Sacha is a 52 year old Eastern European widower. He has been living in the UK for over 10 years and working full time until he became ill a year ago. He has never claimed any benefits and was renting a small flat in the private rented sector. When his fixed rental contract ended he stayed with his friend whilst looking for alternative accommodation. At this time he started to develop health problems. He suffers from syncope, which is a temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure. He collapses a few times every month and is normally taken to hospital when this happens. He is being treated by the neurological team in King’s College Hospital.
As he had been working as a driver there was no way for him to continue his work. After 28 weeks of sick pay he had to start claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It was around this time that his friend asked him to find other accommodation. He approached the local council but was told that he was not in priority needs and was signposted to us. We applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on his behalf in May 2016. The benefit was awarded in August 2016. We had to intervene and chase his ESA claim several times. Each time we emphasised to the Jobcentre’s advisers that Sacha was ill and homeless and that we were unable to house him until his ESA had been granted (this is a requirement of housing providers, who want to be sure that all prospective tenants are entitled to housing Benefit). What caused such a delay?
As Sacha was an EEA national he had to satisfy the conditions of a test called the Habitual Residence Test (HRT) before he could claim ESA. This can be done over the phone or in person at a Job Centre. Sacha chose the former option but he was not told that he has to submit evidence of his employment history in the UK. The first time we called to chase Sacha’s claim, at the beginning of June, we were told that he had failed HRT, because he had not provided supporting documents and therefore he was not eligible for benefit. We explained what had happened and arranged an appointment for him at the Jobcentre, so his documents could be faxed directly to the Department of Works & Pensions (DWP). Ten days later we called again to check on the progress of his claim to be told that probably due to a “human error” the documents did not get faxed to the decision maker and Sacha had to go again to the Jobcentre to provide his documents. A week later, we phoned again to find out that his claim was successful but for some reason the payment had not been released. It took another two phone calls to get Sacha’s benefit paid into his account. Once this was done we were finally able to place him on a waiting list for supported accommodation.
Denise is a 28 year old Jamaican woman with indefinite leave to remain in the UK. She is a single mum with a 4 year old daughter and she works part-time. Her landlord asked her to leave her accommodation when she disagreed with a rent increase. She would have been willing to accept the rent increase had her landlord been willing to fulfil his responsibilities and repair the leaking window in her daughter’s room. She went to her local council to make a homelessness application in May 2016.
The Housing Option worker who dealt with her application told her that she was not eligible to be housed by the council as she had made herself “intentionally homeless”. She strongly felt that this was an unfair decision and approached her local Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) for help. They told her she needed to get the council’s decision in writing before they could help. She made four attempts to do so: she went there in person; she phoned them; wrote to them herself and asked the CAB to write to the council on her behalf. Sadly all these requests were ignored. When she came to see us in July she felt frustrated and powerless and was about to give up the fight. We assisted her in making a formal complaint over the phone (the law obliges councils to provide a written decision on homelessness applications). A week later she told us that the written decision had finally been provided (together with apologies) and that a CAB solicitor had requested a review of the decision.
Another person requiring long term sustained work was an Eastern European man who despite having mental health issues was convinced that he would be able to work in the construction industry. He had absolutely no awareness of how extremely poor his mental health was. He suffered from paranoia and schizophrenic delusions but had no insight into this. He simply wanted to work but his health was deteriorating daily. These kinds of cases might take months to resolve, some don’t get resolved.
In this particular case the local mental health team who work with homeless people (the START Team) found him temporary accommodation. Unfortunately, these situations are never straight forward and he left the accommodation and returned to living on the street. He did this because the area where he had been placed was strange to him and he couldn’t find his way back to Manna. He kept getting lost. So instead he slept out near to the centre, near to what he knew. Mental health services in his country were contacted and were informed that he would be coming back and would need immediate support. Eventually he was returned to his country to access these support services.
We have known Sunim for well over a year. He had been approaching us for housing and we were concerned that his undiagnosed mental health issues were preventing him from being settled into suitable accommodation – he had been alternating between rough sleeping and a placement in a night shelter for some time. After some months of working with him, we managed to persuade him to see his GP and to ask for a referral to a specialist service that would help him. He had already been deemed unwell enough not to be in work. Once we had the referral in place, we had been introduced to a service that offers shared housing with relevant support. We made the referral, he was assessed by the organisation in question, accepted and within two weeks of the referral, he had a new home.
Since getting his referral to specialist services and getting settled in his new home, he has become much more confident and engaged, more outgoing and the self-neglect which arose as a combination of his mental health combined with homelessness is a thing of the past.