Ombudsman highlights where councils can improve services to homeless people

Problems with the way councils are meeting new housing duties are making some homeless people’s situation worse, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

In a new report published today, the Ombudsman examines the lessons that councils can learn from the first 50 cases it investigated under the Homelessness Reduction Act, introduced in 2018.

While the cases are from before the Covid-19 pandemic, the guidance is all the more pertinent as temporary, emergency measures introduced to reduce homelessness during the peak come to an end.

Problems identified in the new report include councils delaying helping people and difficulties in issuing Personalised Housing Plans – the documents which set out what has been agreed between the homeless person and local authority to address the problem. The Ombudsman also found simple communication issues, with people left unsure about the next steps they need to take, or not being told about their rights to challenge a council’s decision.

The report highlights stories from the Ombudsman’s casework, and gives advice on how councils can take steps to avoid similar situations in their areas.

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

“When people are in the very vulnerable position of being homeless or at risk of homelessness, even a small administrative failure can have a significant impact on their situation.

“Our cases show that, while people are not being made homeless by councils failing to meet their new duties, their problems are very much compounded – and often left homeless for longer than they might have been, when councils do not get things right.

“While we do see evidence of good practice up and down the country, I would urge all councils with responsibility for housing people in need to read my report and assess whether they can learn from it to make improvements to their own services.”

The new Homelessness Reduction Act gave people who are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, new rights to services from councils. The Act’s aim was for councils to help more people earlier, to prevent homelessness as much as possible, and to help find accommodation for people who have become homeless.

The Act was a significant change for councils. It increased the range of people they are expected to help and the type of services they must provide. In particular, it introduced assessments of people who ask for help, and new duties to help people retain or find accommodation.

Article date: 15 July 2020