Councils in England are being urged to check their homelessness procedures are fit for purpose, after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found significant fault with a Northamptonshire district council.
The Ombudsman’s advice follows its investigation into a homelessness complaint from a woman in the Kettering area. The woman was not offered, or even made aware of, her legal right to a review of her temporary accommodation. The council even failed to offer her this right when she told them the house was unsuitable. Her disabilities meant she could not access the upstairs bathroom or bedrooms and the lack of secure storage for her mobility scooter resulted in it being damaged and the battery stolen.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“People in temporary accommodation have a legal right to a review of that accommodation, and ultimately to have that review considered by the courts. But they can only follow this process if councils tell them about their rights in a timely manner, as statutory guidance dictates.
“While I am pleased Kettering Borough Council has already amended its letters to residents, I would urge other authorities to look at their correspondence to ensure people’s review rights are made clear.
“Complaints are a learning opportunity for councils, and this is one all councils in England can learn from to improve their services.”
The woman, who has two children, was placed in temporary accommodation after being made homeless while the council sought longer-term accommodation.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found a catalogue of further errors in Kettering Borough Council’s handling of the woman’s situation. The council didn’t properly consider its duty towards the woman’s belongings when she went into temporary accommodation and it delayed telling her it would not adapt the property and offer it as her long-term home. It didn’t properly decide whether the woman’s daughter, who was away at university, would be included on the housing application and it failed to tell the woman why she was unable to bid for a two-bedroom property with stairs.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, the council has agreed to:
- Offer to review the suitability of the woman’s temporary accommodation. If the review concludes the accommodation is suitable, it should explain her right to appeal in the county court
- Make fresh decisions about whether to include the woman’s adult daughter on the housing application and if so, whether the family is eligible for a three-bedroom property
- Apologise to the woman and pay her £500 in recognition of the lost opportunity frustration and justified anger caused by the council’s faults
- Review the wording of its allocations scheme as necessary
- Review its procedures to minimise the risk of the faults recurring
Where a council provides temporary accommodation to a homeless person it must tell the applicant in writing of their right to request a review of the accommodation’s suitability. Councils must also consider whether they need to protect homeless people’s belongings.
Article date: 17 August 2017