Community forums on health, homelessness and vulnerability 

With the support of Trust for London, Law for Life is excited to announce two online community forums focusing on the intersections between health, homelessness and vulnerability. The forums will be a space for community groups, health and legal practitioners to share their experiences and practical strategies to support homeless people who are vulnerable in getting the kinds of help they are entitled to from local authorities.

At the first forum (2nd February, 7-9 PM) we will launch our new information guide on how to best support people who are homeless in seeking help from councils, and hear some of the strategies community groups put in place when working with vulnerable clients. The forum will include a hands-on session on how to write effective vulnerability letters. The second forum will focus on challenging local authorities’ outsourcing of vulnerability assessments to private companies.

See below for more detailed information on the content and registration. 

Why we’re focusing on this issue

Over a decade of austerity cuts have left local authorities without adequate funding to provide housing support. This has led housing departments to have to make difficult choices around who should be prioritised and provided access to accommodation. Some categories of people - for instance families with children - are provided emergency housing almost automatically. Others, such as single homeless people, people who have mental health needs, who are released from prison-  need to pass a ‘vulnerability assessment’ to prove that, if made homeless, they will be significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person. Vulnerability assessments have therefore become a very contested terrain where local authorities tend to apply their discretion around who counts as  ‘vulnerable’ and limit the number of people who are entitled to accommodation.

There is little awareness about letters/evidence to support vulnerability assessments, and their importance in the course of homelessness application processes. These letters can make the difference in determining whether the person applying is entitled to suitable housing - whether private rented sector accommodation or social housing. However, in reality gathering this kind of evidence is challenging. Letters should be written by health specialists and should address a specific legal test set out in the law. Also, housing officers sometimes disregard evidence submitted by the applicant in favor of ‘counter-evidence’ obtained by private companies hired to carry out independent medical assessments. 

Law for Life has recently released an information guide on How to support people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. The guide is aimed at social prescribers, support workers, link workers and others who support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It provides information on what types of help people should receive and how to deal with local authorities’ housing departments when making homelessness applications. It also includes specific information on vulnerability letters. 

Online forum # 1: 

Community strategies to support homeless people in dealing with local authorities   

2nd February, 7-9 PM - on Zoom

Part I – Community discussion:
What barriers do vulnerable homeless people face in seeking help from councils? How are community groups trying to address them? How can Law for Life’s guide “How to support people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness” strengthen the work of community groups? 

Speakers:

  • Sarah Hough, Groundswell, London
  • Daniel Smith, Young Roots, London
  • Rebecca Jewers, Social Prescribers Link Worker, Torquay Primary Care Network

Part II – Hands-on workshop:
How to write effective vulnerability letters – with Eleanor Solomon, Anthony Gold Solicitors LLP

The event will be structured in an interactive way allowing space for participants to ask questions and share experiences

To attend the event please register by 31st January.

Spaces are limited and preference is given to members of small organisations and community groups.  

Online forum # 2: 

Challenging unfair vulnerability assessments

DATE TBD, on Zoom

Over 150 local authorities in the country, many of which are in London, outsource homelessness vulnerability assessments to private companies. However, these types of assessments are often conducted in a very problematic way, without in-person examination, and have led to flawed decisions where housing officers find that applicants are not vulnerable and therefore are not provided with suitable accommodation. Courts have repeatedly found this type of assessment to not meet legal standards and in several cases have struck down local authorities’ decisions that relied on them. Recently, Islington Council decided to stop outsourcing assessments and sought to invest in in-house assessments. 

Drawing from past efforts (which involved the use of media and litigation), this forum will look at how to challenge unfair homelessness decisions, and the experience of local authorities that shifted to ‘in-house’ assessments. The event will also reflect on strategic opportunities to fight for fairer assessment practices. 

Interested in attending? Register here.

Spaces are limited and preference is given to members of small organisations and community groups.  

January 2022