On Tuesday afternoon 29th March 2018, our Housing Team were all out of the office being trained re: the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was to come into force the following week, when the mayday call came in. A street homeless family in the waiting room at 3.30 pm. One of our partners hot foots it back to base. Mum and Dad, twins aged 3, and a 5 month old baby had been evicted from a Birmingham City Council (BCC) hostel the day before, without notice.
In November, BCC had accepted the full homeless duty to them, they had been in the hostel since. They were evicted without notice for allegedly having broken the hostel rules, of which there are many, including restrictions on residents’ freedom of movement and association. They were told that the Council had discharged its duty to house them. They could go to Newtown Neighbourhood Office, a 2 bus journey across town, to ask for a review and for accommodation pending review. They did this. Within an hour they were given a letter refusing their request for accommodation pending review. They were put out on to the street. A family including 3 year old twins and a baby!
They managed to persuade a friend to put them up for one night. The next day they tried to get help and advice. Shelter Birmingham did not have the capacity to take the case on. Legal Aid Housing Lawyers cannot cope with the demand. Shelter referred the family to us.
We wrote to the Council threatening an application for an injunction if accommodation were not provided. The Council’s Homeless Team agreed to accommodate ‘for one night only’. It was late in the day. We were told that the out of hours team had been alerted and would be sorting out the accommodation. We had the number. The Council’s Homeless Team went home.
By now other CLP team members had returned to the office. The out of hours number was on repeat dial but nobody was answering. In desperation we phoned social services out of hours number, given the very young children in the family. They refused to help. It was a matter for the Homeless Team not for them. But there are 3 year old twins and a baby in the family, what about the Children Act duties?
Then they played their ‘frighten them away’ card. They would look after the children but not the parents. We had anticipated this and had agreed with the parents that we would call their bluff. We asked them to make the arrangements to look after the children. They then backtracked and said they wouldn’t take any steps in relation to the children. They clearly never had any intention of so doing but used the empty threat to scare off our clients. When asked whether she had no safeguarding concerns about two 3 year olds and a baby being on the street the social worker was silent.
An out of hours injunction would serve no purpose as we had no way of serving it and nobody was answering the out of hours telephone. It was approaching 8.00 pm when our office building closes. We managed to secure a room in a hotel nearby for the family for the night.
On 30th March judicial review proceedings were issued and an interim order made that Birmingham City Council accommodate this family. Since then the Council has withdrawn the decision to discharge duty which led to the family being evicted on to the street and have agreed to make an offer of accommodation. That a family with such young children would be on the street without this legal action can’t be right. We are Legal Aid Housing Lawyers. This is what we, and others throughout the country, do. But we are few in number and the need for our services is great.
The Legal Aid Agency has just announced that in 39 areas of the country, including some of the most deprived, there is one or no organisation offering legal services to families such as the one in this case. Urgent steps should be taken to reverse this trend.
We tweeted about this case. This tweet has, at the date of writing this article, been viewed 330,729 times. There have been a very large number of retweets and responses. Most of those responses have been positive. We will give you some examples of the responses below:-
- I know this type of case isn’t uncommon for you guys but the work you do is heroic.
- The Children Act 1989 was enacted to protect children. For a local authority to not use its powers to help in such a clear case is wilful State neglect, is grossly inhuman and IMO illegal.
- If anyone can look at three small kids being on the street and not do everything they can to help them then they’ve pretty much lost their soul, austerity or not austerity.
- Birmingham City Council and the social workers should be ashamed of themselves.
- Housing is an issue, but the duty social worker(s) should have found accommodation for the family. There absolutely would have been a hotel room somewhere – which there was.
- When I was in Paris last year I was shocked to see families with babies sleeping in the street. I didn’t believe it could happen in this country…this is shameful and heart-breaking.
- Shocking. Well done on your work and I am stunned any council would behave in this way.
- This case should be shouted from the rooftops. Utterly appalling. Well done to CLP…
And, in addition, Lord Falconer tweeted in response as follows:-
Incredibly impressive account of what one of very few Legal Aid Housing practices does and why 39 areas of country have either one or no legal aid housing lawyer means many homeless families with small children have no one to hold local authorities to their housing duties.
We don’t think we can add to that!