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Scrutiny Review : Witness Evidence ( Homelessness)

Minutes:

The Chair invited Ruth Hayes and Stuart Hearne, Co-Directors of the Islington Law Centre to explain their activities and what part they play in alleviating homelessness in Islington. The following points were raised and discussed:

 

·         The meeting was advised that Islington Law Centre (LC) provides low income residents with accessible high quality legal advices to challenge the effects of poverty which is inextricably linked to homelessness. LC in conjunction with statutory agencies, the Local authority, the Islington Strategic Advice Service and BAMER community organisations help to address these issues.

·         Through it’s partnership working LC is able to provide a range of services to help reduce the risks of housing crises and homelessness and most of its focus and activities are centred around early intervention, welfare benefits and debt

 

·         LC runs a drop in Reception and Referral service for residents threatened with evictions where they can bring in their correspondence and are assisted in understanding what stage their case is. LC also offers specialist weekly housing advice outreach sessions across the borough; specialist weekly welfare rights and specialist weekly debt advice outreach sessions.

 

·         The Law Centre is funded by Council grants and receives additional funding from both Cripplegate and Cloudesley which is used for follow up casework where needed.

 

·         Residents seek advice on a range of issues such as representations on possession proceedings, homelessness, succession rights, rent arrears, landlord and tenant matters, evictions, anti-social behaviour, rehousing etc

 

·         The Law Centre also provides legal representation to help people avoid possessions, evictions and homelessness which is available through the Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court duty scheme. Tenants of different tenures whether Council, housing associations tenants and tenants in private rented sector are supported by LC.

 

·         However, LC clients tend to be Council tenants, only 8% compared of tenants in the private sector compared to 31% council tenants and 46% social landlord tenants seek advice and support.

 

·         Due to increasing overlap between the Law Centre’s immigration work and housing need, it is able to offer services to Islington residents through its weekly outreach sessions at the Hackney Migrant Centre.

·         With regard to the Council’s No Recourse to Public Funds team, the meeting was informed that the Law Centre works with young people to regularise their status so that they are able to access work, education and benefits.

 

·         In light of the introduction of the Universal Credit, LC has been advising people at risk of losing their home, however as its implementation is still in its infancy, LC has yet to able to analyse the impact, however it will continue to work with the Council on this issue.

 

·         Homelessness is caused by a myriad of factors such as lack of security in the private sector, low income, erratic income, failures of the social security system along with crises such as job loss, ill health or family breakdown.

 

·         In response to a question about the services of Now Medical, representative from the LC advised that the Council should consider the medical assessments made by the individual’s GP or consultant as they were most aware of their state of health.

 

·         The meeting was advised that although the Law centre offers pre advice to 8% private tenants, there is no evidence that they were placed in private sector housing by the Council.

 

·         As part of its review into homelessness, the Committee welcomed any anonymised cases that involved any of their clients involvement with NowMedical.

 

·         In response to a question on why local authorities employ the services of Now Medical, the meeting was advised that it offers local authorities another option when taking a decision on housing needs of vulnerable applicants instead of relying on GP’s opinions. LC representatives expressed concerns that most applicants affected were vulnerable suffering mental illness, learning disability or physical disability.

·         A suggestion that the Committee consider scrutinising the Council’s use of NowMedical in the future was noted.



The Chair thanked officers of Islington Law Centre for their attendance and contribution to the review..