Eviction of Alleged Wandsworth Rioter’s Family – Council Clowns Perform in Media Circus
Ravi Govindia, the leader of Wandsworth engaged in a publicity campaign on Friday 12 August publicising how his council were taking steps to evict a council tenant whose son had been charged with being involved in the riots at Clapham Junction the previous Monday. He suggested that following eviction the family would receive no further assistance from the council because the mother would be “deliberately homeless” and the council’s obligations towards the family would be at an end. His comments were then given wide coverage in the media and he has been treated as taking an exemplary tough stand over the riots. However, if they are carefully considered Cllr Govindia’s comments were silly enough for us to be entitled to expect that he toured the news studios wearing long flat red shoes and a flower concealing a water squirter driving a little yellow open top car with doors and a bonnet that flew off amidst clouds of smoke.
The legal basis of the council’s proposed possession action has been considered in detail on the Nearly Legal blog. I would add to that by saying that even if the council were to obtain a Possession Order against the rioter’s mother and just supposing they were to be able to get away with finding her to be intentionally homeless and turning her away if she then applied to the council’s homeless persons unit for assistance after being evicted that would not be the end of the council’s responsibilities. Wandsworth are a unitary authority and as such they owe the children of the family duties to assist them under the Children Act 1989 if they were to become homeless. This would include not just the alleged rioting youngster himself as he is 17 but also his sister who I understand is only 8. Readers may have noticed that in Britain in the 21st century we do not see 8 year olds sleeping in the street. There are reasons for this.
The Children’s Services Department would be obliged to assess the children’s needs for the purposes of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. It would be difficult to establish that eviction and homelessness would not impair their wellbeing or development. They would therefore have to be treated as “in need” and assisted. Therefore unless the social workers were satisfied that the children had somewhere else suitable to go they would have to provide them with assistance in obtaining accommodation.
There are essentially three ways in which the social workers could assist the children in obtaining accommodation. The first would involve them being nominated back to the Housing Department with their mother. I think we can rule this option one out here as it would defeat the whole purpose of evicting them. The second would be to take the children into care. This would be extremely unlikely. It is hard to see how it could be found that the children should be separated from the mother just because she allowed her 17 year old to go out without foreseeing that he would become involved in a riot. It would also be very expensive. The council would therefore be most likely to go for the third option which would involve assisting the mother in obtaining private sector accommodation. This assistance would take the form of providing money to pay the rent in advance and deposit that a private sector landlord would most likely require and in locating a private landlord who would accept someone who had been evicted from council accommodation because of the criminal behaviour of a family member. The end result would be that the family would be likely to be rehoused by the council in private accommodation. It should be added that if she had to leave the private property in the future through no fault of her own while she still had children living with her the mother would be entitled to be housed again by the council as they would not be allowed to take the way in which she lost her council accommodation into account.
This is a long way from the impression given by Cllr Govindia and his council’s press release. Those involved in this media stunt must be aware of this. However, they appear to be prepared to gamble that most people in the media are not familiar with the details of the council’s actual responsibilities and won’t spot their slight of hand. They are also aware that it will be some months before the family would face eviction by which time everyone will have lost interest in this story. This seems to be another example of the recent trend identified by Bystander at the Magistrates Blog of people who should know better making comments which they know are misleading but which give the impression that they are taking a tough stance over the riots.