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Ombudsman investigation highlights housing delays in Birmingham

The Local Government Ombudsman has highlighted the length that prospective tenants have to wait for applications to be processed after upholding a complaint against Birmingham City Council over a six-month delay to one family’s request.

The family told the Ombudsman that Birmingham City Council took too long to assess their circumstances. During the Ombudsman’s investigation the council – the biggest in Europe – explained it was receiving 500 applications a week to join its housing register. Of those applications nearly half would be eligible to join, meaning 225 families are added to its list every week.

The Ombudsman’s investigation into the family’s complaint found the council struggling to process applications quickly enough – it took six months for it to look at the family’s situation. Ideally, councils should consider applications within six weeks. However, the council currently takes an average of 22 weeks to do this.

Because of the delay, the council should have backdated the family’s position on the waiting list to the day they applied, meaning they would have been higher up the priority list, but it did not do this.

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Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said he understood that many council housing departments are under pressure as demand is outstripping availability of social housing, and he is aware that in certain are the “unprecedented” demand is creating a backlog.

Mr King said councils need to ensure they are providing “the right advice at the right time to families” to try to either prevent families becoming homeless, or give advice and support with other housing solutions that may be available to them.

He added: “While we can’t say this family has been disadvantaged by the council’s delay in dealing with applications, we are concerned potentially thousands of other families in the city might have been.”

In this case, the Birmingham agreed to apologise to the family and backdate their priority to the date they first applied.

In addition, the council committed to produce an action plan setting out how it will get processing of applications down to four to six weeks, with target dates.

The council will also review its Housing Allocations Policy to ensure any delay does not impact on an applicant’s priority band date. It has also agreed to address any complaints it receives from other applicants about the impact of this delay in line with the recommendations in the report.

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “We apologise to the complainant and will ensure that the ombudsman’s recommendations are carried out in full. This case highlights the pressure that Birmingham City Council is under in seeking to meet the housing needs of our citizens.

“We have already taken steps, including additional resources, to address the time that it has been taking in order to assess applications to the housing register. We are pleased to say that those waiting times are reducing, and there is a plan in place to bring these in line with our service standards.”

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