AN investigation which examined support provided to people at risk of homelessness in Wrexham has identified “systemic failures”.
Despite praising “beacons of good practice”, the Public Services Ombudsman found too many people at risk of homelessness in Wales are victims of “injustice”.
Ombudsman Nick Bennett highlighted unacceptable delays, inadequate processes, poor communication and placement in unsuitable accommodation in his report into three Welsh local authorities.
Wrexham Council was one of those placed under the spotlight, with staff reporting problems contacting people in need of support since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
With face-to-face contact not permitted, officers said they had struggled to keep in touch with individuals with no access to a phone, or who live in an area with poor signal.
The council said stress levels among staff had increased because of the
extra pressure placed on them during the pandemic.
Mr Bennett has now recommended a new housing regulator should be created to provide clear guidance to Welsh authorities and address the concerns raised in his report.
He said: “Those facing homelessness are amongst the most vulnerable people in society.
“It is essential that they have a voice and that their lived experience shapes the ongoing improvement of the public services they are entitled to.
“Evidence shows that a high proportion of homelessness assessment decisions were being overturned on review, and in some local authorities, this is the case year on year.
“This suggested systemic maladministration and a failure to identify and learn lessons, and my investigation found this to be the case.”
He added: “The work undertaken by homelessness teams in Wales during the pandemic has been admirable.
“However, as we look towards a post-pandemic future, anybody at risk of homelessness should be able to expect consistent service from their local authority, wherever they may be in Wales.”
Wrexham Council has reported a sharp rise in the number of people presenting to it as homeless since the pandemic began last March.
Figures released in December 2020 showed a total of 505 people had sought assistance, around a fifth of whom had recently been released from prison.
Officials have put a number of measures in place to tackle the issue, including buying the former Grove Guest House on Chester Road to use as temporary homeless accommodation.
Plans to demolish the old Tŷ Nos night shelter on Holt Road were also approved earlier this year to make way for 19 apartments for homeless people, as well as a support centre.
Responding to the Ombudsman’s review Julie M Francis, the council’s chief officer for housing, said: “Officers from Wrexham Council worked closely with the Ombudsman for Wales’ office to provide a large amount of information, both in the form of documentation and staff questionnaires.
“It should be noted that this investigation took place during the Covid-19 pandemic when strict regulations around face to face contact and restrictions on movement were in place.
“Overall, the report highlights a positive view of homeless services in Wrexham Council and this is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of staff within the service.
“There are areas of improvement identified which as a council we welcome the opportunity to address through an agreed action plan.”