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The Ombudsman Criticizes Welsh Ministers for Not Using Powers to Meet Accommodation Needs of Gypsies and Travelers

Ombudsman Group (Credits: CSTEP)

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales recently published a report highlighting the Welsh Government‘s failure to exercise its powers adequately regarding the provision of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers by two local authorities.

This failure has affected specific families and potentially impacted others in the community, raising concerns about compliance with legal obligations and the handling of complaints within the government.

Local authorities in Wales are mandated to address the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers. This obligation includes identifying and assessing the accommodation needs in their respective areas and submitting plans to the Welsh Government for approval.

Ombudsman Group (Credits: Sky News)

However, the Ombudsman’s investigation revealed shortcomings in how the Welsh Government enforced these requirements, particularly concerning Conwy County Borough Council and Denbighshire County Council.

The report found that the Welsh Government did not utilize its powers effectively to ensure that these councils were taking necessary actions as outlined in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. This oversight led to frustration and distress for two families whose accommodation needs remained unmet.

Also, the mishandling of the complaint process added to the families’ distress, as it was not dealt with following Welsh Government policy. The misclassification of the complaint and the excessive delay in informing the families exacerbated the situation.

Importance of the Ombudsman’s Report

Based on these findings, the Ombudsman recommended several measures to address the issues identified. These recommendations include an apology from the Welsh Government to the affected families and a payment of £1,000 each in recognition of the injustice caused.

Additionally, the report advised improvements in how the assessment and provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers are monitored and carried out. The Ombudsman’s report also emphasized the importance of Welsh Government staff responding to complaints promptly and receiving adequate training on the government’s complaints policy and its application.

These measures aim to rectify the shortcomings in handling complaints and ensure a more effective and responsive approach. Traveling Ahead, an advocacy service working with Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities in Wales, welcomed the Ombudsman’s findings.

They highlighted the vivid challenges faced by Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people in accessing appropriate accommodation. They criticized the lack of progress in fulfilling legal obligations under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

Ombudsman Group (Credits: Missouri Independent)

The advocacy service hoped the Ombudsman’s report would prompt improved progress and accountability across all local authorities in Wales regarding Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs.

To the report, a spokesperson for the Welsh Government acknowledged the recommendations and reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.

They outlined ongoing efforts, including capital funding allocations, to improve, extend, or build new Gypsy and Traveller sites in collaboration with stakeholders and local authorities. The report illuminates critical shortcomings in fulfilling legal obligations and handling complaints about Gypsy and Traveller accommodation in Wales.

It underscores the need for robust monitoring, effective enforcement of legal requirements, and timely and appropriate response mechanisms within the Welsh Government to ensure the rights and needs of vulnerable communities are met.

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