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The Law on Homelessness Paperback – 13 Mar 1997


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From the Author

An analysis of the law affecting homeless people
This book is dedicated to a 16-year old girl I found huddled in a sleeping bag on Little Argyll Street in London’s West End. She had been abused, dropped out of a school for the educationally-challenged, became addicted to heroin, then dependent on methadone and strong lager, and raped. For all the Channel 4 documentaries, for all the magazine exposes, for all the copies of the Big Issue you buy on the street, nothing can bring home the misery of homelessness like opening yourself up to people who are living it.

"The Law on Homelessness" is partly about people like her. However, it is more generally concerned with the 122,660 households accepted as homeless by local authorities in 1994. The tens of thousands of families living in uninhabitable accommodation. The book is written for lawyers and advisors - but the subject matter concerns ordinary citizens and is, lamentably, all around us. So, the homeless people covered by this book are not simply those living in cardboard boxes on our main streets, eating scraps of other people’s take-away dinners. It is about thousands of families living in appalling poverty in substandard housing in Britain in the 1990’s.

While homelessness is about the contentious area of poverty, it is also one of the most frequently litigated areas of housing law. Importantly, for many legal advisors reading this book, it will deal with those clients who want to leave their current accommodation to be housed by local authorities; with those seeking to structure the break-up of a relationship; with those who are either elderly or teen-aged seeking shelter from their vulnerabilities; and for the care-in-the-community patients coping with a strange and frightening world. Understanding the statutory and common law rules on homelessness in this regard are vital to their life-choices at these critical times.

The structure of the book is as follows. The introduction considers the scale of homelessness in the English law jurisdiction and takes an historical view of the law dealing with homeless people since medieval times. The central thesis of this discussion is that attitudes to the indigent poor which were present in the Middle Ages, Victorian England and the Depression of the 1930’s, are still identifiable in the common law of the 1990’s.

The first substantive law section sets out to explain in outline the structure of Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 and the new Code of Guidance dealing with the law affecting homeless people. The next group of chapters considers procedural issues like making applications to local authorities, the right to notification of decisions and the means of challenging those decisions. The bulk of the text then considers in detail the statutory tests for deciding whether or not a person is homeless and then whether such a person is entitled to be accommodated permanently or temporarily by a local authority.

The last few chapters aim to complete the consideration of the law as it affects homeless people by considering the related issues of criminal sanctions against squatters and travellers; the civil law on adverse possession of land; and the means by which vacant possession of land is recovered from occupants. The central purpose, then, is to provide a survey of all of the law which affects people becoming homeless, people once they are homeless, and people seeking to be re-housed.

The approach I have taken with the new statutory provisions in the Housing Act 1996 is that much of the old caselaw will still be of some effect in interpreting the new statutory material. Therefore, the old caselaw is considered in detail, together with discussions of important new decisions like Awua, Begum, Ben-al-Mabrouk and Mansoor. However, the aim of this book is to go beyond the simple housing legislation and to deal with the full range of law dealing with homeless people. Therefore, there is some analysis of the relevant criminal law and an introduction to the law on adverse possession of land. All mistakes, omissions and infelicities of expression are entirely the fault of the author. The law is, to the best of my knowledge, correct as at January 1997.

In a civilised, mature democracy we can have little claim to success or communal self-worth while we allow hundreds of people to sleep on the pavements of our cities, thousands of families to live in uninhabitable conditions, and tens of thousands of children to grow up in excruciating poverty. It is often easy to reduce this blight to polemic or to economics, what is difficult is to accept it as an all-too-common human crisis lived out daily in our country. This is not a polemical text but its author does have a strongly-held belief that among our priorities as a society must be the restoration of some dignity and hope to those who suffer at the breaking-wheel of housing poverty.

There are many people who deserve my thanks in the preparation of this book. I am particularly grateful to those at my publishers who have supported me from the start with kind words and kind deeds. I also wish to express a debt of thanks to those working in the area who have allowed me a little closer to the work they do: in particular the people on the Big Issue who first blooded me in this field. My family have been, as ever, an inestimable support simply by being there and listening to me. But most of all, I would like to thank those homeless people who have shared a little of their lives with me on our mean streets. I thank them for connecting in me the prose in this subject with the passion in us all.

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