4 clients seen by the advice service in 2018

Steven

Not all of our clients come to see us because they are seeking accommodation. Some, like Steven, need our help in resolving a case with the Department of Work & Pensions. Steven was in a receipt of Universal Credit and as he was not fit to work received the sickness-related element. He attended a DWP medical assessment back in 2017 and received notification that the decision-maker that he had been found fit to work.

He clearly was not and so we engaged with the process of contesting this, the first stage of which is a mandatory reconsideration. We wrote accordingly and again the decision came back as a negative decision. We applied to have the case go forward to a Tribunal where we could present in person. The crux of the matter is that Steven’s original condition had not materially changed and had got worse as he now had a diagnosis of cancer and hepatitis.

Working with Steven, we constructed a case which demonstrated that the assessor had gone against the recommended practice in the Handbook provided to assessors by ignoring and not taking the additional material which Steven had brought to the assessment, which might have led to a different outcome. In addition, the assessor had made an arbitrary decision about Steven’s ability to walk for a specific distance without difficulty – a decision we were able to demonstrate was essentially flawed by using the mechanism used by the Department of Transport as a means of determining the length of time it takes to cover a distance without difficulty. We also challenged the demeanour of the assessor as there were a number of errors in the report submitted and Steven felt that the assessor did not give him any space to explain his situation.

It took from October 2017 when we first met Steven to August 2018 for his case to reach the Tribunal where he received a decision in his favour. Our organisation was commended for the support we had provided. A House of Commons Committee has found that the quality of 56% of assessor’s reports were found to be unacceptable. The impact on Steven’s life during the period up to the Social Security Tribunal had resulted in a further deterioration of his mental health, he had got into debt as his benefit had been decreased whilst awaiting the tribunal and he had begun to consume alcohol again; something he needed to control due to the type of cancer he had and was forced to use food banks. The misery and distress experienced is massive when a correctly undertaken assessment might have prevented this.

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Ken

Ken is Irish, in his early fifties and has been known to us for 4 years. He has all his benefits in place, has no particular support issues apart from being very, very angry and refusing any offer of accommodation unless it is a council property. He has been sleeping rough for most of the time he has been known to us. Prior to becoming homeless Ken used to live happily in his council flat.  When his mother became very ill and required someone to care for her he decided to give up his council flat and moved to his mother (council) flat. He naively assumed, without checking the rules of her tenancy that he would be allowed to live there after her death. Unfortunately that was not the case, the rules of her tenancy agreement disallowed the succession and he got evicted after she passed away. He is angry because he did all the right things; he gave up his own flat to be fair to the council and took care of his mother, but ended up on the street. He came back to the council to ask for help but was told that they cannot assist because he made himself intentionally homeless by giving up his own flat. In addition, as a single person with no support needs he would not be treated as being in priority need and therefore his best option is to look for an accommodation in the private market. This is one of those cases when yes, everything was played by the rules but you can clearly see why he feels so upset. The Local Authorities got two properties back and a terminally ill resident was well looked after. Ken became homeless. Moreover a lot of money and resources has been spent by services that have been supporting Ken while he is homeless. Perhaps if Ken got his flat back then, he would be working by now and supporting himself.

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Jeff

Jeff is 32 years old. He has been very honest with us since coming to the centre. He told us about his mental health problems, difficult upbringing, past heroin addiction, prison stays and current cannabis use. He told our advice workers that he is learning to cope with his problems and is very determined not to get into trouble again. He came back to London to be closer to his 5 year old daughter because he realised that by being absent from her life may cause her emotional difficulties that will follow her through life. He used to be fostered as a child so he knows how it feels. He showed one of our advice workers a picture of his daughter and she was very touched by his maturity and openness. They discussed his housing options and he said he would be happy with whatever was available as long as it was in London. All he wanted was a stable place to stay so he could take care of himself and be able to spend time with his child. We thought that this shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.

We made two referrals for him but both were declined due to his cannabis use. Again he had done the right thing, he was honest about his cannabis use when he applied for housing. Accommodation providers refused him as their rules said so. Jeff is trying to make a positive change to his life and to contribute to his daughter’s life also. If he continues to be on the street he may get frustrated and turn to harder drugs that he has used in the past. We will continue trying to find him accommodation.

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Lukas

One of our advice workers writes …

I was helping one of our Eastern European clients, Lukas, to complete paperwork he needed to start working at an employment agency, which included completing a detailed and fully evidenced employment history. Lukas had been working in the UK for the last two years, in a car wash. However, this had been cash in hand work where the employer had kept the tax he was supposed to be paying for Lukas – tax which would have increased Lukas’ rights to claim benefits during periods of sickness or incapacity, and would have helped him to evidence his lawful stay in the UK as part of any applications for residency. Lukas had worked hard for two years but was unable to evidence this properly to legitimate employers – meaning he was essentially stuck in badly paid, exploitative work provided by unscrupulous people, which would also ensure he remained stuck in precarious housing situations, relying on the charity of others to live.

I became especially struck when I looked up the car wash on the internet in order to make sure the address was correct for Lukas’ paperwork and started to read the reviews people had left about it. They were all very positive, with people commenting on how polite and efficient the staff were, and also how reasonable the price was. I thought, the staff here have been doing a good job, but they have still not been provided with the means to live a secure and decent life.

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