a managed mailbox for Mr C’s correspondence. The Council explained that the mailbox was monitored, and information was forwarded to the relevant departments.
The Council wrote to Mr C to explain that they were now considering his housing situation under the statutory homelessness procedure, and offered him a property (Property Y). The Council also offered Mr C a range of temporary accommodation options which he could occupy in the interim.
Property Y was near Mr C’s parents and more than 2 miles from Property X. The Council explained that it was satisfied that the offer was suitable and reasonable and that it was a final offer.
Mr C requested that the Council carry out a review of the suitability of Property Y. He said that he had concerns about previous criminal activity in the property and would not feel safe there. He also said that the Council had not considered his mental health issues when dealing with his housing needs. Mr C included a letter from his GP in support of his request.
The Council accepted Mr C’s request for a review and said it would be completed in 8 weeks. The Council offered Mr C a range of temporary accommodation options which he could accept until the review was complete.
The Council wrote to Mr C informing him that it had carried out a review of the suitability of Property Y during which they had considered the size, location, affordability and health and safety of the property. It also considered concerns raised by Mr C, reviewed the letter from his GP and made enquiries with police.
The Council wrote to Mr C to inform him that the suitability review was complete and concluded that Property Y was suitable. The Council said that no further offer of accommodation would be made, and if Mr C did not accept the offer the Council’s duty under the Housing Act would end. It said that if he wished to, Mr C could appeal the decision in court.
b) Landlord harassment
In addition to his request for housing support, Mr C also contacted the Council and asked them to act against the landlord of Property W. Mr C said the landlord was harassing him as he had arranged for work to be carried out in the garden without consulting him, the workmen had left the property in an unsafe condition, and that Mr C had been assaulted and suspected the landlord was responsible.
The Council said that the Landlord was entitled to change a property’s garden and while he may have disregarded Mr C’s privacy when authorising workman to enter his garden without informing him, it did not consider this to be sufficient justification to pursue enforcement action against the landlord.
The Council’s Environmental Enforcement Team visited Property W and noted that there was waste in the alley but again, did not consider there to be enough evidence to take enforcement action against the landlord. The Council subsequently arranged for the waste to be removed.
The Council told Mr C that his assault was a criminal matter and urged him to report this to the police.
c) Care needs
In 2018 Mr C contacted the Council to complain that his social care needs were not being met. The LGO report did not set out which needs Mr C said were not being met, nor a specific time frame, but after the complaint there was constant communication between the Council and Mr C. Mr C failed to attend numerous appointments to assess his mental health, in response to which home visits were attempted but Mr C was either not in, or cancelled the appointments.
Eventually Mr C’s father contacted the Social Worker assigned to Mr C, to say his son had lost faith in them and was not prepared to engage in any further assessment.
The Council said it had made every effort to assess Mr C’s needs and referred him to an external agency who could have provided him with an advocate to provide him with support, including help completing forms.
What was found
The LGO found no fault with how the Council managed Mr C’s homelessness application. IT also stated that it sufficiently considered C’s mental health issues when dealing with the matter.
The LGO again found no fault in the Council’s decision to not take enforcement action against the landlord. The Council considered Mr C’s complaints, attended Mr C’s property and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify enforcement action but did arrange for waste to be removed from the property. Some of Mr C’s allegations were of a criminal nature, so the Council told Mr C that he would need to report these matters to the police.
The LGO was satisfied that the Council took reasonable steps to engage Mr C with the assessment of his care needs, and therefore found no fault with the Council in this matter. The Council made significant attempts to engage Mr C in the assessment process, but was unable to assess his needs due to appointments being cancelled by Mr C.
Points for the public, service users, family members and councils
This story points up the difficulty in which a person might find themselves if their own condition or state of mind makes them very reluctant to be seen at home or go to meet with anyone.
The label ‘Refuses to Engage’ will be applied to them, without it being properly bottomed out whether that person is refusing an assessment or just not offering positive co-operation with one.
The first stance discharges a duty of assessment, if that refusal is regarded, reasonably, as having been made with mental capacity. Cancelling appointments might not mean that one is refusing an assessment. Not offering one’s co-operation may be a symptom of an underlying condition, and not something that the person can really ‘help’, either. A minimum requirement of a decent system of intake to the assessment teams is that that possibility is at least acknowledged.
In that sense, the person may be incapable of jumping through the hoops and hurdles presented to them. Here, it was face to face assessment. The LGO does not seem to question the insistence on a home visit here – we think that that is odd when half the assessments in this country are done on the telephone only! The Guidance suggests face to face will be necessary if anyone doubts someone’s capacity, but if that is one’s position, then one should not say Refuses to Engage!
Not offering co-operation does not amount to a discharge of the duty to assess, where assessment is still actively wanted.
A council’s first contact team might say ‘We will give you three options, which is manageable for you?’ but it is not reasonable to just take obstruction as a no, if it fits with the person’s overall account of their problem.
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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council’s actions can be found here