George Bernard Shaw famously wrote a long letter to a friend, apologising for its length by saying:-
“I’m sorry but I didn’t have time to write a short one”
Anyone who has had to write an article explaining arcane housing law or design a training course on the same thing will understand how difficult it is to keep it somewhere below the size of Moby Dick.
For every time that you write “This is what the law says”, there about 50 examples where you can say “But not in every case”. Therein lies the problem, how much do you leave out to keep it readable without it then being inaccurate and incomplete?
11th Edition of Homelessness and Allocations
So, Messrs Arden, Bates and Vanhegan must be congratulated on the 11th Edition of Homelessness and Allocations, for shortening the book by 20 pages on its predecessor, despite a massive new bit of homelessness law barging through the door in April 2018, which increases both duties and procedures incumbent on homelessness units in England.
“Homelessness & Allocations” is one of two seminal books for professionals in the field, the other being “Housing Allocations and Homelessness” by Jan Luba, Connor Johnson and Liz Davies (There isn’t much you can do with the titles) and while both have their merits and styles the LAG publication is always my first grab when doing a homelessness review or putting together a training course, simply because the text is choc full with relevant case law, which floats my boat.
As with all housing law, talk of Section 4, paragraph 6, sub-section (d) on its own is as dull as ditchwater to me. Its Smith v. Jones or Regina v. Westminster that really make law come to life. Human stories examined through the lens of statute.
I reviewed the 10th edition and commented on this strength before and was pleased to see the style continued, even expanded, with individual cases forming the starting point of many of the paragraphs.
My reasons for doing a book review
When writing book reviews I like to test drive them on the job. I think last time I wrote on the previous edition whilst doing a homelessness review but this time its in the creation of a training course I’m doing in October for homelessness caseworkers to make better use of case law, so the 11th Edition came at a great time and I was handed the important material on a plate.
For a random-grab example, in five short paragraphs on “Cessation of accommodation” I was informed that a family should not come to the UK from abroad without arranging permanent accommodation (De Falco Silvestri v. Crawley), the Importance of considering the factual background of the accommodation that had been left (R. v. Reigate & Banstead BC exp Paris), how all this could lead to a decision of intentional homelessness (r. v. East Hertfordshire DC exp Hunt) and the effects of failing to renew a tenancy (R v. Christchurch BC ex p Conway).
Its that kind of book.
Clearly missing on this front are any cases brought under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, as the bulk (but not all) of this law only became active on the 3rd April, so whilst this often shambolic and poorly drafted piece of legislation is having a massive impact on the day to day work of homelessness units, the inevitable challenges that are bound to ensue, have yet to trouble the courts.
I’m sure the 12th edition will be another 100 pages longer as a result.
The acid test
For any book on homelessness law, the acid test will always be the chapter dealing with immigration status and eligibility for homelessness assistance.
You think landlord and tenant law is complicated? Trust me, that stuff is as simplistic as a Dan Brown novel when compared to eligibility and even just considering reading through that section triggers my well-worn avoidance mechanisms to find other things more pressing to do, such as cleaning the draining board but with the emphasis so much on case law even I find some intriguing stuff.
For instance, did you know that an EEA national can claim homelessness assistance if, among other things, they are working, as long as the work is “Genuine and effective” but that even a two week stint as a security guard at Wimbledon Tournament (whilst still erroneously in receipt of benefits) is enough to count as genuine and effective work, for the purposes of the Act (Barry v Southwark LB).
Knowledge like that is enough for the Daily Mail to call off their overtime ban.
Table of Statutes
The statutes themselves form the last third-quarter of the book, so you don’t have to look elsewhere for the references and as with all LAG books table of statutes at the front of the book will whisk the reader straight to text relevant to a very specific question.
Homelessness law in Wales has for some time gone off on its own path in fact, the Homelessness Reduction Act is based in large part on that system and although there is much in the book relating to Welsh law, LAG inform me that specific Welsh version of that book is available as a print on demand standalone publication for £85.
Presumably its heavy on the case law as well.
So, as they used to say on Juke Box Jury, “It’s a hit from me”. I do have more than one homelessness book on my desk, as should all homelessness caseworkers but when I have a question I’ll always grab this one first.
While cases are referenced throughout, for obvious space reasons they can’t go into huge detail but that’s when you grab the Housing Law Casebook, another LAG publication which will flesh out the story and/or you go a-Googling. There is rarely a magic bullet solution when trying to find an answer.
What shocks me though, as I wend my way around the land training homelessness units, is the very common lack of any books whatsoever in an office. Whenever I hold a copy up in front of a group and ask if they have this, I still all too often get blank stares, which is very troubling.
On a course last year, one manager huffed and puffed when I suggested a certain book was indispensable and she said testily
“Do you think we’re made of money?”.
A sign of how parlous the state of funding is within local authorities these days.