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Ombudsman issues report on social housing allocations after rise in complaints

The Local Government Ombudsman has issued a special report on councils’ role in allocating social housing, after complaints and enquiries rose 13% in 2014/15.

The LGO revealed that it had upheld complaints in 42% of allocation cases where it had conducted a detailed investigation.

The report, which can be viewed here, covers:

  • Housing allocations background;
  • The role of the Local Government Ombudsman;
  • Stories from complaints to the LGO;
  • Getting things right first time;
  • Scrutiny and the role of councillors.

Stories highlighted in the report include one case where a woman and her two children had had to spend more than two years in an overcrowded one-bedroom flat.

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The Ombudsman noted the impact of the Localism Act, which gave councils powers to change their housing allocation schemes. The measures were intended to help authorities to better manage their waiting lists to suit local needs.

The report pointed to recent government statistics showing that 90% of English councils had changed their schemes. These changes usually included introducing tighter qualification requirements for applicants, including a local connection to the area.

“A significant proportion of housing allocation complaints to the Ombudsman are from people denied access to their council’s housing register due to the restricted qualification requirements.
” the LGO said.

“Several councils have recently had their housing allocation schemes successfully challenged in court for excluding some vulnerable groups which fall into a protected category. These groups can include the homeless, those in overcrowded accommodation and those needing to move for welfare reasons.”

Common issues the LGO said it found in housing allocations complaints included: delay in dealing with applications or a change in circumstances; decisions not in line with allocation schemes; failure to consider relevant information; and not notifying people of their right to request a review of a decision.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said: 

“The effects of failing to access suitable housing can be huge, and extend into other areas of people’s lives such as education and wellbeing. It is vitally important that councils get it right first time.

“In the complaints we investigate we regularly find councils at fault, so I urge them to consider the cases in our report and ask whether practices can be improved to avoid similar things happening to others.

“With demand far outstripping supply, there are difficult decisions to be made. But any changes to council allocation schemes should not disadvantage the vulnerable groups which must be given a reasonable preference by law.”

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