The Supreme Court ruling on the vulnerability test for people who are homeless is of course welcome news. It’s one less hurdle for people who are vulnerable and living on the streets to jump. Now people’s vulnerability will be judged compared to anyone facing homelessness as opposed to someone who is already living on the streets (and so is pretty vulnerable already).
However, there are 5 tests local authorities must apply in deciding whether they have a duty to provide housing to people – whether people are a priority due to vulnerability is just one of them:
- Are you homeless?
- Are you eligible – so are you a UK citizen or an immigrant who is allowed access to public funds?
- Are you in priority need? This is whether the vulnerability criteria will impact.
- Re you intentionally homeless?
- Have you got a local connection to the area in which you’re asking for help?
Local authorities must have a framework to assess homelessness, so I’m not suggesting we do away with the tests altogether. Different local authorities interpret the tests more tightly or more flexibly than others.
I would suggest that how local authorities apply the final 2 tests are as, if not more important, in improving people’s access to housing, in particular for rough sleepers and other people who are repeatedly homeless and have multiple or complex needs.
Many of people we work are judged be intentionally homeless – poor mental health, addictions or lack of living skills and no family or community support may have led them to abandon their accommodation, they may have struggled with living in a group hostel environment or with paying rent and been evicted. Under current legislation they don’t get a second chance. However, that doesn’t mean to say people are blocked from any accommodation and support. They can still access supported accommodation and be helped into their own tenancy – there just isn’t a statutory obligation to provide housing. The big concern here is that, as local authority budgets are cut, this non-statutory support reduces.
Even if you meet all 4 of the first tests, if you don’t have a local connection, then you’ll be referred back to the area in which you do. If you can’t go back – because you’re trying to get away from (non-domestic) violence or harassment in that area, or because you need to be apart from negative peer groups – there’s no statutory help, and you may not be allowed access to other supported accommodation. Our Fulfilling Lives programme is starting to look at was of creating greater flexibility for a small number of clients with multiple needs, including through reciprocal agreements between local authorities.
Difficult to legislate for, or make court judgments on, is how flexible councils are in applying the last 2 rules. And, changing the tests and definitions is not going to halt the reduction in funding for non-statutory services which the next 5 years is likely to bring.