End of days miscellany

No, I am not going to comment much on the ongoing, unravelling farce of the NHF ‘voluntary deal’ on housing association right to buy. Partly because nobody seems to have a clue what is going on and what it would actually mean – apparently including the NHF. But there is plenty else going on to suggest that the opening of the seven seals is now well underway for UK housing.

First seal

A ‘furnished houseshare room let’ in Clapham for £500 per month

I wonder if Wandsworth Council might want to look at fire safety… According to the Daily Mail, the landlord is called Dan Smith.

[Update – this may be a PR scam, building media links for a letting site. But we have seen sheds in living rooms genuinely offered for let.]

Second seal

London Local Authorities are considering a legal challenge to plans to make them sell off ‘high value’ council housing to fund the ‘voluntary’ housing association right to buy. (Subscription needed for link). Because, of course, the NHF plan, while allegedly saving housing associations from, erm, something though it is far from clear what, does thoroughly involve doing over any local authority sitting on housing stock in high market value areas (like all of London).

Third seal

Underlying this tragic story is a perhaps more everyday story of the operation of homelessness services.

Putting together various bits of the story from various pieces, it appears that the young couple lived in a flat near Bournemouth after the woman had fled her home in Kent because of DV. They lost the flat and the woman, now pregnant, approached Poole Borough Council in May. The woman’s partner was from Bournemouth.

According to Poole’s quoted remarks, the woman was told she could not be helped because she lived in Verwood (outside Poole BC boundary), and Poole are also reported as saying they would have advised her to “contact her local council who may be able to review her application and offer assistance based on her current circumstances” and that

“Borough of Poole was contacted by the mother and though she was not eligible, she was provided with as much support and guidance as possible.”

The couple became actually homeless after the premature birth of their baby, staying in B&Bs and sleeping in their car. It appears that after July they went to Kent and that their baby sadly died soon after.

What struck me here was Poole refusing to take a homeless application from a pregnant woman, saying variously ‘not eligible’ and ‘living in a different council area’. So I had a look at Poole’s homeless services page. Rather surprisingly, this said that 5 conditions had to be met for housing assistance under homeless legislation:

  • Eligible for assistance
  • Homeless
  • In priority need
  • Not intentionally homeless
  • Have a local connection

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 11.17.12

And here is the ‘Dorset Councils’ website on homelessness. Which is differently but equally misleading.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 21.52.58

Now, the emphasis on local connection as a criteria for housing assistance is, to put it at its best, an error. Local connection is an issue for a potential referral to another borough, but it is a factor after a homeless application has been taken and a s.184 decision reached as to a housing duty. It is not and cannot be a reason to refuse to take an application (and provide interim accommodation if apparently homeless and in priority need).

So I emailed Poole to ask i) on what basis they had decided this woman was ‘not eligible’, and ii) on what statute and case law they based their assertion on their webpage that ‘local connection’ was a condition for housing assistance (making clear it was for publication).

I actually got a reply.

1.We are unable to comment on individual cases without consent and as you know under the Data Protection Act , we are not able to disclose individual information .

2. Thank you for your observation on the content on our web page, this information is currently been amended and updated version will be posted shortly.

Well the DPA certainly didn’t stop them providing quotes for the various newspaper articles, and I had not asked for any personal or identifying details. But they had indeed amended the web page, which has become startlingly brief, omitting any mention of local connection, or indeed virtually anything.

What I am left with is the very, very strong suspicion that Poole BC had been gatekeeping, using ‘local connection’ as a means of (unlawfully) avoiding taking homeless applications. Let us hope that being called out on it changes any such practice that might have been taking place.

Fourth Seal

Manchester Council brought committal for breach of injunction proceedings against homeless people in tents under a flyover. Apparently because being in a tent under a flyover was supposedly a breach of an injunction against protesting the councils homeless policy in the city centre.

This evening’s news is that the committal proceedings did not go well:

Seals five to seven are apparently to be opening on a daily basis from now on…

On a much happier note, it is the 30th anniversary of ‘Recent Developments in Housing Law’ in Legal Action magazine. Run by Jan Luba QC and HHJ Nic Madge, Recent Developments has been at the very core of housing law practice for all of those 30 years and is a remarkable feat of building a whole area of law. Let us hope for many more years.

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 Assured Shorthold tenancy, Homeless, Housing law - All, right-to-buy.

5 Comments

  1. Giles, you sound surprised that a local authority should use local connection as a gatekeeping exercise. In my work challenging at least 10 around the country over the last 20 years,I haven’t come across a local authority yet who doesn’t routinely do this if they can get away with it.

  2. I am so glad that you emailed Poole querying their statement on the eligibility of that family! I thought the same when I saw the news story. I do hope that the family in question find their way to advice services for help with a DPA request for their housing file… that might make an interesting follow up story for the press, not to mention interesting reading for the LGO. Sadly however, they no doubt now have more pressing issues on their minds and little inclination to pursue an argument which has, in meaningful terms, already been tragically and irrevocably lost.

  3. The third seal makes my blood boil. Having fought day in day out for years with LAs on the local connection point to prevent something like this happening within our local districts, it is shocking to see the harm it can cause a family when they presumably have had no advice. This is the cost of creating advice deserts. This is surely one for the HO and what about a retrospective JR?

  4. Homelessness Prevention Officers or (with many notable exceptions) Prevention of Making Homelessness Applications Officers

    It is unfortunately the fault of senior management, officers dealing with the public sometimes get balled out for taking applications, and then when subject to a Councillor’s or MPs intervention get balled out for not taking an application.

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