Cheshire East

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Council votes to defy Ombudsman's report

Oadby and Wigston Borough Council has taken the unusual step of refusing to act on recommendations from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

An ombudsman’s report last month criticised the way the council handled a homelessness case and recommended that housing staff be given further training.

But a council statement said councillors had voted to fully support their housing officers over the action they took.

As a result, Oadby and Wigston must now write to ombudsman Michael King explaining why it thinks the homeless referral was dealt with appropriately.

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‘Miss X’, who had connections with Oadfby and Wigston but lived in another council area, had applied for housing as she feared domestic violence where she was.

An ombudsman service statement said that despite her fears Oadby and Wigston did not take a homelessness application from her.

The ombudsman’s investigation found fault with the way Oadby and Wigston dealt with the family, and said its reasoning for not taking a homelessness application was flawed.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “It is important for councils to be aware of their homelessness obligations and properly assess when they have a duty towards people. When vulnerable families are involved, it is particularly vital. It is not enough to pass the responsibility onto other councils simply because the person has applied to two separate councils for help.

“I have made some very simple, practical recommendations to help improve the council’s services for other homeless people and I would urge the council to review my report and accept the improvements I have asked it to make.”

He said Oadby and Wigston should pay the woman £500 for the injustice caused and provide training to its housing staff “to ensure they can identify when a homelessness application should be taken”.

Bill Boulter, chair of Oadby and Wigston’s service delivery committee said: “It is unfortunate that the council finds itself disagreeing with the local government ombudsman’s interpretation of the legislation.

“At the point of first contact with Miss X the council were aware that a homeless application had been made to Authority A. Authority A had accepted the application and provided Miss X with temporary accommodation and was in the process of referring the application to this council.

“In the circumstances the council is of the view that it was not required to take a further application but it was required to consider the referral in accordance with the legislation and the ombudsman found that the council made its decision on the referral within the timescale given by law and that the council was entitled to reject the referral.”

He said Oadby and Wigston subsequently exercised its discretion to accept a homeless application when a suitable property became available and it became clear that the temporary accommodation provided by Council A was unsuitable for Miss X and her family.

She though refused the temporary accommodation concerned as unsuitable, although the ombudsman subsequently found that it was suitable.

A report to an Oadby and Wigston meeting last week said: “Housing legislation contains provisions into how a homeless referral should be dealt with and places a continuing duty on the referring authority to provide temporary accommodation whilst the referral is determined.

“Councillors agreed that in the circumstances of the referral officers view that a further application was unnecessary was correct.”

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