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8 top tips for making a complaint about housing to the Local Government Ombudsman

Housing Partner Lou Crisfield has recently achieved a great outcome for a client after helping her to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO):

Ms Y had approached the London Borough of Croydon for assistance when homeless. They had placed her and her son bed & breakfast accommodation where she and her 12 year old son had to share a room and also share bathroom and kitchen facilities with strangers during the Covid-19 pandemic. She remained there for 9 months before she was finally moved to suitable accommodation. The LGSCO decided that the council was at fault failing to recognise that the bed & breakfast accommodation was unsuitable, failing to proactively secure suitable accommodation and for not telling her it had cancelled her housing register application when it discharged its homelessness duty in March 2021. The council was ordered to apologise to Ms Y, to make changes to its processes, and to pay Ms Y £2,800 in compensation. See LGSCO decision 21 008 868.

Not every case needs a lawyer to make a complaint to the LGSCO, and so trainee solicitor Kate Downing has compiled a brief guide to explain what you can expect from the complaints process and she gives some top tips for getting the best outcome.

  1. 1. Check you are eligible

Complaints will only be investigated by the LGSCO in certain cases. They deal with Local Authority housing and social care services but they do not investigate complaints by council or Housing Association tenants about problems arising from the management of their tenancies, including disrepair or anti-social behaviour issues.  If your complaint is about this sort of issue, you should instead approach the Housing Ombudsman. If you want to complain about homelessness, a housing allocation, your priority on the housing register, housing benefit and home improvement services, then the LGSCO is the right place.

Secondly, the problem must be something that has affected you personally or caused you an injustice.

  1. 2. Check you are within the deadlines

You must complain within 12 months of knowing about the problem.

You also need to go through the council’s own complaints procedure before you approach the LGSCO. The detail of how this works is different between councils, but it is usually available on their website.

Often the council’s own complaints procedure will resolve your complaint at an early stage. But if you have followed the procedure to the end and are not satisfied with the outcome (or they haven’t responded at all), then you can take the case to the LGSCO. If the council haven’t responded to your complaint at all, then the LGSCO will expect you to wait 12 weeks before taking it to the LGSCO.

  1. 3. Check what the LGSCO can do for you

The LGCO process is a good option for many people, because it offers a wider range of remedies than you can get at court. These include an apology from the council, changes to their policies, and even changes to lines of responsibility within the council, as well as compensation.

However, it can be a long process. If your situation is urgent, it may be worth exploring other options (such as internal appeal, or judicial review) first. It is best to get legal advice to understand all of your options if your situation is urgent.

If you do not need an immediate outcome, for example, if you have already been moved to suitable accommodation but are unhappy with how long it took, then a complaint to the LGSCO might be a good idea.

  1. 4. Be patient

You might not be surprised to find out that the process can be very long. For one of our clients, the process took nine months from submitting the documents to getting a final decision.

  1. 5. Be trusting

While nine months is a long time, the LGSCO will keep you up to date throughout the process. They contacted us every four weeks with an update, and even once or twice gave an update sooner than they had promised. They have an active, free helpful telephone advice line where (in our experience) it is not necessary to spend hours on hold.

  1. 6. Explain your complaint in detail

Be specific about what you want the council to do to put matters right. Do you want them to backdate your priority on the waiting list, or apologise to you, or change the way they respond to applications or compensate you? Set out exactly what you would like them to do. A good starting point to understand the information the LGSCO needs is their guidance, which is available here.

The guidance includes examples of awards which have been made in the past. You can use these to explain what you are asking for and why.

  1. 7. Be prepared to respond to extra questions

After the initial complaint is submitted, the LGSCO may contact you with some follow up questions.

They also contact the council and may ask you to respond to points raised by the council.

You will have a standard 20 working days (about a month) to respond to this and explain your side of the story further.

The LGSCO will also send a draft decision for your final comments, meaning you are kept up to date at all times and there are no nasty surprises.

  1. 8. Be optimistic!

You could get more than you think- a client in one of our recent complaints was awarded more compensation than we asked for!

The LGSCO also decided that the council should apologise to our client, review their policy on placing and leaving families in B&B style accommodation, develop their temporary accommodation strategy, and review their complaints procedure to ensure clear lines of responsibility.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

Kate Downing

Trainee solicitor

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Lou Crisfield, Miles & Partners Solicitors, London