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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Gatekeeping Roadshow

July 06 2009
HPU staff break LCAP camera in fracas The London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) took to the streets last month to provide advice and information on the widespread practice of gatekeeping by London councils.

The Gatekeeping Roadshow saw LCAP representatives set up stalls outside homeless persons units (HPUs) in 10 boroughs across London. Their presence proved popular with many passers-by,  but less so with the management of some HPUs. In Lewisham, on 1st June, the police were called after a manager of the local HPU allegedly tipped over the LCAP stall, threw their banner in the road and broke one member's camera. The incident broke out after a security guard and manager from the HPU on Rosenthal Road in Lewisham, asked the LCAP group to move their stall, citing the Public Highways Act. The group refused, saying the law did not apply.

LCAP representative Zak, who was present at the event, told The Pavement: "the manager tried to pick up the stand and throw it... One of my friends took a picture so he picked up the camera and smashed that on the floor."

A spokesperson for Lewisham Council said: "Members from the Coalition did come to our Housing Options Centre on two occasions recently. On the first occasion, they tried to prevent people who wished to use the service from entering the premises, and we felt that there was a need to call the police to ensure that the situation did not escalate. People have a right to be able to access services without being prevented from doing so. We were advised by the police that we should call them again if Coalition members returned. On the second occasion, we did indeed call the police and PSCOs [Police Community Support Officers] attended, but purely in a background capacity, to ensure that people needing to use our services were able to do so."

When asked about the specific incident and actions of the manager, the spokesperson said they had nothing else to add to the statement above. Part of the LCAP remit is to promote and carry out Direct Action Casework (DAC). This involves helping those with housing or benefit problems who have received unjust treatment by using legal work and advocacy, combined with immediate social pressure on the institute in question. At the second Lewisham roadshow, on Monday 22nd June, the LCAP group decided to take action after an applicant from the EU with children and of priority need was not given emergency accommodation. One of LCAP's representatives, Jasper, told us: "She came out [of the HPU] with a really long list of documents they wanted to see for long-term accommodation - but, by law, she should have been given temporary accommodation that day".

Two of the LCAP group went back into the office with the woman but only got as far as the queue before the manager demanded they leave. "The manager was incredibly angry and offensive," said Jasper, "he stood outside shouting things like: 'These people [the LCAP group] have rich parents' and 'It's all about fact finding, you don't know the facts. This woman has only been here six weeks and hasn't been paying tax'".

Many of our readers will have heard of or experienced gatekeeping, where councils refuse to admit a duty of care to homeless applicants, often by giving an unlawful on-the-spot refusal or demanding excessive documentation. * Find out more at lcap.org.uk or by calling 0207 247 6101.
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