VULNERABLE people at risk of homelessness in Wales are being let down due to a support system that fails to function properly, a report has found. 

People who become, or are facing homelessness, can turn to their local authority for housing support and assistance. But the the Public Services Ombudsman has found “systemic maladministration” with the homelessness review process by local authorities in Wales. 

The report calls for a housing regulator to support local authorities and to provide clear guidance to ensure consistency and address the concerns raised by his report including a lack of consistency in how different authorities approach the homeless review process. 

It is the first report by the ombudsman, Nick Bennett, since he became the first in the UK with the powers to initiate his own investigations rather than only responding to complaints. 

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With more than 31,000 households in Wales assessed as homeless in 2018/19, and evidence having found many are let down by the system, with the numbers seeking support expected to rise, the ombudsman believes and absence of complaints suggests many are unaware of their right, or unable, to contact his office. 

Mr Bennett said: “Those facing homelessness are amongst the most vulnerable people in society. It is essential that they have a voice and that their lived experience shapes the ongoing improvement of the public services they are entitled to.” 

He dubbed the issue a “systemic failure” due to repeated shortcomings in how authorities set about supporting people. 

“Evidence shows that a high proportion of homelessness assessment decisions were being overturned on review, and in some local authorities, this is the case year on year.  This suggested systemic maladministration and a failure to identify and learn lessons, and my investigation found this to be the case,” said Mr Bennett. 

Unacceptable delays in the review process, inadequate processes, poor communication and vulnerable people being offered unsuitable accommodation are highlighted as issues of serious concern. 

READ MORE: How to end homelessness in Wales

The investigation focused on three local authorities – Cardiff, Carmarthenshire and Wrexham – and considered evidence provided by the Welsh Government and third sector organisations such as Shelter Cymru.

It did also find evidence of good practice but that the “systematic maladministration” was letting down “many thousands of people.” 

A review of homelessness cases from the investigated local authorities highlighted the following concerns: 

  • Human Rights and Equality Act 2010 duties are not always taken into account in assessments and reviews.  
  • Delays throughout the Assessment and Review Process. 
  • Significant matters are sometimes missed during the assessment process. 
  • Clients do not always understand unclear and insufficient communication. 
  • Failures to appropriately consider the suitability of accommodation. 
  • Failures to provide support to vulnerable clients and those with complex needs. 

The ombudsman praised the quick support local authorities had taken at the outset of the pandemic provide emergency accommodation but said authorities now need to ensure a consistent service and good practice should be shared across the country. 

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