t: 020 7219 8155 e: fieldm@parliament.uk

Council Housing and Housing Benefit

November 19, 2009

If you have concerns that you would like addressed with regard to overcrowding, the allocation of a social housing property or the awarding of housing benefit, you should first contact your local councillor or the caseworker you have been given by the local authority.
If you wish to make a complaint about your situation or the way in which a case has been handled, you should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before taking the matter further.
Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter –12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Where the matter is urgent or you are particularly at risk, the LGO can usually look into your complaint even if you have not been through the council’s complaints procedure. This could be, for example, if you are a private tenant and your landlord is threatening to take you to court or evict you. You should explain this when you contact the LGO.
You should normally make your complaint within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
To complain to the LGO phone our Advice Team on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of their advisers. You can text them on 0762 480 4323.
You can complete an online complaint form at www.lgo.org.uk/making-a-complaint, or you can email them at advice@lgo.org.uk.

If the LGO can consider the complaint what will they look for?

The LGO considers whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your claim which has caused you problems. The LGO cannot say whether you are entitled to benefit or not. Some of the issues they can look at are:

  • delay in processing your claim;
  • delay in paying you or your landlord the benefit after the claim has been decided;
  • delay in referring your case to the rent officer;
  • failure to make a payment on account where appropriate;
  • paying the benefit to the wrong person (eg direct to you when you have asked the council to pay your landlord);
  • delay in dealing with an appeal, for example through failing to recognise your letter as a request for an appeal, or delay in sending your appeal to the independent appeals service;
  • failure to notify you properly of a decision and of your rights of appeal; or
  • unreasonable delay in responding to correspondence (we normally consider it reasonable to allow the council one month to process your claim once it has the necessary information).

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

The LGO can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. This depends on what the complaint is about, but often they will ask the council to:

  • determine the ongoing or backdated claim;
  • pay the benefit due;
  • refer your claim to the rent officer;
  • issue or re-issue a decision notice with the correct information and appeal rights; or
  • consider an appeal or send it on to the independent appeals service.

The LGO can recommend that the council pays compensation. The amount they ask for will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong.

  • Where they find that there has been unreasonable delay, they usually recommend a payment to recognise the anxiety and inconvenience caused. If you have got into arrears because of the delay, and your landlord is trying to evict you or the council has taken you to court for a council tax debt, they may ask for compensation for the additional distress.
  • In deciding how much compensation to ask for they can also take account of what you have or haven’t done to help the council. So, for example, if you have taken a long time to provide information which the council needs to make a decision on your claim, or if you know that your benefit will only cover a small part of your rent but still do not pay anything towards it, they may have to reduce the amount we ask for.

They may recommend that the council improves procedures so that the same problems do not occur again. For example, in some cases they have asked councils to introduce systems allowing them to check when people are waiting for benefit claims to be processed before issuing summonses for council tax arrears.