Study finds some councils in London let down homeless veterans
In the case of Barnet and Kensington & Chelsea, their allocations policies don't comply with the law which provides for particular duties towards veterans and their families. Barnet is amending its Housing Allocations Scheme to reflect the changes highlighted in the report, to be in place before Christmas and Kensington & Chelsea has stated it is updating its policy early in the New Year.*
The London Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee (VAPC) commissioned Professor Helen Carr and Dr Ed Kirton-Darling of Kent Law School to carry out a new study of homelessness among veterans. It found the current law is too complex and does not work. They call on the Mayor of London to announce an Armed Forces Champion to help coordinate the improvement of services for veterans.
Changes in the law between 2002 and 2012 made it a legal duty for councils to assist vulnerable homeless veterans and to make it easier for veterans to get onto the register for social housing, while a decision of the Supreme Court in 2015 should have made the test of vulnerability easier to meet for veterans.
In their report, Professor Carr and Dr Kirton-Darling say clarity is needed on the test for vulnerability. They also present examples of good and poor provision across London and make recommendations for all local authorities to improve the circumstances of homeless veterans. Barnet and Kensington & Chelsea are recommended to revise their allocations policies to comply with the 2012 legislative requirements. Islington, Kensington & Chelsea and Waltham Forest are recommended to improve their online application systems, which could currently exclude veterans at a pre-application stage.
They find that local authorities should:
- State that former members of the armed services will be in priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having served in the regular armed forces.
- Ask applicants if they have a Service history and this should be recorded.
- Provide clear information online about what information might assist a homeless application by a former member of the armed services.
- Ensure that housing officers know how to check for service records.
- Review their homelessness strategies, including specific consideration of homelessness amongst veterans.
- Ensure that staff are aware of the up to date law.
- Review their online systems to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
The study builds on existing research, in particular a University of York report, which highlighted the need for more evidence about the problem.
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Note to editors
Professor Helen Carr's research interests lie primarily in the fields of Housing, Social Welfare and Public Law. She is interested in the regulation of the poor especially the homeless, the asylum seeker, the anti-social and those in need of care. She also sits as a part-time judge with the First Tier Tribunal (Property) Chamber and is currently a member of a Civil Justice Council working group on property dispute resolution. She has worked with the Welsh government on proposals to reform housing law.
Dr Kirton-Darling is a trained solicitor, and worked for London firm Hodge Jones & Allen from 2007-2012. Prior to practice, he worked at the Law Commission on housing and administrative law reform. He completed his PhD (entitled Looking for Justice: the family in the inquest) in 2015 and joined Kent Law School as a Lecturer in Law. He teaches Family Law, Homelessness Law & Policy and Public Law, and his research focuses on a range of interests, including homelessness, social welfare law, the law of inquests and inquiries and the role of the family in law.
*The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has conceded that the on-line assessment form does present a strong and perhaps over-simplistic message on local residence and this will be updated when the new scheme is in place.
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