I’m back, so here we go:
As readers of this site will know, I’ve been publishing interviews in which a council homelessness officer talks about working on the homelessness frontline as the housing crisis deepens (there are links to earlier articles at the end of this post).
This officer has worked in housing offices across London and Greater London councils for nearly 20 years (the officer still works in council homelessness and housing offices in the same areas).
Sometimes, this officer has worked as a council review officer.
Review officers re-examine council decisions that homeless people want to challenge. Review officers can overturn a council’s original decision not to help a homeless person with housing if that officer decides the original decision was wrong.
Problem is – this officer has come under pressure from senior council management NOT to overturn original council decisions when those original decisions found against a homelessness person’s entitlement or priority for housing assistance.
The officer says that this happened not long ago at one London council.
At this council, the officer overturned the council’s original decision not to give an older homeless person and a disabled homeless person priority for housing help.
A so-called medical adviser from the private sector who “advises” councils on such things (more on this external-medical-advice-for-council-homelessness-officers racket soon) had come up with assessments which were taken to mean that the two homeless people shouldn’t be given priority for help on medical grounds.
The officer disagreed.
Events took an outrageous turn after that.
The officer was told off by management for overturning those two decisions – for deciding that the council must give those two homeless people priority.
The officer reports being called into a meeting with management and asked to justify overturning these decisions not to give those homeless people priority.
Senior management was displeased to find that review officers were overturning council homelessness decisions – even though overturning council decisions after reviewing legislation and a homelessness person’s application was a key part of a review officer’s job.
The officer was very unhappy about this. The officer says, “it was like getting a formal warning” for saying the council should help homeless people that it wanted to disregard.
The officer felt that the whole incident was a worrying development – senior management hauling reviews officers over the coals for overturning decisions that reviews officers should overturn.
More than that – the officer was asked to liaise with the council’s housing options team in future if the officer decided to overturn any more council homelessness decisions.
This was an extraordinary instruction.
Review officers are supposed to work separately from the housing officers whose original decisions are being reviewed. They might ask the original officer for more information about a case and decision – but not for permission to overturn it.
The whole idea is that a homeless person’s application goes to a different officer if the homeless person wants to challenge the council’s original decision not to help.
The team that made the original decision should NOT be given the chance to lean on a review officer who is considering overturning the housing team’s decision. Certainly, a review officer should not have to ask the original decisionmaking team if that team is okay with somebody overturning a rotten decision that team made.
Said the officer:
“The manager [who came to see me] had these files in his hand.
He said, “let’s have a chat.” I said, “Okay.”
They [the files] were some non-priority decisions. I had overturned them.
Our reviews team was in one team, so we had one senior manager. The housing options guys – they had their own senior manager. There was a head of service above them.
The [housing] options manager who was moaning to the head of service about these cases was saying, “How can [the reviews officer] overturn these cases? The [external private medical advisers] said they had no priority.
I explained for a start that [the homeless person] was 70 years old. Of course they’ve got priority. One of them was walking with a stick. They [the housing options team] were like – “he doesn’t have priority.” Of course he has priority.
My manager is like, “they’re moaning about it [the housing options team]. I agree with your decisions, but they’re moaning about it.”
I said, “too bad.” I said, if they don’t like it…”
In the end, [my manager said], “if you’re going to overturn decisions in future, would you discuss it with the manager of the options team beforehand and give them a heads up or whatever…”
There was another guy there [in the reviews team] who was overturning more decisions than me. He’d been told, “it’s been noted” [by management] sort of thing.
It’s kind of like a first warning, isn’t it – “let’s see if you are going to change or what. A subtle warning…” [for deciding that people are entitled to housing help].”
Quite mess, all of this.
Previously published interviews with this officer: