Gatekeeping council accused suicidal client of queue jumping

If you’re sick and go to A&E you can expect to be taken seriously, even if the receptionist suspects you could have waited for a GP appointment. You may be triaged, you may endure a long wait, you may even eventually be sent away without treatment if you really didn’t need it. But you wouldn’t expect to be fobbed off before you’ve even got a foot in the door.

Unfortunately people who need help because they are homeless cannot guarantee the same. When things go wrong council homeless services can seem like a public service that doesn’t, well, serve the public.

At Shelter we try to be sympathetic to the pressures on councils. The leading single cause of homelessness is now the loss of a private rented sector tenancy. Amid high rents and prolonged welfare cuts more and more ordinary families find they simply cannot house themselves and have to turn to the council for help. We understand that, unfortunately, councils are also feeling the pressure of the lack of genuinely affordable homes and struggle to rehouse families. Finding accommodation, even temporary respite, is a struggle and councils have to ensure that they’re only housing those who need it.

But we cannot ignore that too many people come to us for help because the council is being unreasonable in not even taking a homeless application. This is unlawful practice – often termed ‘gatekeeping’ – and it flies in the face of what the vital housing safety net should do.

It’s a story that our advisers hear too often, but some cases still have the power to shock.

Like the young man who was told by a council in the south-east that he’d only attempted suicide to try and take advantage of the homelessness legislation.

Single people are only entitled to be rehoused if they’re in ‘priority need’, which can be because they are more vulnerable than the average person would be if they became homeless. Such assessments are notoriously difficult and drawn out, but this was extreme. The council did not dispute that he had mental health problems, or that he had tried to kill himself. Instead they claimed that he’d tried to take his own life just to get classed as vulnerable and eligible for rehousing.

When we hear stories like this it can be hard to give councils the benefit of the doubt, no matter how stretched their resources are.

The homeless legislation purposefully sets a low bar for enquiries to ensure that people who might need help aren’t left out in the cold. Local authorities should make enquiries if they have a reason to believe that a person may be homeless or threatened with homelessness. They should also provide interim assistance like a B&B if they have reason to believe that the household may be in priority need and eligible for assistance.

But when gatekeeping happens, councils instead fob people off, refuse to take their applications, or refuse to offer the necessary interim accommodation. This means that the homelessness safety net cannot do its job of protecting families and vulnerable people. This sort of unlawful practice is unacceptable no matter how grave the housing pressures facing councils.

  1. This is a common problem. I’ve also found that the Homelessness Team are not issuing letters explaining their decision – not only is this unlawful, but it also distorts the homeless stats.
    I have the opportunity for a local councillor to raise this issue with the local council. I plan to ask him to raise a number of questions, such as how many applicants, how many housed, how many refused, how many letters issued and how many people do they say are homeless.
    I’d be grateful if Shelter could help me by providing more searching relevant questions, please.

    Thank you.

  2. I became homeless when a Landlord decided wanted to sell all his properties and buy big. I “fell off the ladder” as far as society is concerned.

    Sleeping in my car my medical issues (including a respiratory problem) got worse and I found myself wishing I was dead as I woke up gasping.

    You have a lot of time to plan your demise as it is hard to get more than 90m sleep when homeless and even then it is not rested sleep. I do not want to give people ideas on methods of my plans, suffice to say that I left no chance for survival; that was my key imperative.

    The very WORST aspect of homelessness is not knowing when or if it will end, the cumulative lack of sleep causes the situational depression to evolve into a clinical depression.

    I did not do drugs, did not drink alcohol, I did not steal and I did not beg. I still had my principles.

    I ate very little; most food goes off so I tended to just nibble off cream crackers (45p) and bottled water (17p). Homeless walk in place would let me get a sandwich and some humanity twice a week.

    You lose all pride and dignity when homeless, Councils can take the last bit you have left or the good ones actually restore your faith. I totally respected the Housing Officers on the front line, it was the policy makers I hated. Yet none of them were aware that I was ready to die, I had already made the decision on how and where, it was just the when that they determined.

    I met so many “lost sheep” in my journey during a year after I finally got into a temp housing facility.

    Gatekeeping is disgusting, it is a failure by Council to PLAN their homeless provision and of course the Government have a lot to answer for with numerous policies exacerbating the housing crisis. ( I could name a dozen).

    Whilst in the temp housing facility, I was bedridden for 20 to 22 hours a day with just my old laptop. It makes me laugh when prisoners talk of being banged up for such periods. I had a surgery during this time and was banged up for 13 days during which time I did not see anyone. Still I kept my brain active and figured out some stuff, I saw that Council were “shaking the tree” kicking people out because they had more homeless coming. They were actively looking for loopholes so they could say homelessness was intentional and get rid of their obligation to house. They also took over the bidding and shoved people into “supported living” places which were not appropriate.

    Yet the numbers the Council needs are in their bidding systems, they need to suck out the data held in these systems and use it to show the Government how the situation is growing and how it is now at crisis levels. We are facing less social housing availability, a private market that is inaccessible and a growth in homeless that is unprecedented. Almost every Council needs to double or even triple their dedicated temporary housing capacity and they need to get building NOW!

    I finally got lucky; I was housed in a social housing flat, I am trying to find some use in my life. I am still profoundly depressed, with support of charities I was helped to apply for ESA, that process made me even more depressed because I had to face my disability and account for it. I could not face the PIP application after they gatekeep too, they just say they did not receive the application and refuse to accept copies, it all has to be started over on a new application.

    So I try to survive financially and find some purpose by volunteering or helping others where I can.

    I do not have a TV for the same reason I do not have heating, I can’t afford it (the TV Licence).

    I would love to see some of these Gatekeepers lose everything and find themselves on the streets with no hope as a victim of their decisions and failure to plan.

    Gatekeeping is just another Dirty Trick practiced by Council who are incompetent, luckily not all Councils are doing it but they will if capacity does not improve.

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