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London borough’s housing allocation policy in breach of Equality Act, Ombudsman finds

A mother of two disabled children has successfully brought a complaint against Greenwich Council after a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation found the local authority's social housing allocation policy disadvantaged the family.

According to the investigation, Greenwich Council needs to review its allocation policy to ensure it meets its duties under Equality Act 2010, the Housing Act 1996, the Public Sector Equality Duty, and the Government's Social Housing Allocation Guidance.

The mother has two children aged five and nine years old, each with a disability. The family live in a two-bedroom flat.

She applied to the council for medical priority based on her children's circumstances and was given a priority housing allocation band that allowed her to bid on a three-bedroom flat or maisonette. However, applicants on the band are not able to bid for three-bedroom houses.

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Two council medical assessments found that each child should have their own bedroom, and the house should include an exclusive garden or semi-exclusive garden due to their medical needs.

The second assessment also said that a house was not medically essential and that a flat or maisonette was acceptable, providing it had garden access as described.

The mother said the council's policy around the types of properties available to her indirectly discriminates against her family as they cannot bid for houses.

She claimed that even though they had a greater need for a house than a family without disabilities with the same bedroom requirements, that family would bid for a house under the council's policy.

In response to the Ombudsman's enquiries during its investigation, the London Borough said although the mother was not eligible for a house on her priority band, she was eligible for a house on another band (Band C) she was assigned and "will be considered with all other Band C applicants who qualify in date order of registration".

As such, she can bid for houses without priority status under her Band C application, which makes her eligible to bid on a two-bedroom property only, the council said.

Band C applicants typically have to wait longer (approximately ten years) before successfully bidding on a home.

The mother made an additional complaint about the lack of clear messaging regarding the kind of property she was able to bid on.

The mother thought she could only bid on first floor properties, but in response to the Ombudsman's queries, the council said she could also bid on ground floor properties.

When the Ombudsman informed the mother of this, she said it was the first time she had been made aware. In its analysis of the misunderstanding, the Ombudsman found the council at fault for poor communication.

The Ombudsman found that the council's housing allocations policy does not take account of its duties under the Equality Act 2010, the Housing Act 1996, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Social Housing Allocations Guidance. "The Policy puts disabled households, with the same or greater needs as a non-disabled household, at a disadvantage. The policy does not provide reasonable preference to disabled households as it should under the Housing Act. This is fault".

In light of the findings, the Ombudsman made several recommendations to which Greenwich agreed.

The report recommended Greenwich review its policy of allocating houses and institute relevant changes to ensure it meets the duties placed upon it by the Equality Act 2010, the Housing Act 1996, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Government's Social Housing Allocation Guidance. Following this, any applicants who the council's policy may have disadvantaged should be invited to ask for a review of their application, the Ombudsman said.

In addition, a review of the council's processes to ensure medical advice is checked and assessed by the council before a decision is sent to the applicant should take place.

Greenwich also agreed it should remind its staff of the need to write clear communications to members of the public that are not ambiguous.

In the case of the complainant, the council agreed to reassess her application and consider whether she should be able to bid for houses that meet her family's needs based upon the policy review. It will also apologise to her and pay £300 for the distress caused to her and for her time and trouble pursuing this complaint.

A spokesperson for Greenwich said: “Our current housing allocations policy has a ‘like for like’ clause which gives a higher level of priority to applicants for the same type of property they are already in (e.g., Flat to Flat or House to House), unless a medical priority has been awarded stating they need to be in a different type of property. This not uncommon and other local authorities have similar clauses. This does not stop applicants bidding for a different type of property via Band C.

"The Ombudsman has found fault with the Council's decision-making processes around this clause. We have accepted that we need to review these processes and have agreed to their February deadline; to make and publish any appropriate changes. We are currently in the process of doing this and are on track to meet the Ombudsman deadline.”

Adam Carey

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