What does “Gatekeeping” mean in homelessness applications?
Gatekeeping is a term used to describe the practice where a local authority fails to accept an applicant’s homeless application or they fail to make the necessary queries as to whether an applicant meets the criteria. The most common example we see is where an applicant presents as homeless requiring emergency accommodation, but is turned away or not provided with emergency accommodation.
The sad reality is that this happens daily throughout the country. There could be a number of reasons for this: overworked frontline local authority staff, the lack of accommodation available or the high costs of securing emergency accommodation.
Regardless of the reasons and the excuses offered by a local authority for their failings, this practice is unlawful and can be challenged by way of a Judicial Review only. A Judicial Review is a legal remedy of last resort, available only in the High Court. It can be used to compel a local authority to comply with their legal duties, to make a decision or to consider exercising discretion where the law has placed the local authority under a duty to do so.
An application for Judicial Review should be started no later than three months after the grounds to make the claim first arose, in this case when the local authority failed to properly assist a homeless applicant.
Generally, legal aid is available to fund such claims.
How Hodge Jones & Allen can help you
Hodge Jones & Allen’s housing team are regularly instructed on such cases. The first step we will take is to send a local authority a formal written notice warning of the intention to issue a claim: this is known as a pre-action letter of claim. In most cases, this in itself will be successful in achieving the result required and a claim will not be required. For example, I was recently instructed by an elderly gentlemen who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He had been provided with emergency accommodation by his local authority and they required further information from him in order to reach a decision as to what further duty, if any, they owed him. Rather than wait for the information, they simply closed his case without reaching a decision and he was evicted and left on the street. I saw him that day and sent a letter before claim to the local authority and their legal department setting out the unlawfulness of their actions and requesting that they reinstate his accommodation. This was successful and they secured him accommodation in line with their duty, avoiding the need to issue a claim in the High Court.
However, there are still occasions when, regardless of the pre-action letter of claim, a local authority will still fail to act and comply with their duties. This may then involve the need to issue emergency proceedings to secure accommodation for a client.
If you have applied as homeless and the local authority has not assessed your case or made any decision about what duty they owe you, please get in touch with our specialist housing team on 0808 271 9413 or complete the contact form and we will call back.