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HCLC ARTICLE - 'Cathy's Got No Home'


HCLC solicitor Wendy Pettifer (pictured right) looks back over her long service to the community in housing matters and throws down a challenge – "when I retire, who will keep vulnerable families safe?"


"I started working in the legal field at a time when the BBC documentary 'Cathy Come Home' was still having its shocking impact on a society which had no idea how the other half lived and became homeless. I have battled against injustice in housing ever since and continue to struggle with my extraordinary colleagues to keep Hackney Community Law Centre (HCLC) going. When I and others like me retire, who will continue the fight to keep such families safe and in the public eye, in the light of insurmountable obstacles? The current situation is not looking good: recent developments are very worrying for the future.  


On 12 November 2014 the Supreme Court decided that no Possession Order is required to lawfully evict the homeless from temporary accommodation provided in accordance with section 188 (1) Housing Act 1996 pending a local authority's decision on whether they are eligible, unintentionally homeless and in priority need. (R(ZH and CN) v LB Newham and LB Lewisham).   In 1977 Parliament implemented the Homelessness Act 1977 which for the first time gave the homeless a legal right to apply to a local authority for shelter if certain criteria were met. This was after the showing on BBC of a drama documentary, Cathy Come Home, which tugged at the hearts of the nation, showing a single mum losing her kids to social services after she became homeless.


The Localism Act 2011 removed the duty endorsed in the Housing Act 1996 on local authorities to provide secure accommodation to those homeless applicants to whom they held a full re-housing duty. Instead they can discharge that duty by finding them accommodation in the private sector. Combined with the 2012 benefit caps, this has rendered hundreds if not thousands of families homeless second time around.


Their Assured Shorthold Tenancies, often rat infested, leaking and damp have become unaffordable as they do not have enough money to pay the shortfall between their extortionate contractual rent and their Housing Benefit. But in 2014 neither do Social Services have enough in their budgets to pay for deposits and rent in advance to send them back into the private sector. I am a solicitor at Hackney Community Law Centre, representing homeless people. Due to Legal Aid cuts, Ms X was unable to find a solicitor to help her challenge a decision of intentional homelessness made by Redbridge Council in April 2014.


She has indefinite leave to remain in the UK and a husband and 6 children. She currently stays with her elderly father and 2 siblings in a 2 bedroom house in Haringey. She sleeps with her husband and children in the living room. Haringey Social Services have refused to help her. One of her children has recently been hospitalised with meningitis. Ms. Y was unable to get legal advice when she was made homeless with her 3 daughters by Enfield Council in 2013. She is British. She was able to stay with a friend for a while, but since August 2014 has been living with her mum in a 1 bed flat, also in Haringey. Her mum has recently been harassed by drug addicts who constantly call at the flat. Ms Y's 16 year old twins, who were until August doing well at school have seen their grades plummet.


Ms. Y already has an uncle shot dead and a son in prison. Haringey Social Services refused to help. Both these families became homeless because they could not pay their private sector rent after benefit cuts. Both have ended up in Haringey, the Borough where Baby P died. Both were unable to get Legal Advice which would have resulted in County Court appeals against the intentional homelessness decisions. They were evicted from their temporary accommodation without due process, as is now endorsed by the Supreme Court. There is no longer any safety net. Ultimately the elderly relatives will be unable to cope, and like Cathy, my clients will be street homeless with their children. Only this time, Social Services will not step in. Without a secure and stable home, these 9 children, aged 3 months to 16, are at risk of becoming the substance abusers and prisoners of tomorrow. Is today's version of 'Cathy Come Home' going to be needed again to shock people into taking action? I hope not".