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Social Housing Speed Read – Allocation policies

In this speed read, we consider a recent report published by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (the "Ombudsman") regarding a complaint about the allocation policy of East Lindsey District Council (the "Council").

The Ombudsman

The Ombudsman is an independent body which is responsible for, amongst other things, reviewing complaints about councils and other organisations. Following an investigation, the Ombudsman may request the organisation to apologise to the complainant, pay a financial remedy or improve its policies and procedures. Whilst the Ombudsman cannot legally require the organisation to take such action, the recommendations of the Ombudsman are typically observed.

The complaint

The Complainants, who are referred to as Mr and Mrs X, wanted to relocate to East Lindsey in order to support and receive support from Mrs X’s mother, who is referred to as Mrs Z. Mr and Mrs X alleged that relocating to East Lindsey would allow Mrs Z to provide 20 hours of support a week (including the provision of childcare) and in exchange, Mrs X was going to assist Mrs Z with domestic tasks such as attending appointments, finance management and cleaning.

In January 2020, Mr and Mrs X submitted an application to the Council however, this application was refused. The Council refused the application on the basis that Mr and Mrs X did not have a ‘local connection’. In accordance with the Council’s allocation policy, a ‘local connection’ included the need to receive support, but not extend to a need to move to the area in order to give support. The Council also disputed whether Mrs Z could support Mr and Mrs X given her age, poor health and the fact that she relied on public transport.

Following an unsuccessful review by the Council, Mr and Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman.

The report

The Ombudsman upheld the complaint against the Council and found that its allocation policy was “inherently flawed” and did not comply with the statutory guidance issued in accordance with the Housing Act 1996. The Ombudsman confirmed that although the Council had discretion to formulate its own criteria as to who qualifies for a place on the housing register, an allocation policy must not exclude a class (or most of a class) of people who would have otherwise, had a reasonable preference.

Further, it was found that the Council did not have regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty. Whilst an impact assessment had been prepared, this was not presented to members when the policy was approved. The Ombudsman also noted that East Lindsey was home to a disproportionately high percentage of people of retirement age and that the policy risked discriminating against these individuals.

The Ombudsman recommended (amongst other things) that the Council reviewed its allocation policy in light of the statutory guidance and the Public Sector Equality Duty. It was also recommended that the Council reconsidered Mr and Mrs X’s application and any other applications that had been refused on similar grounds.

Whilst the decisions of the Ombudsman are not legally binding, this report provides a helpful reminder to councils to take care to ensure that allocation policies do not fall foul of the statutory guidance and further, the importance of complying with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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