Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Shooting myself in the foot?

As another week of seeing homeless clients who have been told utterly the wrong thing by the various Local Authorities goes by I was pondering the fact that around 70 pct of my cases come from clients dissatisfied in one way or the other with the assistance provided to them by the Local Authorities in my area.

I think it's rather ironic (I hope, not wishing to be compared to Alanis Morissette in not being able to actually define irony, or maybe it was a double bluff) that should I be free to actually complain about the Local Authority and be free (for I'm not working at a CAB) to formulate social policy attacks on the Local Authority then by making the Local Authority do the right thing then I might well find myself out of a job. Without all the dissatisfied customers the CAB wouldn't have enough matter starts!

Just imagine a world where the DWP runs like clockwork, where LA's take approaches from all, where Landlords know the difference between on and after. What would we do!?

1 comment:

William Flack said...

I don't think that you will put yourself out of a job in this way. There are a number of resaons for this.

I don't think that challenges from the likes of you and me will lead to local authorities or the DWP improving standards to any significant degree. The wider issues which cause the problems for individaul applicants cannot be overcome in this way. These include a lack for funding, lack of training for staff, lack of accountability to the public of staff and in particular of management, unrealistic demands placed on local government by central government and of course the personality and/or organisational disorder best described as a "bureaupathic mentality" which people who work in agencies dealing with the distribution of social welfare provisions suffer from in the same way that coal miners suffer from respiratory problems.

These factors mean that where we are able to successfully expose and challenge errors and bad practice there is as much chance of the authority concerned taking steps to conceal the bad practices in future as there is of improved procedures being put in place. Eg instead of simply rejecting a homelessness application they might trick an applicant into accepting an assured shorthold tenancy via their "Housing Options" scheme.

Equally the more you encourange the organisations to work properly the more people will be likely to apply to them as there will be less chance of their being messed around. At the moment a lot of people don't apply as homeless because they have heard that you need to spend years in bed and breakfast before you get a flat. If people heard something more encouraging the numbers approaching councils would dramatically increase. This would give rise to more people needing advice and assistance from us.

Even if the new improved councils and DWP were able to provide an error free service to the new increased numbers of applicants I think that you would still have a full time job dealing with the people who simply did not understand the complex rules and procedures and needed help. There would also be a number of genuine grey area cases such as what the wording of a particular Act or rule means. There would also be the applicants who would have problems with the system which did not arise from any maladministation as such but from the law. For instance there would still be the applicant who wants to challenge the suitability of an offer of accommodation which may be lawful but which they do not like.

Lastly, on the other point in your post...I wonder if all of us dealing with homelessness should recognise that many if not all local authorities have given up trying to comply with Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 in terms of dealing with homelessness people. I don't really blame them if they have in the same way that I do not blame someone who is hungry for stealing a loaf of bread. The lack of available housing and more recently the rule preventing them from putting families in bed and breakfast for more than six weeks do make it almost impossible to comply with the requirements of Part 7. I am not saying that we should not require them to comply with Part 7. Clearly they must still do so. However it would make our job easier perhaps if we recognise that what we are dealing with are not just mistakes by poorly trained staff but unlawful policies drawn up and approved by management.