This is another decision of the Welsh Ombudsman, again concerning Conwy Council. Case 200702044 – Conwy County Borough Council. I don’t propose to go into detail on the specifics of this matter – which principally concerned delay and muddle in dealing with an imminent homeless situation, mostly due to having to pass through Housing Options (homeless prevention) before any referral to Housing Advice (the HPU) could be made.
However, the Ombudsman made some points concerning the complainants’ Part VI application that are worth repeating:
63. As a function of its housing allocation arrangements the Council, through its housing lettings officers, must consider whether an applicant is “homeless” as the Act (see above) makes it clear that reasonable preference must be awarded to those who are homeless. The relevant meaning of “homeless” in the context of the housing application form to be assessed by a lettings officer is the same as that which applies if Council homelessness officers were considering whether any Part 7 duties were owed. The Council‟s Policy indeed sets out an award of points for a number of variables under the “Homelessness” points section (set out above) stating that such points could only be awarded following a formal interview and investigation by a homelessness officer. In other words, before such points can be awarded by a lettings officer there must have been consideration of the position by a homelessness officer which makes identification of circumstances set out in the application form critical, as an award of preference homelessness points can make a real impact on an applicant’s prospects of an allocation.
64. In addition, circumstances set out in a housing application form might itself mean it is necessary that an assessment of whether any of the Council‟s Part 7 duties are owed (including the provision in some circumstances of emergency temporary accommodation) is carried out by a homelessness officer to whom the matter should then be referred.
In short, a Part VI application that gives reason to believe that homelessness is or may be involved should trigger Part VII duties and assessment. The Ombudsman further criticised the lack of awareness of officers in this authority dealing with Part VI applications of the factors that may engage Part VII, and hence their failure to refer to homeless officers on, for example, poor housing conditions or affordability issues. I’d consider that this is far from an uncommon situation, so theses points have general relevance.