- October 5, 2012
- By Giles Peaker
- 0 comments
No Way Through – Rules of Engagement
At a time of rising demand, shrinking resources, staff cuts and centrally imposed targets, it is perhaps not surprising that some local authorities’ homeless units appear to be gatekeeping on homeless applications.
‘Gatekeeping’ means deliberate attempts by local authorities to avoid taking applications from people presenting as homeless or to provide temporary accommodation to those applying. This may be as simple as just sending the homeless person away, or perhaps ‘referring’ the person to another agency rather than taking an application.
The ‘preventing homelessness’ agenda, while laudable as an aim, has arguably been used as a cover for some forms of gatekeeping, for instance, sending homeless applicants to find private sector accommodation under a rent deposit scheme without taking their application as homeless.
Whatever the pressures on the local authority, the position at law on their statutory duties is clear: an application as homeless can be in any form and doesn’t have to be in writing, or made at a specific office (R [Aweys & others] v Birmingham CC, ).
Once the application has been made, there is an immediate duty to make enquiries (Robinson v LB Hammersmith & Fulham ).
If the local authority has reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, eligible and in priority need, there is an immediate duty to secure temporary accommodation pending their enquiries and decision. The threshold for having reason to believe that applicant may be homeless, eligible and in priority need is low and arises from the information provided by the applicant (Rikha Begum v LB Tower Hamlets ).
There is therefore no power to refuse an application, or to demand that it is made in a certain way before it is considered, or to say it was made to ‘the wrong department’. There is also no power to delay providing temporary accommodation or just to refer elsewhere in the hope that other accommodation will be found.
The difficulty is that the only effective challenge to gatekeeping is by judicial review. When faced with a judicial review, we have found that local authorities will almost inevitably accept that individual’s application, ending the review and any challenge to a broader policy, even if that can be evidenced.
This article was first published in Inside Housing – 5 October 2012
Giles Peaker is a solicitor in Anthony Gold’s Housing & Public Law department. For further information email Giles or call 020 7940 4060.