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Folkestone council chastised by Ombudsman over housing complaint

Folkestone and Hythe council has been heavily criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for the way it responded to a complaint about its treatment of a homeless family.

The Ombudsman was asked to investigate after a family, which includes two small children, was left waiting for support when it approached the council as homeless, having been asked to leave the single room they were living in.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council delayed helping the family for three weeks in January and February 2019, and failed to consider information the family provided, and instead did not help them until they were actually homeless.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“The statutory guidance is clear – people do not need to make a formal request for help to trigger the council’s duties towards them. In this case, had the council been more alert to the family’s call for help, they may have found accommodation sooner. As it is, they have been left uncertain whether they would have been offered unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation at all, had the council acted appropriately.

“At times during my investigation, the council has refused to respond to enquiries – and has even questioned our authority to investigate - leading us to threaten the council with a court summons to attend our offices before it provided evidence.

“The council now needs to reflect on how it has dealt with both the complaint and its response to my enquiries and accept the simple and practical measures I have recommended to improve its service for homeless people in its area.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has been asked to apologise to the man and pay him £100 to recognise the uncertainty and distress caused.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should review its procedures for handling requests for housing assistance, so it deals with cases based on both waiting time and urgency.

It should also review its resources to ensure it is meeting its duties to people who are threatened with homelessness, and homeless, under the 1996 Housing Act.

Article date: 20 February 2020