The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has uncovered an “unusual” charging policy during an investigation into a housing complaint about Maidstone Borough Council.
A man, who has disabilities and uses a wheelchair, is said to have complained to the Ombudsman that the council wanted to charge him £75 to appeal its decision about joining its housing register.
The man told the council his current home was “unsuitable” for his needs and so he wanted to join the register to bid on an accessible property.
The council is reported to have considered medical evidence, but decided there was not enough to justify his request for an additional bedroom on medical grounds.
The council’s policy is said to state that those wishing to challenge the medical assessment by way of a second assessment would be charged unless there was a “significant change” in the medical condition.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found fault with the way the council considered evidence, and “failed” to follow its own policy by asking the man to pay.
The investigation also highlighted criticism in the council’s review process, reducing the 21-day period it gives applicants to ask for a review to 14 because of its “increasing use” of emails and texts.
The Ombudsman found that just because it was using these methods more did not mean applicants were, and it failed to take account of those with restricted access to the internet or those wishing to rely on the post.
The Ombudsman has reported that the council has already carried out the review and has backdated this to 23 November 2017.
The review also found the man had not missed out on successfully bidding for properties in this time.
In a series of recommendations, the Ombudsman has stated that the council should review its allocation policy and the lawfulness of its provision for charging.
The council has also been prompted by the Ombudsman to check its records to see if other people have been similarly affected, and pay refunds where people have been charged, as well as reviewing decisions where applicants did not proceed with their review request after they were told about the charge.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “If the council routinely asks people to pay a fee on any decision where there has been an assessment by an independent medical advisor, people are potentially losing their right to ask for a review at no cost.
“Many people in the area may have been discouraged from asking for a review by the outlay.
“I welcome the steps the council has already taken to rectify the situation for the family, and hope the additional recommendations I have made will help ensure other families are not affected by the failings I have identified.”