London Borough of Croydon at fault for delays in making housing adaptations, inadequate communication and poor complaints handling

Decision Date: 10th January 2020

What Happened

Mr G complained on behalf of Mr and Mrs H.

Mr H and had been a resident of a neurological care centre since 2013 after suffering a severe stroke. Mrs H visited him at least 5 times a week, which involved a round trip of over 70 miles. She was also a wheelchair user.

In 2015 Mr and Mrs H applied for re-housing. After events the LGO declined to go into, due to time limits for late complaints, they were awarded Band A status on the housing register.

In January 2018 the Council found a property for Mr and Mrs H. It allocated it to them on 19 April.

On 17 May, Mr and Mrs H accepted the property after visiting it with an officer from the housing department (officer 1).

The Council did not send Mr and Mrs H a letter confirming their acceptance of the accommodation until August. There were no records of any meetings the officer had with Mr and Mrs H either.

The property needed major adaptations before Mr and Mrs H could move in. The adaptations required planning permission, which was granted on 20 July.

On the 28th September Mr and Mrs H visited the property with Officer 1. They said that she advised them the works were due to start on 1 October. The Council also kept no record of this visit.

On the 7th of February 2019 Mr and Mrs H complained to the council, as the works had not started yet, and the Council had not contacted them since officer 1 visited in September the year before.

The Council responded to the complaint on 1 May. It advised the delay was because of having to draw up plans and get planning permission. It advised work had started and should take about five and a half months.

On 7 May 2019 Mr G complained to the Ombudsman on Mr and Mrs H’s behalf.

What was found

The Council highlighted that due to Mr and Mrs H’s circumstances and specific adaptations they needed, it was a challenge to find somewhere for them to move to. It said the adaptations cost over £350,000. The LGO considered that these facts indicated the extensive nature of the adaptations, so there was always a large likelihood that there could be a delay between Mr and Mrs H accepting the property, and them actually moving in.

However, the LGO calculated the delay to be 6 months. It identified the start date as October 1st 2018 (because Officer 1 told Mr and Mrs H works were due to start on the house then), but the works did not actually start until the end of March 2019. This was fault.

Furthermore, the lack of records and communications with Mr and Mrs H was extremely poor. This was fault. The LGO stated that at the very least there should have been a record of the meetings Officer 1 had with Mr and Mrs H, and definitely should have been regular updates to Mr and Mrs H.

Finally, the Council’s complaint response was inadequate. It stated that the delay was due to gaining planning permission, which was factually incorrect, because it was already granted, and the works did not start until seven months after. This was also fault.

The LGO considered that the avoidable delay in the starting the work had a significant impact on Mr and Mrs H, so the LGO recommended the Council pay between £150 and £350 per month for delays in housing adaptations and £250 for distress and uncertainty.

All in all the LGO recommended a total payment of £2350.

Points for the public and councils

We cannot believe that the adaptations cost £350,000. We don’t know of any council that would invest that sum of money in rented accommodation in order to get someone out of a setting where their needs were being met. We think it might have been £35,000. There is no explanation of exactly how the council behaved so ineptly, which is frustrating.

The recommendation for compensation refers to the Guidance that the LGSCO has set out for itself and shows how, in a suitable case, the ombudsman will put the amount up to the top of the ‘tariff’.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of London Borough of Croydon’s actions can be found here

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