We have met several new clients at our legal advice clinics in recent months who report a concern that their social housing application has been deferred, but are unsure if this is correct, because they have not received any written notification of any decision from the local authority. All of the clients we have met recently have been in emergency accommodation, so the impact of any such decision can be very serious: it may mean they are stuck in emergency accommodation for the period of deferral.
To give further detail by way of example: We recently met with a family who have been in homeless emergency accommodation for over one year. The family have been on the housing list for this period and have had homeless priority on the housing list. During the course of the year, the family have stayed in regular contact with the local authority to check the status of their social housing application. At one such contact by telephone, the family was advised that their social housing application had been blocked. No further details were provided. That a decision to defer the social housing application for two years had in fact been made, was only established after their keyworker and subsequently Mercy Law took up correspondence with the local authority to clarify the position and seek an appeal of that decision.
We have dealt with several cases involving deferrals of social housing applications in recent years. It should be noted that local authorities have the power to defer social housing applications on the basis of estate management grounds, and ordinarily cite previous criminal convictions or anti-social behaviour as a basis for those deferrals. In our work on recent deferral cases, we have identified a worrying absence of fair procedures impacting particularly harshly on those applicants who are in emergency accommodation. While the local authority can defer an application for social housing for a period ordinarily in the region of two years, the way in which the decision to defer is arrived at must be in compliance with fair procedures and in line with standards of good administration.
We have identified two broad concerns in relation to the decision-making in recent deferral cases.
Firstly, we have identified shortcomings in the manner in which the decisions are reached and communicated. In the recent cases that have come into our clinics, social housing applicants have not been notified that a decision to defer is being considered and therefore they had no opportunity to respond to any allegations in relation to past behaviour or prospective behaviour and to explain their current circumstances which are relevant to the decision. In two cases, the applicants have not been informed that a decision to defer has been made, no decision has been provided in writing and related to this, no reasons have been provided for the decision.
Secondly, we have identified shortcomings in the decisions themselves. We note that in the recent cases we have advised on, the decisions are extremely harsh, with long periods of deferral being imposed despite there being little evidence of a future risk of anti-social behaviour. We note that the decisions fail in some cases to follow the local authority’s internal policy which sets out how such cases should be considered and assessed. In addition, and most notably in respect of the cases where applicants are in emergency accommodation, the decisions fail to take account of the impact of the decision on the family life of the applicants and fail to consider the circumstances of the family as a whole, instead relying wholly on a previous criminal conviction or past incident of anti-social behaviour.
We have assisted clients in appeals of the decisions to defer and in these appeals, have relied on the failure of the decision-makers to adhere to fair procedures and also their failure to properly apply the principle of proportionality. We have several active cases and will provide further updates as the cases progress.