HOMELESSNESS IN UNITED KINGDOM
The research in relation to the British jurisdictional scope has been performed by Ian McDougall (Executive Vice President & General Counsel at LexisNexis - Legal & Professional).
1. IS THERE A LEGAL DEFINITION OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” IN YOUR JURISDICTION IF YES, WHERE IS IT REGULATED? HOW IS IT EVIDENCED?
The UK statutory definition of a homeless person:
“(1) A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, which he-
(a) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or by virtue of an order of a court,
(b) has an express or implied licence to occupy, or
(c) occupies as a residence by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.
(2) A person is also homeless if he has accommodation but-
(a) he cannot secure entry to it, or
(b) it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.
(3) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.”
However, some feel this definition does not go far enough. In July 2004, the Charity “Crisis” published Hidden Homelessness: Britain’s Invisible City. They define the “hidden homeless” as living in “hostels, squats (illegal occupation) and bed and breakfast accommodation or staying with friends and family”.
The phrase ‘sofa-surfers’ is used to describe those who live with friends and family, often moving frequently from one to the other. The Revolving Doors Agency, a charity that works with mentally ill people who have been arrested or imprisoned, pointed out another problem with the Government’s use of acceptance figures to assess the number of homeless households.
“This excludes those who, for whatever reason, have not approached the Homeless Person’s Unit for assistance. Some of these people will end up sleeping rough on the streets, where they may be picked up by the rough sleepers count. But many more join the ranks of the “Hidden Homeless” living in derelict buildings and squats, staying with friends or relatives without any explicit right to do so and frequently in unreasonably crowded conditions.”
2. DOES A LEGAL STATUS OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” OR “HOMELESSNESS” INVOLVE A PARTICULAR OBJECT OF LEGAL PROTECTION? WHAT IS THE BASIC PROTECTION THAT IS RECEIVED IN YOUR JURISDICTION?
In 2002, the UK Government amended homelessness legislation to:
“(a) ensure a more strategic approach to tackling and preventing homelessness, in particular by requiring a homelessness strategy for every housing authority district; and
(b) strengthen the assistance available to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness by extending the priority need categories to homeless 16 and 17 year olds; care leavers aged 18, 19 and 20; people who are vulnerable as a result of time spent in care, the armed forces, prison or custody, and people who are vulnerable because they have fled their home because of violence.”
Further significant reform of homelessness legislation placed duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas. It also requires housing authorities to provide homelessness services to all those affected, not just those who have ‘priority need’. These include:
(a) an enhanced prevention duty extending the period a household is threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days, meaning that housing authorities are required to work with people to prevent homelessness at an earlier stage; and
(b) a new duty for those who are already homeless so that housing authorities will support households for 56 days to relieve their homelessness by helping them to secure accommodation.
3. ARE THERE SPECIFIC MEASURES THAT PROMOTE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE? HOW IS IT REGULATED AND HOW SHOULD IT BE SHOWED?
I take this to mean affordable housing in the private sector because, state provided housing to the homeless, by definition, must be affordable or it can’t be accessed by the homeless. If someone is genuinely homeless the state has an obligation to provide accommodation. However, for people on low incomes there are various schemes which, although not entirely relevant to the situation of the genuinely homeless, provides some background.
There are various types of affordable housing under the government’s affordable housing scheme.
Home Ownership/Discount Market Housing
Properties are offered for sale on selected sites with a discount off the full market value. For example, a £100,000 house with a 25% discount will be offered to qualifying applicants on our scheme for £75,000. This is not shared equity or shared ownership (there is no rent or equity loan to repay) and even though given a discount, the property is owned in the usual way. However, there is a restriction on the title which means that when sold the property must be sold on to the next person with the same level of discount.
2. Intermediate Rent
Allows a person to rent a property on selected sites at 80% of the full market rent e.g. if the full market rent is £500 per month, applicants on the Affordable Housing Scheme will pay £400 per month.
3. Shared Ownership
Shared ownership is a part-buy, part-rent scheme. It allows purchase of a share of a property on selected sites and a reduced rent to the landlord on the remaining share. Eligible applicants can usually purchase between 25% and 75% of the property initially, depending upon their financial circumstances. This means that buyers will need a smaller mortgage and deposit than they would need if they were buying the property outright. They will also have the option to buy more shares as and when they can afford to.
4. Shared Equity
Shared equity allows purchase of a property on with the help of a shared equity loan. The equity loan will be a second charge on the property, representing a percentage of the value. When the loan is paid back, it is as a percentage of the current market value of the home.
4. IS HATE CRIME SPECIFICALLY REGULATED AGAINST HOMELESS PEOPLE IN YOUR JURISDICTION? DO YOU KNOW ANY CASE?
Legislation makes hateful behaviour towards a victim based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group or a religious group an aggravating element in
sentencing for specified crimes. Typically, these fall into the classic groups;
A "racial group" is a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.
A "religious group" is a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.
The specified crimes are assault, criminal damage, offences under, and require a court to consider whether a crime which is not specified by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is racially or religiously aggravated, and to consider whether the following circumstances were pertinent to the crime:
(a) that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on—
(i) the sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim, or
(ii) a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim, or
(b) that the offence is motivated (wholly or partly)—
(i) by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation, or
(ii) by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability.
In 2013, Greater Manchester Police began recording attacks on goths, punks and other alternative culture groups as hate crimes.
However, as you will have seen from the definitions above, the legislation would not appear to make homelessness a specifically protected characteristic for hate crimes. As yet there are no cases which have been brought on the basis of a hate crime arising out the specific characteristic of Homelessness as a specific group recognised by the legislation above.
5. HAVE SPECIFIC MEASURES TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OR FOOD RIGHTS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN APPROVED DURING THIS COVID-19 CRISIS?
There are no measures directed towards food specifically. People in poverty are entitled to state benefits which are predominately cash and which can therefore be used to buy food at commercial outlets. There is no specific legislation which refers to a “right to food” as such. (NB: The UK does not have a “constitution” as such and specific rights might be available under Human Rights legislation etc but this has never been tested.)
Regarding health, the National Health Service is the UK’s publicly funded health service which would deliver all necessary health care needs and is free at the point of use for people in conditions of poverty.
COVID 19 response for Homeless:
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced £6million of emergency funding to provide relief for frontline homelessness charitable organisations who are directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Homeless Link will be distributing the fund on the ministry’s behalf to facilitate this much needed support to the sector, allowing organisations to focus solely on their mission of supporting vulnerable people.
The grants are open to registered charities, Charitable Incorporated Organisations, Community Benefit Societies and Community Interest Companies in England working to support those rough sleeping or experiencing homelessness through the COVID-19 crisis.
The eligible organisation must be a small to medium sized organisation (up to £5 million annual turnover) that currently works directly with people experiencing homelessness and where more than 50% of beneficiaries are people experiencing homelessness.
Grants are available for either/or both of the following purposes:
to help alleviate the financial impact of COVID-19 on the organisation. This may be because of a reduction in actual or expected income this year, and/or as a result of higher costs that have been incurred or expected to incur as a result of providing services to beneficiaries as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis.
to provide new or adapted services to homeless people affected by COVID-19.
6. HAVE DATA ON TRANSPARENCY AND POSSIBLE CLAIMS FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE IN PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE SITUATIONS BEEN PROVIDED?
The UK publishes comprehensive homelessness statistics.
7. HAS ANY LEGAL ACTION BEEN TAKEN TO PROTECT PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE PEOPLE FROM BECOMING HOMELESS?
Action in respect of vulnerable people has been outlined in the respective legislation given in answers above.
With regard to litigation, this is usually in the hands of various charities undertaking pro-bono, or funded by the state “legal aid’ system, for particular persons in their respective individual situations. For example, the charity “Shelter” provides specialist social welfare law advice on housing issues to around 15,000 people each year under legal aid contracts, both face to face and on the telephone. Judicial review is one of the main tools used to challenge the decisions of local authorities to prevent someone from becoming homeless.