His Honour Judge Jan Luba QC recently delivered the first Bryan McGuire Memorial Lecture. He chose Dispute Resolution in Homelessness as his subject.
The lecture's central theme is that we don't know how effective the methods of resolving homelessness disputes are. This is quite simply because no statistics are published about the ways in which homelessness decisions are challenged.
The statistical gap that's most regrettable is surely the absence of data about the thousands of requests made each year for a homelessness decision to be internally reviewed under s.202 of the Housing Act 1996.
This would be easy for the Department for Communities and Local Government to rectify. They could simply add indicators to the P1E quarterly return.
Well chosen indicators would add much needed transparency to issues such as:
The need for transparency was underlined by data obtained by Inside Housing back in 2011. They found that on average 42% of initial homeless decisions were overturned on review by the English councils who responded to their survey.
More worryingly they also found very wide variations in 'success rates'. The percentage of reviews overturned by councils varied between 7% and 65%. This suggested very poor decision-making on initial homelessness decisions by some authorities, even when taking into account factors such as late receipt of information, changes in circumstances and the exercise of discretion in the applicant's favour at review stage.
Hopefully the DCLG will consider this gap when reviewing what data councils must provide, ahead of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 amendments coming into force. The Government's response to the CLG Select Committee reports on homelessness confirms that a cross-Government Homelessness Data and Analysis Working Group has been established to improve homelessness data (see para 11).
Jan Luba suggests that, in the absence of statistical releases, academic research should be undertaken. He points out that the last such research was undertaken by Cowan et al in 2003.
Interestingly, two of the findings from the Cowan et al research was that only a small proportion of negative homelessness decisions are reviewed and that many applicants don't even appreciate they have a right to review (despite being informed in writing).
Homelessness managers who wish to address this lack of knowledge and adopt a more informative approach might be interested in my summary of the review process for applicants which can be adapted for use as a guide or webpage.
Anyway, back to Jan Luba's lecture.
In 2015 he was appointed as a circuit judge. He sits at the County Court at Central London. In his lecture he shares some observations on s.204 homelessness appeals, aided by the fact that for six months he case managed all (although didn't hear all) appeals at the court.
At paragraphs 105 to 110 he helpfully makes five suggestions for those undertaking s.202 reviews. If you review homelessness decisions it's worth reading at least this section.
But since his observations deserve to be circulated as widely as possible to reviewing officers I've summarised them below:
All good advice. I'll be quietly amending my homeless review decision templates shortly.. (but only to address a couple of the above points!)
The lecture also includes suggestions for solicitors conducting homelessness appeals (at paras 106 to 123).
It isn't too long and, as with anything written by Jan Luba, it's well worth a read.
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