The worst Part VII homeless decision ever?

There are bad homeless decisions by local authorities. We’ve all seen them. Findings of intentional homelessness for being evicted for complaining about a broken shower, or being evicted for getting pregnant in an HMO that didn’t allow children. Decisions that stated that being sexually assaulted was just one of those things that happened to homeless people. And etc. and etc.

But, courtesy of an article in DevonLive about a 2017 decision regarding a 20 year old man with severe mental health issues comes the following decision letter by Torbay Council, which is in both fact and law, probably the worst I have seen. It dates from 2017. The individual concerned subsequently went through a period of rough sleeping but appears to have found some assistance in Exeter.

The bit you need to know before reading the decision letter is that the man was in hospital in a medically induced coma and under section following a suicide attempt at the time he was ‘not occupying’ the temporary accommodation, and that his mental health issues were known to the homeless unit. So, decision the letter (as images).

 

Torbay decision 1

torbay decision 2

To paraphrase:

‘You are intentionally homeless because you didn’t follow mental health services guidance and instead attempted suicide, which meant you were away from the temporary accommodation in breach of licence. So we are discharging our housing duty.’

I’m not even going to start on the ways this is unlawful. You can add them up in the comments. It is, of course, very, very wrong. But I am aghast that this apparently not only got written but presumably approved by a manager. If this had got into the hands of a housing lawyer, Torbay would have been toast.

Of course, in 2017 there was only one legal aid housing provider covering, well, all of Devon. If you want an illustration of what legal aid deserts mean, here it is. Unchallenged appalling decision-making affecting the most vulnerable people.

Since the latest Legal Aid Agency civil contract round, there is still only one legal aid housing provider in Devon.

 

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 Homeless, Housing law - All and tagged , .

8 Comments

  1. Yes, absolutely shocking and a disgrace that Devon Council choose to act in this manner by literally assaulting this vulnerable person as he lay in a coma on a hospital bed. No doubt done with a snigger and approved by some shyster in a tie or multi coloured scarf who then trotted home to engage with their ill gotten lifestyle ! Prison isn’t good enough for them !

    • It wasn’t Devon Council, it was Torbay Council. It wasn’t a literal assault. Council homeless officers are not well paid and I’m pretty sure that there is a lack of sniggering to be had.

      It does suggest a serious lack of understanding of the law in the homeless unit at that time.

    • Apologies to Devon…shame shame on Torbay … parhaps not a literal assualt but for me its definitely an example of social violence..ignorance is no defence.

  2. Well, uh… on the positive side the letter’s nicely formatted and seems relatively free of spelling mistakes and contextless copy/paste.

    Disgraceful.

  3. Unfortunately ineptitude at authorities across the country means I have seen worse!

    We represented a gentleman only last year for whom we provided a psychiatric report detailing a range of serious mental health issues only to get a single-page Section 184 decision stating he wasn’t in priority need as ‘he didn’t have dependant children’. Not one word about vulnerability.

    The decision wasn’t overturned on review but the authority in question chose wisely to settle once our Section 204 appeal was lodged (not without paying our costs it must be added).

    Unfortunately, as with so many other positions with Local Authorities, they can’t retain the right people with the knowledge and skill set to do the job. I firmly believe Council Officers are doing their best but so many are simply not equipped to get a handle on the legal tests for homelessness.

  4. I started off in homelessness case work but now I’m a trainer of homelessness officers and occasional freelance reviewer, in the last year since the introduction of the HRA I have been travelling from Somerset, through Dorset, various London boroughs, Berkshire, Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and a few other places I’ve forgotten and what I’m seeing is this:-

    *Worn out by incessant reorganisations, doubling up on duties, cuts, lack of funds, problems with sourcing suitable, ie affordable accommodation, many old, experienced officers are simply getting out the work. Two long standing officers I know, who were really good at what they did are now driving London busses as an alternative to the grinding pressures of the job.
    *In some areas staff sickness causes problems as people go down with stress at the numbers of people they are seeing v. the resources to meet their needs
    *Many local authorities are finding it difficult to recruit anyone, for these reasons (there are also difficulties recruiting EHOs and Trading Standards officers as well).
    *Many authorities are employing people completely fresh, who a week before were working in Specsavers or Tesco (real examples) Nothing wrong with that, new blood is welcome and we all started somewhere but it means much vital knowledge is not getting picked up quickly enough.
    *The new people are really keen and enthusiastic but in areas of high pressure, the emphasis is still more on a blue light approach to service delivery and not enough on prevention work, and HRA routes arent being as well developed as they could be.
    *There is still confusion about things like where prevention and relief duties overlap.
    *In some places of high demand the additional paper tasks of assessments and PHPs is causing pressure.

    And finally I notice that in areas where authorities are not regularly challenged by organisations like Shelter or competent solicitors, investigations and decisions get very sloppy, which over-time becomes enshrined in office policies that people mistakenly think are correct. Its robust challenges that keep teams on their game. Another example of what happens in legal aid deserts.

    None of this excuses the Torbay decision, which is shocking and rubbish but working in homelessness units in 2019 is a hell hole I would never put myself through again. Watching the madness and hearing the tales just as a trainer is as close as I ever want to get to it again.

  5. I am so disgusted by this Council that I actually feel sick in my stomach.

    I have been homeless twice myself and it was six months before a local charity insisted I re-present myself to my local Council (they had originally told me that they did not have a duty to me). That first meeting was so humiliating that I did not even bother to ask them the second time.

    I count myself lucky that I was able to sleep in my car until I had an RTA that wrote it off, family members who could not house me pitched in to get the car repaired. I had numerous health problems including mental health and a respiratory problem, every night I wished I would not wake up. So much stuff goes through your mind, you are not locked up but effectively in a cell, you walk among society but you are not part of it, especially since the Government persuaded everyone we are all slackers etc. I went to a Catholic school but has not had faith for years, nor would I start just because I was homeless. I did see a priest who told me that in the Bible God forgives everything, but that the only thing that guarantees you a place in hell is suicide.

    The very worst thing about being homeless though is that you never know when it will end, so no wonder that people attempt suicide, I felt it was a way out. It was not a cry for help because I had genuinely had enough and the method I planned was guaranteed fatal. Having made the decision gave me an unusual feeling of acceptance, I was done here and what would be would be. During my homelessness I tried to maintain my dignity and my self respect, the whole process of claiming ESA and PIP removed what little dignity I had left, The regular medicals and assessments make me profoundly suicidal, not because I fear them or because of the 5 months you have a guillotine hanging over you, but because it forces me to face the limits of my disability.

    I was however lucky to have the self discipline to not start drinking or taking drugs, those that do are truly trapped in vicious cycle. I never thought I would be homeless, I have had several businesses and always bounced back when life through hardship at me. I had always taken good health for granted, it really showed me that it can happen to anyone of us, you might think you have assets or that you would find a way out but you would soon find that your circle quickly disown you because you are a reminder of their own vulnerability.

    That charity saved my life, I will not pretend that it solved all my problems but it gave me a reprieve of time to improve other things in my life, I spent a year in temporary housing bidding etc then finally I got into a 1 bed social housing flat. This has enabled me to reconnect with my children to whom I was obviously an embarrassment while homeless and when I was in temporary housing. I still have profound mental health problems that can’t be resolved by CBT or anything else, but I live one day at a time, trying to “be there” for my children, even if I can’t support them financially. I also try in other ways to make a difference to the lives of others within the limits of my disability.

    When homeless and when in temp housing I got to know quite a few people, some of whom got similar letters for different reasons. I had discovered your blog some years ago when my Landlord gave me 3 days notice to quit with no S21, it took nearly 18 months before he did it right. Actually, he did not get it right and I took it to appeal but they wheeled in some Barrister who persuaded a newly appointed Judge and I did not have the energy to fight further (I had no legal representation). A few years later, your amazing blog and the decisions you covered helped me to help others, we wrote letters based on those and we got the Council to back off for quite a few of them. So THANK YOU !

    When I read the letter above it brought it all back to me, I wish there was a way to take every material possession away from the people who contributed this decision, to make them homeless, not for a night, not for a week but indefinitely, so that they would truly understand what they are inflicting on people.

    The other links in the article show that Council has “form” for this, can’t the local MP find out whether this is the decision of a specific Housing Officer or the Council itself. I know when I was in Temporary Housing there were several times a year when they had a PURGE, suddenly numerous people got letters giving spurious reasons to evict them. For them it was a numbers game, some would leave of their own accord and free up spaces.

    I hope someone can help Chris.

    Thanks Giles for all that you do, I know that it is a legal blog but it helps an awful lot of other people.

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