Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Home and dry

I was up first in topical questions for Communities and Local Government today, and asked about the way in which councils treat applications for rehousing from the homeless, or soon to be homeless. My concern is that councils tell people that they have to hang on until the bitter end and fight legal proceedings they have no chance of winning, before they will be considered homeless. It's not enough for a landlord to serve a notice to quit, or a mortgagee to gain a repossession order. They're meant to hang on until the bailiffs are virtually knocking down the door, and then the Council will swing into action and rehouse them, at very short notice. You can imagine the stress and anxiety that causes families, especially ones with young kids, when they don't know if they'll have a roof over their head in 24 hours time. Or whether it will be a B&B, or somewhere the other side of Bristol, far from the kids' schools. I try to reassure them that the Council will step in, in the end - but I find it hard to explain why they can't do so as soon as the problem arises.

This case study in the Guardian is about a family who were told that because they didn't fight a repossession by their mortgage company they were "intentionally homeless" and the council had no duty to house them. (Although I think I'm right in saying that in families with young children, the housing department might not have a responsibility in such circumstances, but social services do - and they end up stepping in, with much the same outcome as if housing had accepted them).

And I've had people come to see me, whose landlords have a perfectly good reason for wanting them to vacate the property - e.g. if they're selling it - and yet they're told they have to stay put until the landlord takes legal proceedings against them. Sometimes the landlord might even be a personal friend, and neither party wants to go down this route, or incur the costs involved, but the council will treat them as intentionally homeless if they don't put up a show of resistance.

The Minister replied that as soon as the local authority is satisfied that homelessness "is likely within 28 days", it must take steps to ensure that the applicant and his or her household will continue to have somewhere to live. That doesn't quite tie in with what happens in practice, but it gives me a bit of leverage to take this up with the Council.


Robert said...

You need to brush up a bit on your housing law, a council does not have a duty to house anyone anymore, it has a duty to accomadate them , be that in housing, hotels bed and breakfast.

Kerry said...

I don't see that makes any difference to the point I'm making - so families need to be given more notice of whether they're going to 'accommodated' rather than rehoused - they still want to know they're going to have a roof over their head.

david said...

This happens in the UK all the time, if people cannot afford the load repayments for a car then "baylifts" come round an reposes your car. Only recently are we seeing the same happen with mortgages, maybe the government should make it law when you get a mortgage to get a Mortgage Bonds, this would help curb the situation of the repossession wouldn't it?

Kerry said...

Insurance against redundancy, sickness, etc is obviously a good idea - but doesn't cover a situation where people borrow beyond their means and even a smallish rise in interest rates hits them hard. Or where their overtime is cut back, or they are self-employed and their profits are down. I can't comment on the concept of surety bonds - very difficult to work out from the linked website what they're all about. which makes me more than a little suspicious. Do they pay out in the above circumstances?