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Council rapped for year-long delay in determining homelessness application

The Local Government Ombudsman has sharply criticised a London borough after it took more than a year to determine the homelessness status of a woman with mental health needs.

The LGO said Hounslow Council should have taken around 15 weeks to come to a conclusion about the woman, but instead took 62 weeks to reach a decision.

“During that time she raised concerns about being subject to sexual harassment and assault while in bed and breakfast interim accommodation,” the Ombudsman said.

The woman approached Hounslow for homeless assistance in November 2011. However, the authority refused to provide interim accommodation, because it did not believe she was in priority need.

This was despite the fact that it had significant information on its files about her mental health issues, the LGO said in a report.

The woman had been sectioned to a mental health unit three times in a three month period. She also told the council that she had recently been diagnosed with a personality disorder and had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.

The LGO said Hounslow eventually provided her with interim accommodation four weeks later, after she said she was fleeing domestic violence.

“During its investigations officers contacted the woman’s ex-partner, about whom she had made the claims, putting her at increased risk,” the Ombudman noted.

Hounslow then decided that the woman was not in priority need but did not reach a decision on whether the woman had become intentionally homeless.

This meant it was unclear what duty the council owed, the LGO said. The woman asked for a review of the decision.

“The law says the council should reach a decision on review within eight weeks, however the council took seven and a half months to complete the review and decide the woman was in priority need. It wrongly passed the case back to the original decision maker to decide what duty it owed her and took a further six months to reach a decision,” the Ombudsman said.

Hounslow accepted it had a duty to house the woman in January 2013 and she was permanently rehomed in November that year.

She complained to the council about her treatment but never received a response. She then took the case to the LGO.

The Ombudsman said its investigation had found significant delays in the council’s process for dealing with the request to review her situation, “and very little evidence the council did anything to progress her case”. 

No explanation was forthcoming from the council as to why it took 62 weeks to decide the woman’s homelessness application.

The LGO report said that had there been no delays in the process, the council would have been in the position of accepting the woman’s homelessness application by February 2012, and then she would have been rehoused by December 2012 at the latest.

The LGO has recommended Hounslow:

  • apologise to the woman and provide training for staff about current legislation and complaints handling;
  • pay the woman £1,100 for the stress and anxiety caused by delays in dealing with her homelessness application and a further £100 for the anxiety of not providing interim accommodation in November 2011;
  • pay her £250 for her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.

Hounslow council has agreed to these recommendations and has appointed an Independent Housing Review Officer who is now responsible for carrying out all homeless reviews for the council.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “Hounslow council missed many opportunities to put things right at an earlier stage for the woman and she should not have been left in temporary accommodation for as long as she was. However I am pleased it has accepted my recommendations in full and is already making steps to improve its services to homeless people in its area.

“I appreciate the challenge councils face in response to homelessness and the pressures their resources are under but, as is evident in this case, councils must remember they can be dealing with the most vulnerable members of society who are reliant on them for the most basic of needs. Councils must ensure they are following the correct procedures in deciding applications.”

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