Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) suggest that people who face homelessness do not always receive the help that they are entitled to from councils. The phrase 'gatekeeping' has been coined to describe councils refusing to accept a homelessness application or providing interim accommodation without legitimate reason.
Councils have a statutory duty to secure housing for people who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need. There is an extensive body of law and clear, comprehensive guidance that they should follow.
We know that councils are currently under pressure with limited resources and increasing numbers of people presenting as homeless. However, to avoid more people suffering personal injustice councils should always properly apply the law.
At JustUs, we believe people need a safe home, and a fair chance at keeping It. We align ourselves to the Housing First model which is a homeless assistance approach that prioritises providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life.
Homelessness Law in England is excellent. It guarantees some level of assistance for anyone who is homeless and, in many cases, results in a rapid offer of housing. The only problem is that council gatekeeping is widespread.
JustUs was set up specifically to advocate for people applying to Bedford Borough Council when they’re homeless to access the statutory support they are eligible for. Although not legally trained our advocacy helps to fill the gap left when Legal Aid for housing and homelessness cases was franchised out to the larger City based legal firms making it difficult to access. People can be referred from other services or can self-refer. We have found an increase of people (not all) being treated lawfully from the start when we are involved. However, sometimes we will need to use the council’s appeal or complaint processes when someone initially gets knocked back, and where the council has failed to deliver their service lawfully, we work with the person to seek redress, with this resulting in (some) council procedures being improved, and sometimes financial compensation for people who have been found to have suffered injustice as a result.
Additionally, once people are rehoused and funds allowing, we also issue furniture items, white goods, and small household goods and offer a 3-month tenancy sustainment floating support service. This is to give people a fighting chance of maintaining their new tenancy from the outset.