Ombudsman praises Welsh councils for progress in administering homelessness assessments

Ombudsman praises Welsh councils for progress in administering homelessness assessments

Welsh local authorities have made progress in the administration of homelessness assessments but there are opportunities for further improvement, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has said.

The Ombudsman’s comments came in a follow-up report to its ‘own initiative’ Investigation, Homelessness Reviewed: an open door to positive change, undertaken in 2021.

The 2021 report examined whether local authorities in Wales were meeting their statutory duties to ensure that homelessness assessments were carried out appropriately. 

Local authorities in Wales have a duty to assess a person who presents themselves as homeless to see if the person is eligible for help. However, the Ombudsman became aware that a large proportion of these assessments were being challenged and overturned at review.

The 2021 report identified some systemic issues relating to the administration of these assessments at the three investigated authorities: Cardiff Council, Carmarthenshire County Council and Wrexham County Borough Council.

As a result, the Ombudsman made several recommendations to these authorities. For wider learning, the Ombudsman also invited the Welsh Government and the other 19 non-investigated authorities in Wales to consider the impact of the findings on homelessness services locally and to take action to improve homelessness services across Wales.

The follow-up report, published this week (13 November), revealed that:

  • there has been a year-on-year increase of 10% in homelessness assessments being completed by Welsh local authorities.
  • there has also been an increase in the percentage of assessments leading to a review. Although unexpected, this increase could also be due to more awareness of the option to challenge the assessment results, the Ombudsman suggested.
  • positively, compared to 2017/18, a smaller proportion of assessment decisions were seen to be overturned on review. “This could be evidence of improved and more consistent decision making. However, the proportion of reviews overturned remains high and has not improved since 2021.”
  • some reasons why assessment decisions are still being overturned at review continue to be that there has been a change in circumstances, the property offered did not meet needs or that more investigation was required.

The Ombudsman added that, positively, Welsh local authorities were able to demonstrate many improvements. These included that:

  • homelessness officers across Wales had received more relevant training
  • there had been more use of alternative communications methods (with use of video calls and chatbots currently explored by some local authorities)
  • some key communication resources had been reviewed to ensure they were available in an accessible format.

However, the Ombudsman expressed disappointment that not all of the 19 non-investigated authorities had considered potential service improvements in light of the 2021 report.

Michelle Morris, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said: “Homelessness affects every member of society in some way; but the greatest impact is on the people, and their families, who are facing homelessness.

“We welcome the positive action taken by the Investigated Authorities since 2021 which has improved homelessness service provision, its accessibility and communication with homelessness service users in these areas. As a result, relevant staff in the Investigated Authorities have received training in equality and human rights, which is central to homelessness decision making.”

Morris acknowledged that homelessness services continue to operate under significant pressure and sustained demands but noted that there continue to be opportunities for some local authorities to improve their provision of homelessness services.

The following have been identified by the Ombudsman as opportunities to improve homelessness services in Wales:

  • Equality and human rights training for all homelessness service decision makers and officers.
  • Overt consideration of equality and human rights in decision making.
  • Empowering officers to identify mistakes and rectify decisions without the need for a Review, where appropriate.
  • Collaboration between local authorities to drive consistency across Wales.
  • Engagement and collaboration by local authorities with stakeholders and partners.

Harry Rodd

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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