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Internal audit found provision of homelessness accommodation lacked ‘clear direction’

A Denbighshire Council internal audit slammed provision of homelessness accommodation, saying the service lacked “clear direction” and had been “slow” in finding alternatives to B&Bs, hotels and caravans.

The study by Denbighshire council’s internal auditors was conducted between January and March 2020, before the pandemic had kicked in, and was published in December last year.

Before lockdown, the authority only had to house homeless people with a priority need, but afterwards was told it must house everyone who is homeless.

The review, presented at the council’s corporate governance and audit committee on Tuesday focused on the provision of emergency bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels and caravans, plus temporary leased spaces.

It also reviewed the long-term solutions put in place to minimise their use.

The report gave a “low assurance”, meaning auditors found “significant weaknesses in the management of risks and/or controls that put the achievement of objectives at risk”.

The report said: “Strategically, there has previously been a lack of clear direction and coordinated approach to address the prolonged use of temporary and emergency accommodation.

“Progress has been slow in creating more permanent solutions to minimise the use of this type of accommodation.”

The exposé of the service revealed several key issues:

Citizens staying in emergency and temporary accommodation for lengthy periods;

There is a risk that accommodation used is no longer suitable, is either not being used or used inappropriately, and the welfare of the citizen is not adequately monitored;

Without written procedures or guidance, staff may not be clear of their duties and carry out processes inconsistently, which could lead to non-compliance with legislation – no documented procedures for assessment, allocation of temporary and emergency accommodation, charging, and payments and arrears’

There is a risk that conflicts of interest are not being managed as not all staff are declaring a personal or business interest;

There is a lack of evidence to demonstrate adequate action is being taken to secure alternative accommodation, sufficient checks are being carried out on the citizens, or the person has a genuine homeless need;

There needs to be a robust system for managing the payments and chasing arrears for emergency accommodation – lack of regular monitoring will result in outstanding debts not being recovered promptly, and could result in the system being exploited;

During our review, the level of the arrears for current tenants was approximately £15,000 and £27,000 for former tenants and

There may be a disconnect between the strategic approach, and the work that is being carried out operationally – meaning communication between upper management and staff could be an issue.

The auditors said homelessness was “a high profile area in terms of the significant financial pressures and reputational risk resulting from housing people in temporary and emergency accommodation for lengthy periods”.

The report concluded: “Overall, while considerable action has been undertaken recently to make improvements, because of the significance of the risks being raised, we provide a low assurance rating.”

A review of the service has been completed and staff are currently under “consultation”, with many being forced to reapply for jobs with different specifications and others being forced to move to entirely different departments within the council.

The homelessness prevention team was told jobs could be cut and work outsourced just two weeks before Christmas last year.

The consultation with the affected staff was supposed to close on January 20 but was extended until the 29th.

Community support services will consider responses before reaching a conclusion by the end of February – and changes to the team will be implemented by May this year.

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