A London council has been forced to U-turn on a policy that automatically blocked 1,200 people from getting onto the housing waiting list, reports The Mirror.
Homeless teenager Shadacia White, 18, was due to take Brent Council to the High Court on Wednesday over its ‘inhumane’ policy that bans certain people from applying for council accommodation. Under the council’s terms, homeless people cannot bid on a council house, meaning many are trapped in a catch 22 of living on the streets and being unable to break free. But on the eve of the High Court hearing, the local authority overturned its housing policy. Figures from the council revealed that 1,233 homeless households who were previously deemed ineligible for council housing would now be allowed to bid for a home.
Shadacia, a university marketing student, previously won her own case to be placed on the council housing list but wanted to continue the fight to get Brent to change the policy for all homeless people. Hundreds of homeless people in the borough have been prevented from bidding for housing for the past eight years, as they were deemed ‘no priority’. Shadacia said: “We have finally achieved justice for the hundreds of homeless people in Brent who have been banned from bidding on the housing list despite being homeless and legal right to bid.”
She added: “Surely those who are homeless need a home the most, yet Brent has been illegally banning them from being placed on a housing list or placing them into the lowest priority ‘Band D’ so that they could not bid? When I won my own case I wanted to keep on fighting for all of those who are affected by this inhumane policy. While I am pleased that Brent has finally changed its policy, it really shouldn’t have taken a homeless teenage student standing up against them to change it.”
Shadacia White was originally told she would not even be considered for a house by Brent Council, despite being homeless and living in unsustainable accommodation. The young woman, who currently lives in temporary accommodation with her mother, sister and autistic brother, has been ‘sofa surfing’ throughout her childhood. She says her childhood was hard as she rarely had a home. She said: “The last few years have been a struggle and there were times when mum took us to Heathrow to sleep as we had nowhere else to go. Mum would just walk around all day in the cold. I went into school and told them what was happening and that I just wanted somewhere warm to stay and they got me a social worker and temporary accommodation.”
Brent Council’s allocation scheme currently places applicants in priority bands D to A, where A is the highest priority. People in higher priority bands out-bid people in lower priority bands who express an interest in the same property on Brent’s housing register. People in band D are not allowed to bid at all. Brent’s scheme currently says homeless applicants have ‘no priority’ and will be placed in band D, so that they can’t bid. The only exception to this is if Brent had accepted a ‘main housing duty’ towards a homelessness applicant, such as a serious enough health condition.
The law says Brent has to give ‘reasonable preference’ to homeless people even if they are not owed the ‘main housing duty’, meaning that the current policy is unlawful according to lawyers at Osbornes Law. Sam O’Flaherty, specialist housing litigation solicitor, said: “As a result of Shadacia’s claim, not only have Brent agreed to change their policy by February 2022, but they have also agreed to a series of measures to ensure that homeless households do not continue to be deprived of their right to bid for social housing in the meantime, and for previously affected homeless households to be contacted and given an opportunity to join the Housing Register and bid if they are still eligible. Regrettably, I am not confident this would have been achieved without Shadacia having fought this all the way to the High Court.”
Brent Council says that it did not know about the issue with their policy until Shadacia’s solicitors wrote to them on March 11, 2021 raising it. The judicial review proceedings in the High Court have now been put on hold until March 15 to allow Brent to carry out its promised changes. A Brent Council spokesperson said: “In January of this year, we started a review of our allocations policy in order to make some technical clarifications following changes to government guidelines.”
“Ms White’s lawyers drew our attention to the fact that we should have given her reasonable preference on our housing register during the eight-week period in which the council is statutorily obliged to work with the family to try to relieve their homelessness. We took action immediately and included this amendment in the proposed changes to the allocations policy, which are going through the council’s decision-making process.”
“In the meantime, we have moved those who are currently homeless or threatened with homelessness into a category where they can now bid for properties on the housing register, something they could not do before. We’ve also identified and contacted people who have previously applied so that they can join the register if they are still eligible.”