Ombudsman investigation highlights housing delays in Birmingham

The high number of families trying to join councils’ housing lists is being highlighted by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman following one family’s complaint about their situation.

The family told the Ombudsman that Birmingham City Council took too long to assess their circumstances. During the Ombudsman’s investigation the council – the biggest in Europe – explained it was receiving 500 applications a week to join its housing register. Of those applications nearly half would be eligible to join, meaning 225 families are added to its list every week.

The Ombudsman’s investigation into the family’s complaint found the council struggling to process applications quickly enough – it took six months for it to look at the family’s situation. Ideally, councils should consider applications within six weeks. However, the council currently takes an average of 22 weeks to do this.

Because of the delay, the council should have backdated the family’s position on the waiting list to the day they applied, meaning they would have been higher up the priority list, but it did not do this.

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

“We understand that many council housing departments are under a lot of pressure as demand is outstripping availability of social housing, and we are aware that in certain areas this unprecedented demand is creating a backlog.

“Councils need to ensure they are providing the right advice at the right time to families to try to either prevent families becoming homeless, or give advice and support with other housing solutions that may be available to them.

“While we can’t say this family has been disadvantaged by the council’s delay in dealing with applications, we are concerned potentially thousands of other families in the city might have been.

“I welcome the steps the council has already taken to address these issues, and its ready agreement to our recommendations to improve its services further.”

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 agreed to apologise to the family and backdate their priority to the date they first applied.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to produce an action plan setting out how it will get processing of applications down to four to six weeks, with target dates. It will also review its Housing Allocations Policy to ensure any delay does not impact on an applicant’s priority band date. It has also agreed to address any complaints it receives from other applicants about the impact of this delay in line with the recommendations in the report.

Article date: 13 October 2021

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