Apologies in advance, but this is something that's really getting right up my NOSE right now about my job and I feel that the collective omertá that surrounds this needs to be addressed before my last few marbles go drip-drapping down my spinal column and out my still-not-healed pilonidal sinus.
For those who may not be aware, I am a trainee solicitor. I left university in 2008 with a 2.1 and, after a year doing my LPC, I fell into the happy-go-lucky world of housing law because a firm doing that was the first, last, and only place that would employ me. I have since grown to quite like it, although there is one part of it that pisses me off more than suicidal teens.
And that is homelessness. Specifically, the sort of stupid stunts local authorities pull to avoid having to go to the effort of housing people who are homeless.
A bit of law next - if you are homeless in England and Wales, your local council has a duty to assist you, and the level of its duty depends on a number of factors. If you are homeless (the definition of which is broader than being out on the streets, but I digress), eligible under the immigration rules, and in "priority need," which is a catchall term for pregnant, having children, being seriously ill or disabled, or just having come out of the Forces or prison or care, but not intentionally homeless, and you have a local connection to that area, then the Council must rehouse you. Or at least put you high enough up in the queue that you stand a chance of getting a property before Satan skates to work. Furthermore, if you are homeless, eligible for assistance, and in priority need, regardless of anything else, the Council must put you in temporary accommodation while it carries out its enquiries.
Naturally, council staff don't like this. It involves effort! If they wanted to work, they'd have entered the private sector! This isn't on, oh no! And in any event, the pressure on local authorities to house folks, especially in London and the South East, is pretty heavy. However, the pressure on local authorities to make their statistics look good so that Nick Clegg or Grant Shapps don't shout at them is also existent. And if people are accepted as homeless, put on the waiting list, and left dangling for years in temporary accommodation, it looks bad for the statistics. And it's this that I object to the most - the dishonesty of it all. Because the Council looking good is more important than actually assisting the people they are legally obliged to assist.
So the answer is this - do not accept people as homeless even when you have to. Threaten, bribe, cajole, and ignore until they go away.
Here's some of the nastier stunts I've come across in my time. Councils are not named because of our needlessly claimant-friendly libel laws, I've used obfuscations and fictitious names.
1. Those aren't your kids! The London Borough of Sinksville turned away one client of mine at the front desk by saying that those were not her children that she'd presented as homeless with and that she'd just picked them up off the street. They were not even going to see her unless she could provide birth certificates.
2. Not enough information, computer says no. This was one also in Sinksville. They made her run round the borough all day picking up the information they requested and without which they could not make a decision. Of course, they didn't give a list of the information they wanted, they were just pulling it out their arse as they went along to try and bore the client into going away.
3. Threats of snatching children into care. Here's a classic from the London Borough of Stockworth. Client presents as homeless with a 14 year old son. They don't want to house her even temporarily even though they're required to. They say that of course she can apply as homeless, but they'll be duty bound to notify Social Services (a lie, incidentally) and they'll probably kidnap her son into care summarily. (Social workers are all cunts as well, but that's a whole other node.) Needless to say, she's frightened off.
4. HULK SMASH! One from Maverickton in London now. Here, the gentleman and his 12 year old son are locked out by a slumlord and three tough pals. Maverickton Borough say sorry, you're not homeless, go back and break down the door. But what about him and his three tough pals, they might hurt me? Not our problem.
5. Death by a Thousand Insults. One of the nastier ones I've encountered. I think it was Greensborough though I can't remember exactly. They basically hurled veiled abuse at the client about how she was an unfit mother, how she was sponging off the goodwill of the ratepayers, how she was ugly and a crack-addled whore, etc. etc., with the intent that she got so annoyed she'd kick up a fuss and they then had an excuse to call the Police to have her escorted from the building. Oh, and if she returns, they hide behind the convenient little sign that says "Our staff have the right to work without verbal or physical abuse, etc. etc." And best of all, it's all plausibly deniable, because no true public-spirited Council officer would EVER behave like that.
6. Ping pong. Outshaw in Surrey tried to bounce a client back to another borough by claiming (falsely) that she had another homeless application in that borough and she should go back there, and until they saw a Certificate of Withdrawal of Homeless Application they will not see her, ever. Said certificate does not exist.
7. You're not from round here, are you? The London Borough of Penetralia love this one. They ask where you've been homeless from then tell you to go back there. Local connection is a factor, yes, but you can't be refused rehousing because you're not from round there; you can only be referred back to where you came from AFTER you're accepted as homeless and that they have a duty to you.
8. You're underage, sonny. If you are 16 or 17, you are priority need by default for housing under homelessness legislation. But you are also a minor. So usually Homeless Persons tell the 17 year old applicant whose parents have slung them out to go to Social Services, and then Social Services tell them to go back to Homeless Persons, and so on. Sinksville did this to a client of ours a while back.
9. Critical Existence Failure! Top marks for brass neck here. Keensland Council in Surrey actually claimed to a client of mine that the Homeless Persons Unit didn't exist any more, so they were wasting their time. The fact that there was a large sign saying "Homeless Persons" on the wall was written off as "administrative error" and that the department closed in 2008 but they'd not got round to taking down the sign.
Of course, the advantage of all these is that they are plausibly deniable, as if a homeless applicant is turned away at the front desk without being seen, then they don't register on the statistics.
And this is something that really fucking pisses me the cunting arse off. How dare these local authority ne'er-do-wells shit on vulnerable people just to massage their statistics so they look good? How very dare they? I know there's not much social housing to go round but even so, a bit of honesty about the scale of homelessness might just light a fire under someone's arse to do something about it. This sort of collective dishonesty helps nobody and leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. It's like the head of housing at one large inner London local authority said a while back, in his borough, there are no homeless persons, just people with "housing needs." (For the record, certain other councils have gone one better - there, you are given "Housing Options" such as a crime-laden sink estate, a flea-infested B&B, or under Waterloo Bridge. Woo. Huzzah for councilspeak.)
Of course, if someone rounded up a clearly heavily pregnant woman, kitted her out with a secret video camera and sent her into a Homeless Persons Unit the subject local authority would apply for a super injunction faster than you could say "Section 184 of the Housing Act 1996 as amended."
Can't they just do their jobs? What else do we pay our council tax for? Lutfur Rahman's new Jag? Oh, wait...