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Southern Housing Group Limited (202000544)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202000544

Southern Housing Group Limited

14 July 2022


Our approach

The Housing Ombudsman’s approach to investigating and determining complaints is to decide what is fair in all the circumstances of the case. This is set out in the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). The Ombudsman considers the evidence and looks to see if there has been any ‘maladministration’, for example whether the landlord has failed to keep to the law, followed proper procedure, followed good practice or behaved in a reasonable and competent manner.

Both the resident and the landlord have submitted information to the Ombudsman and this has been carefully considered. Their accounts of what has happened are summarised below. This report is not an exhaustive description of all the events that have occurred in relation to this case, but an outline of the key issues as a background to the investigation’s findings.

The complaint

  1. The complaint is about the landlord’s response to the resident’s request for a move to alternative accommodation.

Background

  1. The resident is an assured tenant of a one bedroom flat and has lived in her accommodation since 2001.
  2. The resident would like to move to alternative accommodation and says she has been trying to do so for over ten years. The earliest evidence seen by this service that the landlord was responding to a desire to move dates from December 2016 when the landlord provided the resident with details of its transfer process and sent a transfer application form.
  3. The resident says she is registered on a website for a mutual exchange but she has yet to find someone willing to view her property. The resident says this is because she lives on a main road with double yellow lines on both sides limiting the local parking and because her accommodation does not have a garden. The resident has said her landlord has not done enough to provide help with moving and could move her in to one of its empty properties.
  4. The resident contacted this service for assistance and help was provided in accessing the landlord’s internal complaints process. On 4 September 2020, the landlord contacted the resident by email and asked her to clarify in her own words what her complaint was about. The resident said in December 2020 that “It is not unreasonable for me to request moving to one of the places you are required to hold empty by law for emergencies.”
  5. On 25 January 2021, the landlord responded to the residents complaint about the lack of assistance with moving. The landlord said that
    1. it was not possible to move the resident at this time
    2. it had clarified the transfer process and given examples of the criteria used to facilitate a transfer, such as disability, severe overcrowding or domestic abuse.
    3. the Council and not the landlord itself would allocate properties in the resident’s local area.
    4. The resident’s “best route to move is by staying in contact with the Council to fully discuss your options.”
  6. Following further contact with this service, the resident requested escalation of her complaint and on 18 May 2021, the landlord sent a final response which refused the request for escalation.
  7. The landlord said that because it was not able to provide resolution to the complaint itself (as allocation of property in the residents desired area was under the remit of the Local Authority), it was entitled to refuse escalation of the complaint under section 6.4 of its complaints policy. Section 6.4 says that “there may be occasions when it would not be appropriate to escalate the case to Stage 2, for example if the outcome being sought was not within our power or ability to deliver.”
  8. The resident remains dissatisfied with the lack of assistance provided and has approached this service for resolution of her complaint.

Assessment and findings

  1. The focus of this investigation is on the way the landlord has responded to the resident’s request for a move. This includes whether the criteria for a ‘priority move’ under its priority move policy has been applied and correctly assessed and whether the landlord’s priority move procedure has been correctly followed. This service is unable to consider the level of priority given by the Local Authority for a move since this would be under the jurisdiction of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. (LGSCO)
  2. The criteria used for assessing whether a resident qualifies for a ‘priority move’ are detailed in the landlords priority moves policy which is dated October 2020. This policy was in effect when the resident first formally raised her concerns about moving in December 2020.
  3. The criteria for qualification for a priority move are as follows: Decants, Freeing a Special Unit (of accommodation), Move on Quota, Medical reasons, Succession, Under-Occupation, Impacted by social sector size criteria, statutory overcrowding, domestic abuse, and anti-social behaviour/harassment. Residents can qualify for a priority move on any one of these grounds. No evidence has been seen by this service to indicate that the resident meets any of the above criteria.
  4. The policy also states in 2.2 that “We may consider approving a priority move in exceptional circumstances other than those set out above. This must be approved by the Head of Empty Homes and Lettings and a Head of Home Management.”
  5. Since the resident does not meet any of the criteria as set out in the policy and her circumstances are appropriately not considered ‘exceptional’ by the landlord, it was reasonable for the landlord to refuse the resident a move under its internal transfer procedure. It was also reasonable and in accordance with their relevant procedure to then refer the resident to other housing options such as mutual exchange and applications with the Local Authority.
  6. Although the landlord has correctly applied their policy and made clear it is not able to assist the resident unless her circumstances substantially change, it has not been explicit that a thorough assessment of the resident’s circumstances was made and the criteria for a priority move not met.
  7. Similarly, although the landlord was entitled under section 6.4 of its complaint policy, to refuse escalation of the complaint, the residents concerns would have been better dealt with via a decision letter. This would also have the benefit of giving the resident access to an appeal procedure which is mentioned in the priority moves policy.
  8. Using this process would have made clearer that the resident’s individual circumstances had been fully and appropriately considered by the landlord. A recommendation regarding this issue has therefore been made below.
  9. In accordance with its procedure, the landlord has signposted the resident appropriately to mutual exchange and the Local Authority rehousing process.

Determination

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman scheme, there was no maladministration in the landlord’s handling of the resident’s request for a move to alternative accommodation.

Recommendations

  1. It is recommended that the landlord consider issuing decision letters on requests for priority moves where appropriate. 

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