Possessions in council storage

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have experienced problems with the way the council has looked after their possessions while dealing with their homelessness application and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The council did not look after my possessions properly when it accepted me as homeless. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In many cases, yes. If the council has decided that it has a duty to provide accommodation for you because you are homeless or while it is considering your homelessness application, then it may also have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect your possessions. This usually means putting your personal possessions, such as furniture and clothes, into storage where you have not been able to make any other arrangements to do so. The council can make reasonable charges for storing your possessions.

The council's responsibility ends when it considers your possessions are no longer at risk because you can protect them yourself. It must then write to you at your last known address to tell you its decision and the reasons for it.

The council can dispose of your possessions if it decides that its duty to protect them has ended but it has been unable to trace you, or if you have not collected them.

Before deciding whether to investigate your complaint, the Ombudsman has to consider whether you can and should take legal action against the council instead. If your possessions were damaged while in storage arranged by the council, the Ombudsman may think it reasonable to expect you to make a claim for damages in the county court. If you have already started court proceedings the Ombudsman will not be able to investigate your complaint.

So if you think the council has not taken proper care of your possessions it would be a good idea to seek advice first from a solicitor or an advice agency, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau or Law Centre.

How do I complain? 

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will normally have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us. 

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for? 

We consider whether the council has done something wrong that has caused problems for you. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council has:

  • failed to consider protecting your possessions,  when they were at risk, properly
  • disposed of your possessions without properly considering whether they were still at risk
  • failed to notify you when it decided it no longer had a responsibility to store your possessions
  • failed to take reasonable steps to trace you to tell you its decision, or
  • failed to take reasonable care of your possessions after arranging  to store them. 

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

It depends how you have been affected by what has gone wrong. If we find that the council wrongly disposed of your possessions, or the possessions were lost or damaged as a direct result of fault by the council, we may ask the council to pay you for any loss or damage. 

The amount we ask for would depend partly on what evidence there is of the value of the possessions. 

We can also take account of whether your actions made the situation worse, or whether you could have done something to prevent the problem.

We may also ask the council to review its procedures for dealing with storage and disposal of property so that the problems you experienced don't happen to other people. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr X was homeless. His council provided him with temporary accommodation in a bed and breakfast hotel but failed to store his possessions. The council was wrong not to store the possessions, as it had a duty to look after them. But there was conflicting evidence of whether Mr X had lost his belongings or what happened to them. There was not enough evidence of injustice to Mr X and so the Ombudsman did not ask the council to make any payment to him.
The council placed Mr Y and his daughter in bed and breakfast accommodation while it considered their homelessness application. It arranged for their belongings to be put into storage. Five months later the council decided it did not have a duty to accommodate Mr Y. The council then told him that, as its duty to accommodate him had ended, it was no longer required to look after his belongings. Mr Y said he was still homeless and had nowhere to store his belongings. After contacting Mr Y the council arranged for the belongings to be disposed of. The Ombudsman found that the council was wrong to tell Mr Y that once its housing duty to him had ended, it was no longer responsible for looking after his possessions. The duty to look after possessions continues until the council considers they are no longer at risk of loss or damage, even if its housing duty has ended. We asked the council to pay him £5,000 for the value of the possessions and £1,000 to acknowledge the distress and inconvenience the disposal caused and to review its procedures.

Other sources of information

For practical help and advice, try Shelter at www.shelter.org.uk

Shelter run a helpline on 0808 800 4444

To find your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

May 2016 

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