Housing Needs: Supporting Vulnerable Households
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) issued a joint report against the London Boroughs of Brent and Ealing on 8 August 2016. The report relates to the Housing Needs Service’s and Brent Housing Partnership’s handling of a BHP tenant’s request for urgent rehousing due to domestic violence. The LGO report was presented at the Audit Committee in September 2016, and Members requested a follow up report to come to the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, which addresses the issues identified in the complaint report. This report details how the Housing Needs Service responds to issues of particular vulnerability such as domestic violence.
Councillor Farah (Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform) advised that the report before the committee provided an update to members regarding an issue identified via a Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) complaint. The LGO had issued a joint report against the London Boroughs of Brent and Ealing on 8 August 2016. The report related to the Housing Needs Service’s and Brent Housing Partnership’s (BHP) handling of a BHP tenant’s request for urgent rehousing due to domestic violence in 2014. Considerable improvement had since been made. Laurence Coaker (Head of Housing Needs) briefly outlined the report to the committee advising that it set out the statutory framework within which the Housing Needs Service operated, identified the domestic abuse risk management pathways and the potential options which could be offered in such circumstances.
The Committee sought details of the training put in place to improve awareness within the Housing Needs Service of domestic violence policies and the feedback mechanisms employed to provide ongoing assurance that this training was sufficient. Clarification was sought on whether the options identified in the report were open to private tenants and homeowners as well as BHP tenants. Members queried what partnership arrangements were in place to ensure that housing providers were appropriately aware of the various options that might be available to vulnerable tenants. It was further queried how the review process for the West London Domestic Violence Reciprocals Scheme had been amended.
Laurence Coaker advised that all frontline Housing Needs officers received training to ensure that they were aware of all of the options open to households fleeing domestic violence. There had been a one-off training session provided in response to the LGO case; however, the Housing Needs Service had a mandatory cyclical annual training programme for officers. Consideration was also being given to initiating secret shopper testing for the whole of the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) service, led by Hestia, which dealt with domestic violence cases assessed as high risk and into which the Housing Needs Service fed. Members were further advised that the aim of the Housing Needs Service was the prevention of homelessness and therefore support would be offered regardless of a person’s tenancy arrangements; however, some options would not be applicable to particular circumstances. The protocol for the West London Domestic Violence Reciprocals Scheme was currently being reviewed by representatives of member boroughs; once this was signed off at Head of Service level, it would be fed back into the training programme for Housing Needs officers.
A Member highlighted the importance of the services provided by Hestia and the committee agreed that a committee visit be arranged.
i) That the committee’s strong support of plans to undertake mystery shopping as part of the planned service review be noted;
ii) That the committee receive a report on the learning obtained from the mystery shopping exercise and corresponding service improvement;
iii) That the appropriate sub-committee of the Adult Safeguarding Board consider the lessons learnt from the case referred to in the report before the committee from the Strategic Director of Community Wellbeing.