Watchdog warns councils are failing homeless
A watchdog has warned councils are not doing enough to prevent homelessness and are failing to provide interim accommodation for those in priority need.
Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin said authorities face criticism for maladministration unless they meet their responsibilities to homeless people.
In a report, published today, the ombudsman investigated complaints about how councils in England deal with people with housing problems.
Dr Martin, who is also chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, said: ‘I am concerned that more people could now suffer injustice because of the combined impact of a tough economic climate and the serious budget pressures on councils.
‘It’s really important that councils are alert to this very significant risk. We want to help them understand the dangers and take action to avoid mistakes.’
The ombudsman also said some authorities are not doing enough to establish whether people need help, not recognising applications for help, and are also ‘gatekeeping’ by refusing to accept homelessness applications.
Homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter backed the report saying that often people are resorting to sleeping on friends’ sofas or on the street if they do not get the help they need.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: ‘The housing minister, Grant Shapps, must address these issues urgently and seize the opportunity to amend the Localism Bill currently passing through Parliament so that all in need get clear homelessness advice and written notification of this advice and their rights.’
Roger Harding, head of policy, research and public affairs at Shelter, said: ‘Failure to act is a tragedy for vulnerable people and a false economy to the state as cycles of homelessness just cause costs elsewhere.’
People are legally entitled to help from councils if they are homeless or face homelessness within 28 days. The report says the ombudsman investigates more than 300 complaints a year from people claiming to have been denied access to help or interim accommodation.
If the ombudsman finds a council has acted unfairly, the council can be asked to apologise, pay compensation, take a different course of action, or review its procedures to prevent recurrence.
Bad practice: key failings outlined in the report
- Using homelessness prevention activity to block or delay the consideration of a homelessness application
- Insisting that applicants for help with homelessness must complete a specific form, or be interviewed by a specialist homelessness assessment officer
- Placing the burden of proof on the applicant, stressing that authorities should make their own enquiries when considering applications, or
- Deferring an application because an applicant appears a non-priority – applicants claiming immediate homelessness should be assessed on the day.