scandal of councils turning away homeless is finally exposed
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Fri Mar 13 15:25:16 GMT 2015
The scandal of councils turning away the homeless is finally being exposed
A London councils admission that it has been
dodging its responsibility to homeless people is
a chance to come clean on the size of our housing crisis
Homeless man in London
The practice of directing homeless people
straight to private landlords instead of
assessing them is widespread among councils.
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Friday 27 February 2015 11.08 GMTLast modified on
Friday 27 February 201517.00 GMT
Lets start with the facts: gatekeeping the
practice of councils turning homeless people away
when they request help is illegal.
In practice, however, councils have been doing it
for years, so last weeks High Court order
warning Southwark council
cease and desist will have sent shockwaves across the country.
During the proceedings, the south London council
admitted that it was council policy to point
homeless people towards privately rented houses
or rooms before fully investigating whether they
met the strict criteria to quality as homeless,
which would then force the council to provide support.
How many others could be caught out doing the
same? The majority, I suspect, and large urban authorities in particular.
Jayesh Kunwardia, a partner at law firm Hodge
Jones & Allen, told Inside Housingthe fact that a
council had admitted to the practice of
London rough sleeper numbers rise again
Welcome as it is to see the council coming clean,
I doubt the decision was entirely motivated by a
desire to wipe the slate and start again. But
there is safety in numbers and if Southwark is
prepared to crawl out of the woodwork and admit
that it had to adapt to survive the pressure of
the housing crisis, perhaps others will now feel able to do the same.
This isnt just a case of councils going rogue. A
change of legislation in 2012, introduced by the
coalition government, made it easier for councils
to get around the gatekeeping rules.
To qualify for state help, a homeless person has
to meet strict criteria. They must be eligible
for assistance (basically a means test and a
check on immigration status); they must be not
directly responsible for being homeless; they
must be in priority need (for example children
who depend on them); and they must either live or
work in the local area where they apply for help.
Councils have always retained the right to offer
an applicant a property in the private sector if
they are found homeless, but until October 2012
that offer could be refused if the applicant was
willing to wait it out in temporary accommodation
until a more stable property a council or
housing association home become available.
But because there is simply not enough social
housing stock to go around and a rising number of
homeless applicants, the right to a social
tenancy for people found to be legally homeless was removed.
Anti-homeless spikes: Sleeping rough opened my
eyes to the citys barbed cruelty
As well as pushing down the number of homeless
referrals to the social sector, the new law has
another consequence: it forces down the actual
number of people registering with a council as
homeless. It does this because, when councils are
allowed to place homeless people in the private
sector, it makes little sense trudging through
the rigorous application process. Youll now
likely end up in exactly the same private rented
property you were pointed to in the first place,
and you run the risk of taking the test and
failing it leaving you back at square one.
This legalised practice is not quite gatekeeping,
but it almost is, and it certainly muddies the water around the whole business.
The cynical among us might also notice that the
change in law has another knock-on effect.
Official homelessness figures while rising no
longer illuminate the true scale of the problem
because many people who might have passed the
test are no longer putting themselves forward to be counted.
Councils have been warned they may need to
rethink their approach to homelessness in the
light of the Southwark agreement, which was made
in order to avoid a major High Court battle. The
outcome of this deal and confession might not
only be a better service for homeless people but
a chance to shed light on the size of one of
Englands fastest-growing social problems.
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