Only connect – allocation priority

Just a brief note, partly about Barnet’s Allocation policy and partly about the surprising way that things can develop from a blog post.

In September 2014, I noted that Barnet’s proposed changes to its allocation policy had the effect of excluding domestic violence victims from any priority for social housing, where that had had the highest priority.

This was picked up by Barnet and Whetstone Press, who did an article after calling for a chat and a quote.

From there, the new Barnet Councillor and generally excellent Reema Patel (@ReemaSPatel on twitter) picked it up – and tirelessly ran with it, through a petition, media, questions in council and making sure the Labour group pursued the issue. (Disclaimer, Reema and I had a chat about the operation of the proposals and what an alternative might look like).

And now Reema’s dedicated work has paid off – Barnet council is to re-draft the proposed changes to the allocation policy to ensure DV victims retain band 1 priority. This is a good thing (and possibly Barnet avoiding being unlawful) , and I’m delighted the blog played a small part in it. As an illustration of the way things can work in the social media age, it is small but encouraging.

 

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Allocation, Homeless, Housing law - All.

2 Comments

  1. Here is the Response we submitted as part of Barnet’s Consultation that may add to the debate. Our DV Response is at 12 below. I will look to send the same to Reema Patel:

    This is a Response on behalf the Advice Barnet Project to the Consultation following the proposed changes to Barnet Council’s Housing Allocations Scheme
    Deadline 30th September 2014.
    1. In this Response I will set out each Proposal and follow that with my Response to the particular Proposal.
    2. Proposal:
    Applicants will generally have to live in Barnet for at least five years before they qualify for help with their housing under the housing allocations scheme. Applicants currently have to live in the borough for at least two years. However, the council will continue to provide accommodation to people with less than five years residency where it has a statutory duty to do so under the Homelessness legislation.
    3. Response:
    Typically to reside in a London Borough an individual will have obtained part time and/or temporary work and will look to move to take up that work by securing short term housing. Most will be able to move to permanent perhaps full time work within 2 years and so secure longer term accommodation. However if you have children, are disabled, recently ill or a foreign worker the move to more permanent and/or full time work is harder and so will take longer.
    4. Research shows most single parents are women and such women are only more likely to work as their children get older. Also single mothers are consistently less likely than other women to work. They’re also much less likely than lone male parents to work. See ONS report ‘Women in the labour market’ (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_328352.pdf) and the Fawcett Society report ‘The changing labour market’ (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Fawcett-The-changing-labour-market.pdf)
    5. Given the research this proposal is likely to disproportionately affect single mothers with young children and so potentially breach the duties the council owes such a group under the Equality Act 2010 by at least indirectly discriminating against them.
    6. The same is likely to be true for the disabled, recently ill and foreign workers but I have not been able to gather the research about these groups in the time although given more time this should be possible.
    7. In the documentation accompanying the Consultation it was stated that some analysis was carried out. I made a Freedom of Information Request to Barnet Homes for this analysis in August as they had the information but it was refused as it contained personal information. However I have been told that the information will be published anonymously by 17/10/14.
    8. It seems to me that this information might highlight what type of people/groups this proposal would affect. I want check this information to see if the groups this proposal would affect are, or are not, likely to be discriminated against.
    9. By this Response I therefore ask the council for more time to receive and then to consider the information. I ask to have until 31/10/14 to fully respond to this proposal.
    10. Proposal.
    Applicants who refuse a reasonable offer of accommodation that meets their needs will be excluded from the housing allocations scheme for two years. Currently applicants are excluded for one year. Applicants will continue to be able to request a review if they think that the offer is unreasonable.
    11. Response
    This proposal would seem to be in line with the Localism Act 2012 but I would suggest that if/when a notification as to suitability is sent by the council then it should confirm that the applicant can either a) accept the offer, b) reject the offer and request a review or c) accept the offer but request a review.
    12. Proposal
    Households at risk of violence will have to apply as homeless so that they can be placed in temporary accommodation and be removed from the risk in their existing home more quickly than waiting for an alternative home to be allocated to them through the housing allocations scheme.
    Response.
    This proposal would appear to be unfair on the basis that whilst someone in fear of physical violence is likely to want to be removed from the risk quickly, a person in fear of emotional or psychological violence might not. This proposal would therefore unfairly restrict a person experiencing emotional abuse. Further a person may be in fear of both physical and emotional violence to varying degrees thus making it difficult to distinguish.
    13. More generally an applicant may have many reasons for wanting to move, they may have been waiting for council accommodation many years. For example a disabled applicant who wants to move near family. This proposal seems to suggest that if and when they suffer some additional harm they are then disadvantaged. They presumably would come off the Allocation Scheme and be forced into applying as homeless and thus losing any measure of control over where they will end up living further it may lead to applicants not disclosing harm or the risk of harm and that does not sound a desirable outcome.
    14. Proposal.
    Changes to the community contribution criteria, including increasing the number of hours that an applicant has to work, volunteer or attend training to 16 hours per week. This is where the council gives additional priority to households in housing need who are also making a contribution to the community.
    15. Response.
    In my opinion the scheme as it stands is unfair because it rewards those making a community contribution i.e. those that have a ‘positive residence history’ (see page 1 of Annex 3 to the current Scheme), to the detriment of those who fall into one of the disqualified categories i.e. someone who might be labeled as having a ‘negative residence history’.
    16. This proposal rewards those making a 16 hours or more community contribution by taking away from those making a lesser community contribution. It does not take into account for example a young parent who may only be able to make a small community contribution due to child care commitments now, but intends to increase their contribution as the child grows older. Equally the disabled, recently sick or foreign worker applicant who is only able to make a small contribution for the time being but intends to make a greater contribution in due course.
    17. It maybe that to make the scheme at least less unfair Band 2 could be split into a higher Band 2 (i) and lower Band 2(ii); the young working parent or recently ill applicant mentioned above would go into the lower Band 2 (ii). However, even that would still fail to take properly into account the intention of the young parent or disabled person who is otherwise making the best community contribution they can for the time being.
    18. Further what happens if an applicant had a job and lost it and then got another, what sort of period of interruption of employment means you lose the community contribution? What about someone injured at work and who can never work again and needs to move house, how current does the community contribution have to be and over what period of time? This policy potentially seriously and adversely discriminates against the sick, the disabled and carers.
    Paul Sowerbutts SSP Law

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