Case Study 49: Disposal of stored items – Outside the Housing Ombudsman’s Jurisdiction

Ms T complained that her Council landlord (Council A) had disposed of her goods, which it had held in storage.

Ms T had been evicted from a tenancy and was then housed in temporary accommodation provided by the landlord.  The temporary accommodation was not large enough to house all her belongings and so the landlord arranged for them to be collected and placed in storage.

The temporary accommodation was later terminated and Ms T approached a different Council, which housed her in different temporary accommodation. Ms T then discovered that Council A had disposed of her goods. She complained that this had taken place without her knowledge.

Council A’s  response was that it had received signed permission from Ms T to clear and dispose of any items left that were not subject to a hire purchase agreement.  No evidence of this was provided and Ms T claimed that the written permission related to items left at her original tenancy, rather than the goods moved into storage. Council A later accepted that serious errors were made, although some attempts were made to find Ms T before the goods were destroyed.

Ms T sought £12,632 for the goods that were destroyed. The landlord offered £9,535 which would be offset against Ms T’s rent arrears and other money owing to the Council. Ms T refused this offer, partly because she disputed liability for the arrears, and brought the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman.

We decided that the matter fell more properly within the jurisdiction of a court or the Local Government Ombudsman. The decision to store the goods was likely to have been triggered by the landlord’s obligation under the Housing Act 1996 as it was aware that she was homeless or threatened with homelessness. Complaints concerning a landlord’s homelessness functions are dealt with by the Local Government Ombudsman.

We explained to Ms T that an alternative method of resolution would be for her to challenge the level of compensation via a claim for damages at court; we advised her to seek legal advice if she wished to pursue this action.

This case highlights the differing jurisdictions of the Housing and Local Government Ombudsman services and the option of seeking compensation through court action.