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I am vulnerable and homeless but the Council is still refusing to help me

Solicitors in London

I am vulnerable and homeless but the Council is still refusing to help me

News article published on: 27th May 2020

Homelessness law and procedure can be very complicated. We hope this blog gives you some helpful pointers but it is not designed to be used as a substitute for getting proper legal advice. Depending on your financial circumstances, Legal Aid is available so that you can instruct a lawyer to advise and help you with the following issues. If you would like to find out more, we have a dedicated team of specialist housing lawyers that would be happy to help – here.

The Council, otherwise known as ‘the Local Authority’, had certain duties to help homeless people in their area if they meet certain criteria. The person must:

  1. Be eligible for assistance
  2. Be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days
  3. Be vulnerable – this is called having a ‘priority need’
  4. Not be homeless ‘intentionally’

What does ‘eligible’ mean?

Whether or not you are eligible for housing assistance depends on your immigration status in the UK. For example, if you have a right to reside in the UK with ‘recourse to public funds’, this means you are eligible to claim housing assistance, as well as benefits.

What does ‘homeless’ mean?

Homeless does not just mean being on the street. The law says that you are homeless if you do not have accommodation which is reasonable for you to continue to live in. You are homeless if you are sofa surfing or if you have your own home but you cannot live there any more, for example, due to domestic violence or because of serious health hazards at the property.

What does ‘vulnerable’ mean?

You qualify as having a priority need if you are one of the following, or, if you are part of someone’s household who is one of the following:

  1. Pregnant
  2. Looking after a dependent child
  3. Vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or ‘other special reason’. The test for this category is whether, if homeless, you would be significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person who has also been made homeless.
  4. Homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

You may also have a priority need if you:

  1. Have been looked after/accommodated/fostered by children services
  2. Have been a member of the military services
  3. Spent time in prison
  4. Have experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse

What does being ‘intentionally homeless’ mean?

You are intentionally homeless if you have done, or failed to do something which you should have done, that has caused you to lose accommodation that was reasonable for you to continue to live in.

How and where do I make a homelessness application?

You can make a homelessness application to any department of any Council. All you need to do to make an application is explain that you are homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days. It is unlawful for the Council to refuse to process your homelessness application, for example, if they insist that you have to complete a particular form first or that you should make the application to a different Council.

Whilst you do not have to, if you can, it would still be a good idea to make your homelessness application to the Council’s Housing Department in writing and in the area where you have the most connection to. You should also tell them as much as you can about your immigration status and why you qualify as having a ‘priority need’.

If the Council you have applied to think you have a greater connection to a different Council, they can only refer your homelessness application to that Council once they have confirmed in writing that they accept that you are eligible and homeless. The Council must consider your housing needs when deciding whether to make this referral. The other Council will then have to decide whether to accept the referral. If they refuse, then the initial Council will have to rehouse you.

What should a Council do when a vulnerable homeless person asks for help?

If the Council has reason to believe that you may be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days then they have to look in to what duties they owe you and give you their decision in writing with their reasons.

If the Council has reason to believe that you may be eligible, homeless and in priority need, then they must provide you with temporary accommodation whilst they process your application.

I am eligible and threatened with homelessness = duty to prevent homelessness

If the Council is satisfied that you are eligible and homeless, they must:

  • Take reasonable steps to help ensure that accommodation continues to be available for your occupation
  • Assess your housing needs and give you a copy of the assessment. This includes:
    1. Why you became homeless or threatened with homelessness
    2. What is your family’s housing needs and what kind of accommodation would be suitable for you
    3. What support you would need to have and keep accommodation
  • Give you a Personalised Housing Plan, setting out:
    1. What you should do to find accommodation
    2. What the Council will do to help

The Council must keep the Plan under review. If you deliberately or unreasonably refuse to cooperate with the Council, for example, by not following the steps in the plan, then the Council could end your application and may no longer have to help you.

I am eligible and homeless = duty to relieve homelessness

If the Council is satisfied that you are eligible and homeless, they must:

  • Over the next 56 days, take reasonable steps to help you get suitable accommodation that will last at least 6 months
  • Assess your housing needs and give you a copy of the assessment (same as (2) above).
  • Give you a Personalised Housing Plan (same as (3) above).

If there a children or vulnerable adults with support needs in your family then the Council should make a referral to their Children/Adult Services department.

Once the 56 days mentioned at (1) above pass, the Council must immediately confirm in writing whether they accept that you have a priority need and you are not intentionally homeless. If this is the case, then the Council will have a duty to continue to provide you with temporary accommodation whilst they also try to find permanent accommodation for you. You would normally also be able to bid on the Council’s housing register for a Council, Housing Association or private tenancy. The Council’s duty to rehouse you ends when they offer you suitable accommodation. This can be, and often is, a private tenancy.

What can I do if the Council is refusing to help me?

This depends on what exactly the Council is refusing to do.

If the Council is refusing to process your homelessness application, to provide you with temporary accommodation or not giving you a decision on your application, then you may be able to challenge this by starting court proceedings. You would make an application to the High Court for Judicial Review. You can only apply for Judicial Review in certain situations and the process is complicated.  Depending on your financial circumstances, you can get a lawyer to advise and represent you for free under Legal Aid. The deadline to start a Judicial Review claim is 3 months from the date that the Council has breached their duty.

If the Council has made a decision about your homelessness application that you are not happy about then you can ask for a review of this decision within 21 days, so long as it is about:

  • Whether you are eligible, homeless/threatened with homelessness, in priority need, intentionally homeless or whether you have a local connection to the area
  • The steps that the Council has agreed to take in the Personalised Housing Plan
  • Whether to end one of Council’s homelessness duties to you
  • Whether you have deliberately or unreasonably refused to cooperate with the Council
  • The Council referring your application to a different Council
  • Whether accommodation that has been offered to you by the Council is suitable for you. This does not temporary accommodation provided to you whilst the Council is still processing your application.

Bear in mind: You can still accept an offer of accommodation and ask for a review if you feel it is unsuitable. That way, if the review is unsuccessful, you still have somewhere to live. If you refuse an offer of suitable accommodation the Council can end their homelessness duties to you.

If the Council fails to make a decision after you have asked for a review, or if the review decision is negative, then you may be able to appeal this to the County Court within 21 days. You can only appeal on a ‘point of law’, for example, if you can show that the Council has:

  1. Reached a decision in a way that no reasonable Council would have (e.g. not making enquiries that any reasonable Council would have made)
  2. Made a decision so unreasonable that no reasonable Council would have made
  3. Ignored relevant factors/facts or based its decision on irrelevant factors/facts
  4. Asked too much of you to prove your case
  5. Not given any reasons for part or all of its decision
  6. Failed to follow the review procedure
  7. Failed to follow the law, official guidance or any internal policies
  8. Applied a blanket policy without considering your individual circumstances
  9. Left the decision to be made by someone who is unauthorised to do so (e.g. a doctor instead of the Council’s housing review officer)
  10. Given you a legitimate expectation and then goes back on its word
  11. Acted dishonestly or in bad faith

If part or all of the decision of the County Court is negative and you want to appeal it, you have to apply for the court’s permission within 21 days unless the Court says otherwise. This would be an appeal to the Court of Appeal. The court will only give you permission to appeal if it thinks it raises an important point of principle or practice, or if there is another compelling reason. The rules about appeals are very technical and can be difficult to navigate without the help of a specialist lawyer.

You can also make a formal complaint to the Council if they fail to follow their obligations to you. If you do not get a satisfactory response after you have gone through the Council’s complaints procedure, you can escalate the complaint to an independent body called the Local Government Ombudsman. For more information go to https://www.lgo.org.uk/.

Blog post written by Sam O’Flaherty, solicitor in the Housing and Social Care team.

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