Councils ‘turning away’ homeless
Matt Weaver and Faisal al Yafai
Councils are deliberately refusing to accept genuinely vulnerable people as homeless because they do not have the homes or resources to help them, housing lawyers have warned MPs.
The Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA) is calling for the law to be changed to prevent councils failing in their duty to help homeless people.
The move comes as a new report shows that a ‘bottleneck’ caused by a shortage of council accommodation is preventing many people living in London’s hostels from finding a permanent home.
In written evidence to a select committee inquiry into homelessness which opens today, the association complained that a ‘lottery’ was operating on decisions about homeless applications.
It explained that since it was so difficult to challenge council decisions on homelessness cases, a number of authorities were getting away with turning down deserving homeless applications because they do not have the homes to cope.
Speaking to SocietyGuardian.co.uk, barrister David Watkinson said: ‘We can see that in some parts of the country you are much more likely to get favourable housing applications than in other parts – and it seems to be related to the availability of housing. It’s most acute in central London.’
He added: ‘The Homelessness Act gives local authorities a wide range of discretion in dealing with homeless applications. And they are also under resource pressure because of the decline in housing stock and conditions.’
Mr Watkinson, who is convenor of the HLPA’s law reform committee, added: ‘Without a change in the law this unfairness will continue.’
Under the current law, if councils refuse to accept someone as homeless, the applicant can only appeal to the council itself to review that decision. If they are still refused housing they can only appeal to the courts on a point of law and not on the merits of the case.
And the shortage of social housing in London is trapping homeless people in a ‘bottleneck’ of temporary accommodation, according to new figures from St Mungo’s.
Up to a third of the estimated 2,474 people living in the capital’s homeless hostels cannot move out because there is nowhere suitable for them to go, the charity said. In some cases people are remaining in hostels for 16 months.
The survey found that 34% of residents across eight London hostels were awaiting vacancies, a projected total of 841 residents.
Hostels are usually the first step off the streets for long-term homeless people, and most expect to move on after six months.
But the survey found that the average stay across all hostels was 303 days, almost double that time, with some hostels averaging 477 days. Some individuals had been residents for even longer.
The charity, which surveyed a sample of 434 residents, estimated that over 800 homes would need to be built or made available to clear what it called a ‘bottleneck’ of former rough sleepers.
Homes would not necessarily be individual flats, as some residents would need support or shared accommodation before living independently.
Source: the Guardian