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Tai Pawb feature – Considering equality

What has equality got to do with the new homelessness duties? Matt O’Grady explains the issues for local authorities

The changes made to local authorities’ homelessness duties in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 will significantly alter how homelessness will be approached in Wales. Although the changes are yet to come into force, it is important local authorities consider what the potential equality considerations could be.

The prevention of homelessness is something which has the potential to make a real difference to those at risk. However, the reasons behind homelessness can be complicated, will vary from person to person and may be related to a ‘protected characteristic’- although this may not always be obvious.

For example, last year, around 8.5 per cent of homelessness decisions involved a non-white applicant, despite only 4 per cent of the population being from this background. Outcomes for applications can also vary, with 31 per cent of male applicants being found not to be in priority need compared to only 11 per cent of women. There may also be reasons behind homelessness unique to some groups, such as young LGBT people being forced to leave the family home after coming out. These are just examples, but they show what the different experiences of those with protected characteristics can be.

Prevention and relief duty

Local authorities should consider how equality is taken into account when a landlord has begun the process of ending an individual’s tenancy. Landlords have responsibilities of their own under the Equality Act 2010 and it is important to investigate whether the failure to meet their obligations could be one of the factors leading to the eviction. For example, if a landlord is evicting an individual for anti-social behaviour, is this a matter arising from a disability? If an individual has been told they breached their contract, were they ever given a copy in a language or format they understand?

Considering the Equality Act and the barriers people with protected characteristics may face may help the local authority to understand their situation and how steps could be taken to work with the landlord or tenant to overcome these barriers and prevent homelessness occurring.

Local authorities also have to comply with the Equality Act, so it is vital that prevention and homelessness services are accessible to all individuals. Section 65A of the Act states local authorities must take ‘all reasonable steps’ to help someone secure accommodation. It is important to consider that what is ‘reasonable’ may differ from person to person. For example, the support provided to a disabled person, who may struggle to find accessible accommodation in the PRS, may be different to that provided to others.

Other considerations include ensuring that written information is available in common local languages and a range of alternative formats. Staff should also undergo equality and diversity training to understand the different needs individuals may have.

An example of where this can go wrong happened in Pieretti vs Enfield. A couple who presented as homeless were found by the local authority to be intentionally homeless due to the non-payment of rent leading to eviction. However, the court found Enfield Council had failed to take into account the depression both suffered as being behind the non-payment of rent and that this should have been considered. It is therefore vital that potential equality factors are considered when someone presents as homeless and important to remember these may not always be obvious and require investigation.

Discharging to the private rented sector

It isn’t just the prevention element of the duty that requires paying due regard to equality, but also the new power to discharge the homelessness duty to the PRS.

Everyone’s housing need is different and not all PRS accommodation is suitable for all individuals. Consideration needs to be given as to how to ensure tenancies and properties meet individual needs and are sustainable long term.

Particular equality-related issues should be monitored by housing staff later on to ensure that the accommodation is suitable and tenancies are sustained. There could include the risk of harassment of young LGBT people in a shared house, the risk of isolation of tenants with particular language needs or the risk of vulnerable people enduring a poor state of repair, harassment or abuse due to lack of awareness and confidence of how to deal with these problems.

Clearly it isn’t possible to find all individuals their own house or flat (particularly due to limitations in LHA for the under 35s) but by providing post-tenancy support that checks whether there are any equality-related issues could help prevent potential problems and further homelessness. 

Another challenge could be the lack of accessible accommodation for disabled people in the PRS. As with social housing providers, when landlords agree to become part of a local authority’s scheme, consideration should be given as to how best to use this housing ‘stock’.

One potential solution will be to make use of an accessible housing register, including adding PRS landlords who have signed up to the local authority’s local scheme. This will not only identify potential properties for those found homeless or at risk of homelessness, but contribute to the wider need to make the best use of all housing within the local area.

Where no appropriate accommodation is available, consideration should be given to adaptations and ensuring PRS landlords are aware of their own legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

By taking these actions, local authorities will find themselves in a better place to prevent homelessness and find properties to for those individuals who require them with better outcomes for service users.

However, these aren’t challenges that any organisation needs to face alone, and the services and networks offered by Tai Pawb will help local authorities to better identify, share and implement good practice and offer better outcomes for individuals living in their local area.

Matt O’Grady is equality and diversity officer at Tai Pawb. Matthew@TaiPawb.org. Tel: 02920 537630



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