If you were to ask any local authority about gatekeepers with regard to their acceptance of homeless person’s applications, you would likely be greeted with absolute denial. Regrettably, however, this is a practice that nearly all local authorities are guilty of, and if you are acting on behalf of a potentially desperate client, this added unlawful bureaucracy can be exceedingly frustrating.
This article will take a look at the methods which you may need to adopt to get past the gatekeepers and ensure that your client’s homeless person’s application is dealt with lawfully and as expeditiously as possible.
What does the term ‘gatekeeper’ actually mean?
Gatekeepers are often innocent receptionists who work for a local authority housing department. They do not know the details of applicable housing law and therefore do not realise that the way in which they deal with homeless persons’ applications may be totally unlawful. Furnished with extra rules and regulations which are not officially provided for by law, they are trained to turn away as many applicants as possible.
To some extent, especially if you have not worked in this area of law, you may feel that an acute shortage of housing stock has justified this practice. However, when you contemplate the fact that this has generally occurred through the fault of the local authorities themselves, this sympathy soon diminishes.
Gatekeepers are found more commonly in the London boroughs and the larger city councils, although they are utilised by many other local authorities.
Get past the gatekeeper!
The secret to getting a homeless person’s application accepted is to get past the gatekeeper as soon as possible. Remember, much of what a gatekeeper advises you may well be absolute nonsense. Unfortunately, this person is merely following the rules he or she has been made to adopt from higher up in the local authority.
It is important to remember that if a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness within 28 days, it is legally obliged to accept the application. Of course, gatekeepers will typically not be informed of this crucial point. With this in mind, it is a good idea to quote the relevant law to these gatekeepers and insist that you be put through to a housing officer as soon as possible.
In these circumstances, the applicable law is Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002. It is imperative to stand firm against the gatekeeper. State adamantly that you are aware that the local authority has a duty to accept an application from your client, as the person is homeless or threatened with homelessness in the next 28 days.
Once through to a housing officer, make sure that the officer acknowledges receipt of the application at the first available opportunity. Alas, the fun and games do not always end when you have successfully negotiated your way past the gatekeepers; housing officers will often have a number of other tricks up their sleeves to delay the application or imply that it was never actually received. Get the acknowledgement in writing and never settle for anything that is communicated to you verbally!
Some gatekeepers can be so determined not to accept the homeless person’s application that you may be left with no other option than to threaten them with a pursuance of stage one of the official complaints procedure. If need be, do exactly this!
If you do work in housing law, you will no doubt empathise with the content of this article. You will appreciate the need to actually address these problems that may be faced when trying to get past a local authority gatekeeper who tries to keep your client’s homeless person’s application from being accepted. Whilst this type of practice should never transpire, unfortunately it does. If you are new to this area of law, you will soon come to learn that local authorities will go to any length to protect their very limited supply of housing stock.
Here at the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, we will attempt to provide you with more relevant legal updates and refreshers over the coming months. We will try to ensure that our articles are completely up to date, and we will always be mindful of the current economic downturn by bringing you content that is closer to all of our hearts at the moment.