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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Legal lounge: intentionally homeless?

May 20 2009
What the Housing Act means to you and how to get assistance "Kellie! We really can't have this infernal tinsel everywhere I turn," I exclaimed, as I tried to untangle myself from the glittery mess I had walked into on my way to answer the door. "Oh bah, humbug," Kellie chuckled, descending the stepladder she had been decorating the tree from. "I'll get the door." I glanced over at the old grandfather clock. "Ten to nine. I expect that will be our first punter of the day. I'll put some coffee on." Kellie's voice drifted through from the hallway. "Goodness me, you must have been freezing out there, dressed like that, this last week being so cold. Where on earth have you been sleeping?" I placed the cups and coffee pot down on the oak coffee table that sat between the worn leather sofas. "You look like you could do with a hot drink." I smiled at the young man that had walked into the room and beckoned toward the sofa. "Take a seat." He had a somewhat haggard look to him, and a haunting sadness in his eyes. Clearly he wasn't doing well sleeping rough. He put out a thin, cold hand. "Ted. Ted Watson." Kellie smiled. "So what can we do for you?" "My housing application, its been refused. I got this letter - says I am not priority. Not priority? I've been sleeping on the streets for the last week!" I reached over for the letter. "May I see that, Ted?" "The last week?" Kellie asked. "Where were you sleeping before?" Ted sighed. "I've been having problems with my wife. She... she," he stopped and looked up, not wanting to continue. "She kicked you out?" I asked gently. "Not exactly. I moved out. She was seeing someone else, I found out and left. I can't, no, don't want to see her again. He's staying there now. The kids knew too. They kept it a secret." Ted was trembling. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "That's awful," Kellie commiserated. "I've been sleeping on a friend's sofa for the past few months. But he's got kids himself, and a wife, and I'd overstayed my welcome." He looked around the festively decorated room and smiled wryly. "You know, being Christmas and all." Their voices faded into the background as I studied the letter. Ted had made an application to his Local Housing Authority, which had been rejected, as he was not priority need. I had seen this scenario many times before. The people who were housed immediately were pregnant women, people with dependent children, elderly or disabled people, or people who were homeless as the result of an emergency, and Ted didn't fit into any of those categories. It seemed so unfair. Kellie was still sympathising with Ted. "I know, it's not like you became homeless intentionally..." "Intentionally? Kellie, I think you've hit the nail on the head there!" My mind ticking, I pulled the stepladder over to the bookshelf and selected one of the thickest volumes from the shelf. Kellie squinted to read the name on the cover. "The Housing Act... oh, of course! Is he intentionally homeless? why didn't I think of that?" Ted stared at us blankly. "Ted, the letter is quite right, unfortunately, that you are not a priority." I began to explain. "However, if we can establish that you did not become homeless intentionally, the local authority may decide to house you." Ted snorted, "of course it wasn't intentional." "Well, we will need more details about the circumstances in which you left to see if you fulfil the criteria. The local authority looks at each case individually to decide whether it would have been reasonable for you to stay there." "Okay," Ted said slowly. "So what if they think I was intentionally homeless? I mean, I did walk out." "They have to at least assist you in finding new accommodation, whether they decide you are intentionally homeless or not," Kellie replied. "You might not be entitled to accommodation immediately, but that doesn't mean you won't get it at all." "We can help you make the application to the local authority if you like." I offered. "Come and see us tomorrow." Ted nodded and got up to leave. "Thank you. I didn't realise any of this." "I'm not surprised," Kellie remarked, "most people don't really know what they are entitled to. I wish more did." "Well then I will certainly be spreading the word about you two!" He declared. "That's a great idea, Ted." I said, winking at Kellie. "More work. Exactly what we need..." The Housing Act 1996 The Housing Act 1996 governs the duties Local Authorities owe to those making housing applications. In order to allocate resources the concept of priority need has been developed. The significance of being found to have priority need is that temporary accommodation will be secured for the applicant straight away. The Housing Act specifies the categories of people who will be deemed to have priority need which are; pregnant women and those with whom they reside, a person with dependent children, those who are vulnerable due old age, mental or physical disability or some other reason and those who have been made homeless due to an emergency such as fire or flood. People who do not fall into any of these categories will still be entitled to assistance. The extent of the assistance to which they are entitled will depend on their personal circumstances. The Local Authority will question whether the applicant has become intentionally homeless. The Act describes becoming intentionally homeless as doing something or failing to do something that leads to the applicant ceasing to occupy premises that it would have been reasonable to expect them to continue to occupy. It is for the Local Authority to decide whether it is reasonable to expect an applicant to have remained in the former residence by considering all of the circumstances The Authority will decide this on a case by case basis. If an applicant is found to be intentionally homeless then the Local Authority will merely be required to provide them with advice and assistance with his endeavours to find himself accommodation. This includes information about the likely availability of types of accommodation that would be appropriate to the applicants needs within the authority's district. If the applicant is deemed not to have become intentionally homeless yet not to be in priority need, the Local Authority will be required to provide him with advice and assistance but may also be required to secure him accommodation. The effect of the Housing Act is that all applicants will be entitled to have their needs assessed and to receive advice and assistance at the very least. Depending on their personal circumstances and the manner in which they became homeless they may also be entitled to temporary or permanent accommodation to be secured on their behalf by the Authority. Supplied by the College of Law pro bono unit.