Council did not do enough to support a woman fleeing violence
West Berkshire Council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for not doing enough to support a woman and her children who were fleeing threats of violence.
The woman had been a tenant in a different council area, in which the police confirmed she was no longer safe. She approached West Berkshire for support, because the police said she would be safe in this area.
Instead of taking a homelessness application from the woman, West Berkshire told her to go back to the council where she had been living. The other council then arranged interim accommodation for her in the West Berkshire area.
The other council asked West Berkshire for help as the woman was living in a hotel with no kitchen facilities. That other council said the most appropriate way to deal with the woman’s homelessness was for her to be offered social housing in West Berkshire because of the risk to her safety.
West Berkshire Council refused to help. It said the police evidence provided was not sufficient and in any case, it did not maintain its own housing stock.
The woman eventually found a private tenancy in West Berkshire, having spent two months in interim accommodation in the hotel.
Having been through West Berkshire’s complaints process, the woman complained to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s investigation found West Berkshire failed to consider properly whether it had a duty towards the woman when she first approached it as homeless. Had it done so, it is likely the council would have decided it had a duty to provide her with interim accommodation.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Vulnerable people at risk of homelessness, such as this woman, should not have to face the uncertainty of not knowing whether they will be housed while councils argue among themselves about responsibility.
“Any discussions about who should fund interim accommodation should take place while the accommodation is being provided, not before agreeing to provide it.
“In the end the other council provided accommodation for the woman, so she and her children were not ultimately left unhoused, but West Berkshire should have done more to establish whether it owed any duties to the woman when she approached it.
“I am pleased the council has now accepted my recommendations to improve its services for vulnerable people at risk of homelessness.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council will apologise to the woman and pay her £500 for the frustration caused. It will also improve its homeless application process and guidance to staff to prevent this situation happening again.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will review its processes to ensure it accepts homelessness applications and provides interim accommodation in line with the law and guidance, and provide guidance or training to relevant staff following that review.
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