A teenager has forced Brent Council to overturn a decision against allowing her to join the housing waiting list after originally being told she was not eligible for council housing because she is homeless.
Shadacia White, 18, who is hearing impaired, currently lives with her mum and autistic brother in temporary accommodation, having spent significant time during her childhood sofa surfing, camping out in a storage unit and even sleeping at Heathrow Airport as the family suffered through homelessness.
It wasn’t until she reached out to teachers at her school during the pandemic, fearing a lockdown spent on the cold streets of London, that Shadacia was able to get some help and start fighting for her family – but she still wasn’t eligible for social housing.
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‘It made me feel like dirt’
(Image: Osbornes Law)
About to start a Marketing degree at university, Shadacia sought a place on Brent Council’s housing list so she can bid on a home for her family to live in while she’s studying.
She said she was “stunned” to be told, when she went to apply at the age of 18, that she was not eligible to be placed on the list because she was homeless – despite her hearing impairment and brother’s autism.
Shadacia said: “I just thought, ‘how can that make sense as surely homeless people need homes the most?’
“I was shocked that they had this policy as they are supposed to be helping people who need it most, but they are refusing to allow homeless people to apply for council houses. It’s just crazy.
“I felt like an underdog. I was angry, sad and just confused at the same time – I need the help, I can’t get it, and it’s a massive hit in the face.
“It made me feel like dirt, that’s what the council made me feel like.”
(Image: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire)
Brent Council’s housing allocation scheme places applicants in priority bands D to A, with A being the highest priority, and people in band D unable to bid on homes at all.
Those in higher bands will out-bid people in lower priority bands who express an interest in the same property.
Homeless people are automatically placed in band D, as they have ‘no priority’ unless they meet specific criteria such as a serious enough health condition and the council accepts the ‘main housing duty’. However, deciding whether they meet this criteria takes at least eight weeks, but usually several months, leaving homeless Brent residents vulnerable for extended periods of time.
Legally, Brent has to give ‘reasonable preference’ to homeless people even if they are not owed the ‘main housing duty’, meaning that the current policy is unlawful – according to lawyers at Osbornes Law.
After fighting a battle against Brent Council, Shadacia was able to get her case overturned and be added to the housing list.
Despite this, Shadacia, her mum and her autistic 25-year-old brother are still in temporary accommodation and waiting to get a council home, and are concerned that they could get moved outside London because the council deems properties in London ‘too expensive’ for the family’s low income.
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High Court battle against Brent Council
A Freedom of Information request by Osbornes Law has revealed that 847 homeless people have been barred from getting a home by the council in the past eight years – and now Shadacia wants to fight for their rights too.
She said: “While I am so relieved that I have been placed on the list there are hundreds more being placed in a terrible position of being homeless and then not being able to get on a housing list because they are homeless.
“It’s a ridiculous catch-22 situation and I am determined to keep fighting until Brent change their policy to give all homeless people a chance of getting somewhere permanent to live.
“It’s important to me because when I get moved all over the place [in temporary accommodation] I hear the same stories, and it seems like everyone feels like they can’t say anything.
“The fact that my mum was thinking she’d just live the way she’s been living for the rest of her life made me think ‘no, something actually needs to change’.
“I wanted to defeat the stupidity of Brent Council, that’s how I feel. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
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Sam O’Flaherty, a specialist housing litigation solicitor at Osbornes Law, who represents Shadacia, said: “Brent Council has been unlawfully denying hundreds of homeless applicants their right to bid on the housing list.
“What is most concerning is that this policy appears to have been in place for eight years and may have affected many more people than the council has on record, because of the way it records the data and the risk that it will not always recognise that someone meets the legal definition of ‘homeless’.
“While we are pleased that the council has placed Shadacia on the housing list, it is shocking that they did not change their policy for everybody.
“It is a testament to the type of person Shadacia is that she is seeking this judicial review.
“Even though she has won her own case she is committed to helping the hundreds of vulnerable people in need of a home but who have been unlawfully abandoned by a policy leaving them homeless.”
According to Osbornes Law, Brent Council has agreed to change its policy to allow homeless people to bid for housing under an amended scheme, but this will not take place until at least January or February 2022 because of their consultation and approval procedures.
However, there are concerns around the way the council intends to do this, which could leave many homeless households still unable to bid for social housing, and that the extent of the delay isn’t justified.
Because of this, the High Court has listed a hearing on these issues on October 27, where the court will consider Shadacia’s application for permission to apply for judicial review.
Shadacia said she feels “a little bit nervous, but not a lot” about her High Court battle, as with the help of her lawyers she is confident that she can change things for other Brent residents.
“I’m passionate to make a change, and I think we do have a strong case. Something needs to change.”
‘London is in the grip of a severe housing crisis’
A Brent Council spokesperson said: “We were recently made aware of a technical error in our housing allocations scheme. The important thing is that we’ve taken steps to fix this immediately.
“As a short-term emergency measure, we are moving those who are currently homeless or threatened with homelessness into a category where they can now bid for properties on the housing register, something they could not do before.
“Ms White is now placed in this category, and her homelessness application got accepted in February 2021. We’re pleased to report that Ms White, along with her family, have been provided accommodation – and this will continue.
“We’ve also identified the people who have made historical homeless applications and may still be homeless. We are contacting these people directly as we speak.
“London is in the grip of a severe housing crisis. Therefore, these proposed changes will not necessarily reduce the time those affected will spend waiting for a suitable home to become available. Our housing allocation scheme, as always, will continue to prioritise those with the highest need.”
Brent Council added that Brent residents who previously had to wait eight weeks (56 days) to see if the council accepts its main housing duty will now move into Band C, alongside those with greater housing need, where they can view and bid for properties. This includes Shadacia, who Brent Council say was added to the housing register two weeks after the council was notified of the error in their policy by Osbornes Law.
It says it is currently consulting on several changes to the Council’s allocations scheme, after which a report will be presented to Cabinet in December or January which will make a final decision on the changes to the allocations scheme.
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