Gatekeeping at Haringey Council

We recently supported one of our members, M, who faced gatekeeping from Haringey Council when she attempted to apply as homeless. This was not a one-off incident. Our previous experiences show that the council consistently fails to do its duty, and the comments made to M by a housing officer confirm this. We’re calling on Haringey Council to stop its unlawful gatekeeping practices.

M first reported her homelessness in July, and was moved back and forth between advisers. She told them she was due to be evicted in October, that she couldn’t afford a deposit for a new home, and that she is vulnerable because of her physical health. This should have given the council reason to believe M was homeless, meaning that they had a duty to offer her a homelessness assessment. At the very least, if they refused to do so, they should have given her a S.184 letter explaining why.

Instead, the housing officer gave her the phone number of a caravan site in Essex – despite the fact that M’s friends and support networks are in Haringey. She was told that her health problems ‘aren’t that bad’, that ‘we all have problems’, and that she might qualify for help after spending a night on the streets. When she was leaving, a security guard told her she had no reason to be presenting as homeless.

M says, “I cried at the housing office. I did not cry because I thought I would sleep on the streets. I cried because they were treating me less than human, like a dog.”

Haringey Housing Action Group got together with M and wrote a letter setting out her case and demanding that they offer her a homelessness assessment. In October, the day before her eviction date, we accompanied her to the housing office. What we were told there was incredibly worrying.

First, the housing officer said that he would never have referred her to the homelessness team without the letter we wrote together. The council have a duty to offer an assessment if they have reason to believe you’re homeless and eligible – not if you’ve written a letter. This attitude discriminates against anyone who doesn’t speak or write English well, or can’t access the materials for a letter, and anyone who doesn’t know what their rights are.

Secondly, he refused to offer her an appointment until the following day – three hours after she was due to be evicted. Without an assessment, we didn’t know whether she would be offered interim accommodation or not. This meant that M didn’t know, at the time she was evicted, whether she would have somewhere to sleep that night. She also had nowhere to move her belongings.

Thirdly, he said he hadn’t referred M to the homelessness team earlier because he didn’t believe she was ill enough to qualify. He told us he had been recently given training on vulnerability, and that the message he’d been given was “if it has a pulse it’s not vulnerable.” He also said “If I referred everyone who presented as vulnerable to the homelessness team, I’d be out of my job within a day.” It’s clear that the council has created a work environment in which staff are pressured to gatekeep under threat of losing their jobs. This shows that their gatekeeping practices are not accidental or occasional, but a deliberate strategy by Haringey Council to dodge their duties.

M says, “When I went to the housing office on my own I was ignored and turned away. When I went with a group I was told by security that having a group with me would hurt my case. But turning up with a group was the only way I got help.

I want Haringey Council to understand that I am not a thief. I am not an animal. I cannot work because am sick. I cannot save for a deposit or pay expensive rent because I am not working. I deserved to be listened to and treated like a human being, and I wasn’t.”

Fortunately, when M was finally given an assessment the council accepted that it had a duty to house her, and for now she has accommodation. But because she was refused an assessment until after her eviction she had to go through the stress of being evicted without knowing where she would end up.

This should never have happened. Haringey Council should have believed M the first time she presented as homeless, when there was plenty of time for them to give her an assessment before her eviction. Instead, they palmed her off, failed in their duty, and caused her a huge amount of stress and difficulty.

We want an apology from Haringey Council for the way M was treated. We demand that Haringey Council stop training its staff to impose unfair and illegal vulnerability tests. That it stop pressurising its staff into unlawful gatekeeping practices. And that it stop all gatekeeping practices immediately.

November 28, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: HHAG ACTIONS