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LAG/Arden Chambers homelessness conference
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Description: jun2014-p06-01
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Description: jun2014-p06-02
Sam Madge-Wyld, a barrister at Arden Chambers, reports back on the first conference held in April:
In April, Arden Chambers and LAG held their inaugural homelessness conference at City University, London. The one-day conference aimed to provide delegates with a detailed analysis of the current policy challenges and legal issues confronting those working within homelessness. As the event was heavily oversubscribed, a repeat conference was held on 13 June.
The keynote address by Andrew Arden QC
Andrew Arden QC kicked off the conference with a rousing keynote speech that focused on the wider policy context of homelessness and examined what lawyers, advisers and officers from both sides of the divide could do to develop the law to address the key issues arising from this area. He started by reflecting on his 40 years’ experience of practising and writing about homelessness, and the fact that, to the country’s shame and despite the introduction of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, the problem of homelessness, in particular of street homelessness and where women are affected, was both as real and visible as ever and was being exacerbated by the government’s cuts to legal aid, local authorities’ budgets and the lack of house building in the social rented sector. Delegates were told that one of the most visible results of the cuts to local authorities’ budgets was that rough sleeping had increased by, on a conservative estimate, 37 per cent since 2010; the more sobering, but probably more accurate, estimate was that the number of people sleeping rough had doubled. Any savings in expenditure were also likely to be no more than illusory because it was estimated that each rough sleeper cost the NHS £26,000 a year. Even if there were actual savings, it was a sad indictment that, in 2014, the sixth richest country in the world was unable to find the money to prevent people from sleeping on the streets.
The continuing shortage of affordable housing – both to rent and to purchase – also meant that, in December 2013, the number of households accommodated in temporary accommodation amounted to 56,390. Delegates were referred to Shelter research which showed that temporary accommodation led to its own problems. For example, children in temporary accommodation were at a markedly increased risk of ill health and were twice as likely to leave school without any GCSEs. Again, the savings from not building new, affordable homes, which would go towards solving the problem, were offset by the increased cost to the NHS and the storing up of future social problems.
The private sector would never be the answer. However, in the absence of any investment in affordable housing, it was necessary for the private sector to be better regulated to prevent ‘revolving-door’ homelessness. Unless and until there was better regulation of housing standards, greater security of tenure and rent control, the private sector would never be able to address the real needs of homeless families.
The government’s social welfare cuts and, in particular, the benefit cap meant that women were now more likely than ever to become homeless. This was especially concerning as research conducted by Caroline Hunter and Judy Dixon had found that single women were already more likely to be at risk of eviction arising from the anti-social behaviour of their children than other families. In relation to those women who become street homeless, delegates were told of concerning research from St Mungo’s which indicated that one-third of women sleeping rough resorted to prostitution; yet only eight per cent of homelessness funding was targeted at providing refuge shelters.
Finally, Andrew Arden reminded lawyers from both sides not to lose sight of the wood for the trees, or, to put it another way, the human suffering for the legal principle. In circumstances where the current government was unwilling to make any substantive change to homeless law for the better, it was important for lawyers on both sides to attempt to change the existing body of case-law by, in the appropriate cases, drawing attention to the wider policy context and issues surrounding homelessness when challenging or making decisions. It was only through addressing the wider context in the decision-making process that the law could be better shaped to reflect the needs of the applicant and local authority.
Areas of homelessness discussed by speakers
Clare Roberts then gave an illustrating talk concerning the recent case-law on the meaning of homelessness and analysed the Supreme Court case of Sharif v Camden LBC [2013] UKSC 10, 20 February 2013, which allows authorities to accommodate families in separate units of accommodation. Clare Roberts was followed by Annette Cafferkey and Professor David Cowan, who ran through the recent developments in intentional homelessness and priority need respectively. In the afternoon session, Toby Vanhegan provided delegates with an authoritative session on the complex topic of eligibility and updated them on the recent line of caselaw arising from Ruiz Zambrano v Office national de l’emploi (ONEm) C-34/09, 8 March 2011; [2012] QB 265. The conference programme of speakers finished with Iain Colville, who analysed the changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 concerning the provision of accommodation in the private sector and the politically controversial subject of accommodating applicants outside of the district to which they apply.
The conference concluded with the speakers answering questions from the floor on various subjects arising from the day.

About the author(s)

Description: Sam Madge-Wyld
Sam Madge-Wyld is a barrister practising from Tanfield Chambers.