Report 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 Public Services Ombudsman for Wales recommends a new Housing Regulator role to assist local authorities in fulfilling their statutory duties consistently.
Vulnerable people facing homelessness in Wales are at risk of grave injustice caused by “systemic maladministration”, an investigation by the Public Services Ombudsman has found.
Today, the Ombudsman publishes the findings of his first-ever ‘own initiative’ investigation, which focuses on the administration of the homelessness review process by local authorities in Wales. The report finds that despite evidence of good practice, many thousands of people facing homelessness are being let down by “systemic maladministration”.
The Ombudsman highlights unacceptable delays in the review process, inadequate processes, poor communication and vulnerable people being offered unsuitable accommodation as issues of serious concern.
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.
In 2020, COVID-19 changed the world and highlighted the prevalence of homelessness and the vulnerability of the homeless in our communities. In response to the pandemic, local authorities had to make significant and impactful changes to ensure that everyone had the security of a front door and access to private sanitation.
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.
It is important that those assessed not to be homeless or not to be entitled to support are aware of the right to request a review of the assessment decision. It is also vital that when decisions are overturned at the review stage, lessons are being learned and shared across local authorities to improve services.
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.”
To read the report, please visit the Website of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
Source: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, UK