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Councils ‘still not getting homelessness right’ according to ombudsman

For the past five years local councils in England with housing responsibilities have had increased duties to help prevent people from becoming homeless, but despite this some are still struggling to get it right, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

23/03/23

Councils ‘still not getting homelessness right’ according to ombudsman

The Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced to give councils greater responsibilities to help people at risk of homelessness earlier in the process to prevent them becoming homeless in the first place.

A new report, however, says councils are too often failing in their duties, and some of the most vulnerable people in society are suffering as a result.

The ‘More Home Truths’ report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) finds examples of where councils have missed the opportunity to prevent people from becoming homeless. In one case, a man had to sleep in his van for two years when he fled his home because of violence, after his local council failed to accept his homelessness application.

In another case a man was admitted to hospital because of mental health concerns because the council wrongly decided it could not help him.

And in another case a man spent more than a month sleeping rough on the streets during the winter because the council failed to respond to his pleas for help.

The Ombudsman’s report also highlights good practice throughout the homelessness process and also offers questions professionals working in the sector can ask to check their own authorities are fulfilling their duties.

“Five years since the new Act came into force we would have expected the right systems and processes to have been embedded, and for officers to be well aware of their duties,” Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said. “But unfortunately this is not always the case and too often we are finding councils at fault.”

“Although we see many examples where councils have got things right, too often our investigations still find that councils have failed in the basics: they haven’t issued a Personalised Housing Plan or considered the support needs of the applicant.

“In other examples people are still telling us they have been turned away and told to come back when the court issues a warrant for their eviction.

“Based on real investigations from our casework, our latest report should help local councils examine their own processes and procedures to see where any gaps in practice may lie.

“I hope local authorities will take the report in the spirit in which it is intended to improve their response to people who may be approaching them at the lowest point in their lives.”

In 2021-22, the Ombudsman received 372 complaints about homelessness, and upheld 75% of the 126 investigations it carried out.

By far the most complaints the Ombudsman received were from the London region, with nearly 60% of all complaints, and 65% of all upheld complaints coming from people in the region.

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