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Thirteen Housing Group Limited (201910486)

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COMPLAINT 201910486

Thirteen Housing Group Limited

8 December 2020


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 handling of the resident’s
    1. application to move property;
    2. associated formal complaint.


  1. What we can and cannot consider is called the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is governed by the Scheme. When a complaint is brought to the Ombudsman, we must consider all the circumstances of the case as there are sometimes reasons why a complaint will not be investigated.
  2. An aspect of the resident’s complaint relates to bidding for properties and allocated banding based on ‘reasonable preferences’. Although the landlord in this case is not a local authority, responsibility for allocations remains with the Local Housing Authority, under Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996. These are matters which do not fall within the Housing Ombudsman’s jurisdiction but with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).  This in accordance with Paragraph 39(m) of the Scheme states that “The Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in its opinion, fall properly within the jurisdiction of another Ombudsman, regulator or complaint-handling body”.
  3. Additionally, new matters, which post-date the conclusion of the formal complaints process will not be considered.  This is because paragraph 39(a) of the Scheme, states that “The Ombudsman will not investigate complaints which, in its opinion, are made prior to having exhausted a member’s complaints procedure”.  The resident would need to make a new complaint about subsequent matters and exhaust the landlord’s complaints procedure before bringing these to this Service if she remains dissatisfied at its response.
  4. What this Service can consider, is the other matters raised in this case; these are matters concerning errors in respect of updating its systems regarding the properties the resident could bid on and misinformation purportedly given to the resident by the landlord.  The Ombudsman can also consider the landlord’s complaints handling. Information referred to below regarding allocation and banding are for contextual information only.

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident has been an assured tenant of the landlord, at the property, from 24 September 2018.
  2. The landlord has a two-stage formal complaints process whereby the landlord aims to investigate and respond to a complaint within five working days; where this is not possible the landlord will let the complainant know this and provide a revised timescale within which they can expect to receive a response.
  3. Where a complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint, they may request the matter be escalated to stage two of the landlord’s complaints process.  The landlord aims to provide a response at stage two, within ten working days.
  4. Where the landlord is partially or fully responsible for service failure, its compensation policy states that it may offer compensation of between £25 and £500, where there has been an impact on the resident.
  5. The documentation provided to this investigation indicates that the resident made an application for re-housing for her and her daughter in July 2019.
  6. Thereafter, in the resident’s email of 11 November 2019, she complained about a “forced” Occupational Therapy (OT) assessment to enable her and her daughter to apply for a property. She raised concerns about the information she had been given by the landlord and the basis for certain restrictions which had been placed on her re-housing application.
  7. The landlord responded informally on 19 November 2019, when it confirmed that the resident’s current property met the medical needs of all parties residing there, based on a previous OT assessment for her daughter. It acknowledged her interest in properties in particular areas but as these were general needs properties with no adaptations or ground floor facilities, an OT assessment would be necessary to ensure any offer made met the needs of all parties to be rehoused. The resident could commission and supply her own OT assessment provided it was no more than two months old.
  8. The landlord confirmed that it would also need to inspect her current property fully, and she would need to bring some areas up to standard, before a transfer could be agreed. In addition, the resident would need to provide proof of residency for the last two months of all those named on the application.
  9. In the landlord’s stage one response of 27 November 2019, it noted that the resident’s daughter had medical needs and her current property had been adapted to suit those needs. It reiterated the information given on 19 November 2019 and confirmed that the advice she had received throughout the application process had been correct. With regard to the resident’s request for a copy of the previous OT assessment, the landlord advised that this information belonged to Social Services, so she would need to contact them directly for a copy.
  10. The resident responded the following day, expressing her dissatisfaction with the response, disputing the contents of the landlord’s email and requesting further information regarding the OT assessment.
  11. The correspondence indicates that the resident’s daughter was then removed from the application and the resident sought a two-bedroom property for her and a carer. Whilst the landlord initially advised that she only had a one-bed need (in the absence of supporting medical evidence) this was amended to a two-bed need on 30 December 2020 (following receipt of medical evidence) and her priority need was backdated as a goodwill gesture. In the landlord’s email of 6 January 2020, it confirmed that the resident could apply for two-bedroom ground floor flats or bungalows, but not houses.  The resident did not require level-access, although the landlord documented that she did; this meant that she was only able to bid on level-access properties.
  12. In the resident’s email of 7 January 2020, she stated that the landlord’s restrictions were limiting her bidding options, causing arrears to accrue on her three-bedroom property, and affecting her mental health.
  13. The resident then contacted the Ombudsman in January 2020 and, in an email of 24 January 2020, advised that she had been unsuccessful in bidding for a property despite being number one on the list. She said that, during a telephone call with the landlord, a member of staff had advised her that the property had been allocated to someone else on “a second short fall list”. She also advised that the landlord had reduced her housing need back to one-bedroom and it was insisting that she could only have a bungalow or ground floor property, despite her having no mobility issues.
  14. Following the Ombudsman’s intervention in February 2020, the landlord confirmed that a stage one complaint response had been issued on 27 November 2020, but no escalation request had been received from the resident. It confirmed that the resident could now bid for two-bedroom properties, although a recent bid was allocated to another higher-ranking applicant.
  15. This Service advised the resident to escalate her complaint with the landlord if she remained dissatisfied and the resident then emailed the landlord on 11 March 2020. She raised concerns about the information she had been given regarding “a second list” and the fact that available properties in her desired area were not showing up on her searches.
  16. In the landlord’s email of 24 March 2020, it advised that there was no “secondary housing list” and the resident had not been advised that there was one. It confirmed that she was able to bid on two-bedroom properties which, at her request, now included houses without any level access requirements. It advised that the bidding process was transparent and no properties were hidden from her, but she may not be able to bid on them if she did not have the required housing need. It noted that her situation and the application process had been explained to her on a number of occasions, and there was nothing further it could add. It then advised that there was no Ombudsman enquiry open for this case.
  17. Finally, the landlord confirmed that it had suspended all property allocations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, any bids the resident had placed would remain on the system until business returned to usual, but no contact would be made to progress those bids.
  18. The resident considered this to be the landlord’s final complaint response and contacted the Ombudsman on that basis. Following this Service’s further intervention in April 2020, the landlord advised that the resident’s previous correspondence had not been handled as a formal complaint, but it would now log one and respond accordingly.
  19. In the landlord’s stage one response of 11 May 2020, it set out its position as follows:
  20. Information regarding second housing list – During a telephone conversation with the resident on 3 January 2020, it had advised that a property she had bid on had been allocated to another applicant, but it could not give details of the other applicant for data protection reasons. The member of staff had since confirmed that there had been no discussion about a “second housing list” and this matter had been fully addressed in the landlord’s email of 24 March 2020.
  21. To clarify, the landlord explained that, whilst a resident may be showing as position one, an applicant with an auto bid could overtake them once the bidding cycle was closed. These applicants do not however come from a separate housing list. The bidding cycle runs daily and the only time an applicant would know their final position would be after the cycle had closed and a shortlist had been created.
  22. Unable to see all available properties in the resident’s desired area – It had previously confirmed that all properties were advertised to everyone, so the resident should check that any filters she may have applied previously had been removed, as this could limit the properties she could see. It confirmed that she could bid on up to two-bedroom properties, so any bidding on three-bedroom properties would be overlooked as she did not qualify for these.
  23. The landlord confirmed that, should a successful bid be placed by the resident, no formal offer would be made until the relevant checks had been completed. Further, it reiterated that all lettings had been suspended in line with Government advice around the Codiv-19 pandemic.
  24. The resident submitted a stage two complaint on 22 June 2020, when she reiterated her account of her telephone conversation with the landlord on 3 January 2020 and said she had witnesses who had heard mention of the second housing list. She felt that the landlord was accusing her of lying and defaming her character by suggesting that she had fabricated this conversation. With regard to the visibility of properties in her desired area, she advised that she had spoken with the landlord on 6 January 2020 and a member of staff had advised that a restriction had been placed on her account not to show two-bedroom properties in this area.
  25. In the landlord’s stage two response of 13 July 2020, it advised that it could not definitively confirm what was said during the telephone call on 3 January 2020, but it reiterated that there was no secondary housing list. It stated that having a meeting to discuss the contents of the call would not help to move the matter forward, and the substantive issue (the alleged existence of a second housing list) had already been clarified. With regard to the visibility of properties on the system, it reiterated the information given at stage one. It invited the resident to provide specific examples of properties she had been unable to see so that it could look into the matter further. Finally, it confirmed that the restriction to ground floor properties had been removed when the error was identified.


  1. Having applied for a housing transfer, the landlord was entitled to assess the resident’s housing needs.  The landlord has an obligation to allocate its limited social housing stock responsibly, including ensuring that there is no under-occupation and that any (medical) needs or adaptations are appropriately identified and that individuals are matched to properties accordingly. Matters relating to banding and allocation fall within the jurisdiction of the LGSCO should the resident wish to pursue them, as specified above.
  2. The resident has said that the landlord restricted her from bidding on two-bedroom properties when she was entitled to bid on them.  The documentation provided to this Service indicates that the landlord informed the resident she was entitled to bid on a two-bedroom property.  It is not possible to go back in time and to check whether the system was preventing her from doing so for a while, even though the landlord had confirmed she could bid.  In the absence of evidence that this happened, the Ombudsman cannot find Service failure on the part of the landlord.  For completeness, however, at worst, if there had been an administrative mistake which meant that there was a period of time where the system would not let the resident bid on a two-bedroom property, this time was brief and the matter resolved.
  3. The landlord has accepted that it only enabled her to bid on level-access properties for a time, however, which meant that she was unable to bid on properties which may have been suitable for her.  It is unfortunate that this happened and the landlord, upon being notified of this mistake, put things right by way of correcting the information it held, allowing the resident to also bid more widely, as she was entitled to. It was appropriate that the landlord recognized and resolved this within a reasonable period of time.  There is no evidence that the landlord was deliberately thwarting the resident’s ability to find a home she would like.
  4. In terms of the telephone call on 3 January 2020, in the absence of a transcript of the telephone call, it is not possible to ascertain what was said.  This Service has been provided with no evidence of a secondary housing list being in place, however, and the landlord has confirmed in its responses to the complaint that no such secondary housing list exists.  What is clear, is that there was miscommunication and/or misunderstanding arising from the telephone call of 3 January 2020.
  5. Sometimes things go wrong and information is inadvertently miscommunicated or a situation is misunderstood or misheard. The landlord appropriately sought to clarify the situation as soon as it became aware that the resident was under the impression that there was a secondary housing list which was an appropriate response on its part.
  6. The landlord’s definitive response that a secondary housing list was not mentioned was unhelpful, however, leaving the resident feeling that her honesty and integrity was under question. The landlord was not bound to accept liability for something that it could not conclusively determine either way and on this same basis, neither could it say that it did not happen. The wording served to inflame the situation, rather than diffuse it.  The landlord rectified this in its final response to the complaint, which demonstrated that it had learned from this earlier error.
  7. Turning to the properties the resident was able to see on the system, there is no evidence of the landlord restricting the properties she could see or the type of property the resident could bid on, besides the initial error regarding level access, which it put right.  The landlord confirmed to the resident that it was not withholding her right to bid on suitable properties and advised her to ensure that no filters were on, which was an appropriate response.  It was appropriate because it sought to reassure her that she was not being ruled out of bidding on properties in areas she liked or on two-bedroom properties and flagged an issue which may have led to certain properties/areas to not being seen.
  8. Its explanation that the relevant checks would be carried out before an offer would be made and that lettings were currently suspended and why, as well as confirming that only two-bedroom properties rather than three, could be bid on, provided further clarity and went towards managing the resident’s expectations. There is no information that the landlord restricted the resident’s ability to bid on appropriate properties or that it acted outside of its policies and procedures.  The advice the landlord gave to the resident was correct and appropriate, including its explanation of the bidding system and why the resident might be outbid; the bidding system can be complicated and it is not unreasonable to envisage confusion arising where a resident is number one on the list but is outbid.
  9. In terms of the telephone call on 6 January 2020, again it is not possible to definitely determine what was said.  There is no indication of an intention to mislead the resident during telephone calls although it is clear that there are issues with the communication and/or understanding of conversations had.  It is important to ensure clarity of communication and where relevant, this can be aided by a brief follow-up email or letter, which sets out what was discussed and agreed and any advice given. A recommendation has been made in this regard.
  10. Turning to the landlord’s complaints handling, the landlord’s initial response at stage one was delayed, as was its second stage one response and stage two final response to the complaint.  It was inappropriate that the landlord’s complaint responses were delayed on all three occasions, being sent outside of the timeframes set out in its complaints policy and with no updates being provided. There was a lack of expectation management and poor communication on the part of the landlord in this regard.
  11. Additionally, although the landlord did not escalate the complaint initially because it said it did not receive an escalation request, it is clear that the resident was dissatisfied with the response, as communicated by her the day after having received it.  The landlord could have used its discretion to escalate the complaint at this stage, given that although not an explicit escalation request, it was an explicit expression of dissatisfaction.
  12. Finally, besides the landlord’s certainty regarding what was said during the telephone call, as discussed above, it was also inappropriate that the landlord had no record of there being an Ombudsman enquiry because its records should have reflected this, given contact from this Service. Further, the landlord did not address the resident’s query about what was said during the telephone call of 6 January 2020.
  13. These identified failings undermined trust in the landlord-resident relationship, making it difficult to positively move forward. The landlord’s refusal to meet to discuss the matter, as the resident had requested also served to build barriers rather than bridges.  There is no evidence of a meeting having taken place to discuss the complaint at any point and meeting once in order to do so, particularly given the confusion that had been had, was not an unreasonable request by the resident.


  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Scheme there was:
    1. no maladministration by the landlord in respect of its handling of the resident’s application to move property;
    2. service failure by the landlord in respect of its complaint handling.


  1. Whilst there was some delay in the system being updated and accurate as to what properties the resident could bid on, the landlord resolved the application issues, once it was aware, within a reasonable period of time and there is no evidence that it was restricting the resident’s ability to bid.
  2. In terms of the misinformation, it is not known exactly what was said during the telephone calls, but the landlord took steps to clarify the situation by writing to the resident and setting out the position on a number of occasions.
  3. With regard to the landlord’s complaints handling, the initial stage one response was delayed, as were the second stage one and two complaint responses. Additionally, the landlord did not escalate the complaint when the resident expressed her dissatisfaction with the complaint response.
  4. The landlord erroneously stated that there was no Ombudsman enquiry and used language in its complaints response regarding the telephone call that inflamed the situation, causing distress and it did not respond to the resident’s query regarding the telephone call of 6 January 2020 or agree to meet with her to discuss the situation, which would have been reasonable in resolving the complaint.


  1. The Ombudsman orders the landlord to pay the resident £75 compensation for the service failures identified in its complaints handling.


  1. The Ombudsman recommends that the landlord should review its:
    1. keeping practices, in particular, to ensure that notes of telephone conversations are made and enquiries from the Ombudsman are logged/associated to a tenant’s complaint;
    2. communication practices, in particular to ensure that what it communicates is clear, that it checks a resident’s understanding of what has been communicated and that where relevant, it follows up any verbal discussions in writing.