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Ombudsman slams councils over homelessness cases

An investigation into the homelessness review process in Wales has found evidence of ‘systemic maladministration’ by local authorities that leaves vulnerable people facing homelessness at risk of grave injustice.

A report by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales says that despite ‘beacons of good practice’, too many people at risk of homelessness are victims of injustice due to unacceptable delays, inadequate processes, poor communication and placement in unsuitable accommodation

The ombudsman recommends a new Housing Regulator role to assist local authorities in fulfilling their statutory duties consistently.

This is the first-ever ‘own initiative’ investigation from the ombudsman and focuses on the administration of the homelessness review process by local authorities in Wales.

The investigation focused on three local authorities – Cardiff, Carmarthenshire and Wrexham – and considered evidence provided by the Welsh Government and third sector organisations such as Shelter Cymru. A review of homelessness cases from the investigated local authorities highlighted the following concerns:

  • Human Rights and Equality Act 2010 duties are not always taken into account in assessments and reviews.
  • Delays throughout the Assessment and Review Process.
  • Significant matters are sometimes missed during the assessment process.
  • Clients do not always understand unclear and insufficient communication.
  • Failures to appropriately consider the suitability of accommodation.
  • Failures to provide support to vulnerable clients and those with complex needs.

The investigation also found that each investigated authority applied a different approach to the homelessness review process.  In response, the Ombudsman makes a strong case for creating a housing regulator role in Wales, to add value to the development of homelessness processes and act in support of local authorities. He also recommends that a regulator should provide clear guidance to ensure consistency and address the concerns raised by his report.

Commenting on the report, Nick Bennett, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said: ‘I am proud to introduce this report, the first I have produced following an investigation undertaken on my own initiative under the new powers granted to my office by the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2019. Those facing homelessness are amongst the most vulnerable people in society. It is essential that they have a voice and that their lived experience shapes the ongoing improvement of the public services they are entitled to.

‘The challenges of increasing homelessness have been widely recognised by bodies in Wales, including the Welsh Government and third sector organisations. With a consistent increase in demand for accommodation for those classed as homeless and in priority need, local authorities have a critical role in preventing homelessness as well as supporting people who have found themselves homeless.

‘In 2018/2019, over 31,000 households in Wales were assessed as homeless, and many more received support with homelessness issues.  This figure has continued to rise.  The absence of complaints to my office about this matter suggests that the individuals affected may be unaware of, or unable to exercise, their right to escalate their complaints to me.

‘Evidence shows that a high proportion of homelessness assessment decisions were being overturned on review, and in some local authorities, this is the case year on year.  This suggested systemic maladministration and a failure to identify and learn lessons, and my investigation found this to be the case.’

‘The work undertaken by Homelessness Teams in Wales during the pandemic has been admirable. However, as we look towards a post-pandemic future, anybody at risk of homelessness should be able to expect consistent service from their local authority, wherever they may be in Wales.’

‘I recognise that responding to the pandemic has been challenging for the investigated authorities, and their commendable response has enabled the identification of opportunities for the longer term and wider improvements. However, the good practice demonstrated in response to the pandemic must be maintained and shared to improve the services provided to homeless people – both now and in a post-pandemic future.

‘Whilst I have identified several areas for service improvement during my investigation, I also wish to recognise the good practice identified. This good practice must be shared and considered by all local authorities in Wales to support a shared commitment to learning and improvement.’


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