One of the biggest problems with the housing system is that it doesn’t work for everyone. And for some, the system actively works against them. The biggest example of this is the ‘intentionally homeless’ decision that can come at the end of an assessment. Someone who should have been paying their rent is intentionally homeless if they failed to pay it, and the system pays not one bit of attention to whether that person has ‘household management capabilities’, skills usually gained through a supportive upbringing. A person who is sent to prison and loses their home is deemed intentionally homeless, because they were aware of the possible consequences and chose to commit the offence anyway. But how can we expect people to reform if we deny them the basic need of accommodation?
Then what about those who are lucky enough to have a case to fight? The system works for them, yes? Actually, I would argue that a system that is so difficult to navigate is pretty much out of bounds without professional support. Many do not know that certain provisions even exist. Housing legislation is so complex that an experienced housing officer has to study for a specific qualification to understand it, so how can we expect an everyday individual to make any sense of it all?
It is such a common occurrence to speak with people who do not know their rights regarding housing and homelessness, or if they do, they have no idea how to go about claiming them. Bear in mind that most people in this situation have very limited resources, so a simple internet search is not so easy, although even with computer access and literacy, the statute and articles are hard to understand and interpret. I have come across problems myself when I have been researching a particular provision in the course of my work, and if it’s difficult for me, a professional in the field, then you can imagine the difficulties faced by those I work with, especially considering that many have limited literacy skills or language barriers.
Even when a person is aware of their rights they will often still choose not to take any action because of the potential repercussions. Some, like Angela (see here) feel they will be shunned by their community for reporting any problems within it. Others fear instant though illegal eviction, and unless the council undertakes to sort out their issues immediately, any action would be pointless. It saddens me that people with housing problems such as these often just accept their bad luck. Countless others though, who do have a fightable case, are accepting poor housing conditions purely because of a lack of knowledge about a system that exists to support them.
I understand that people from all walks of life can have housing problems and some are more capable than others in accessing the system, but my work is with disadvantaged adults, many of whom have communication problems. Also consider that poor housing is more likely to affect the type of clients I represent because their choices are so limited, making it easier for unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of them.
Thankfully there are organisations out there who support and advocate for people in need, the biggest being Shelter. As they are so pro-active in combatting the lack of access to the system, I will often refer people to them for help. Without their intervention, many individuals and families would stand no chance of getting the support they are due.
Click here for Angela’s Story
Click here for Frank’s Story