Then, in November, we got an answer. Housing blog Nearly Legal and the Guardian broke the story that a government adviser- from the DCLG, no less- had been advising councils (including Newham) that the new policies on finding homes for the homeless may, “For some authorities in London, inevitably mean looking for accommodation outside of their area,”. Andy Gale’s briefing to Newham and other councils is called “Localism Act: Ending the homelessness duty” and it’s about (can you guess what?) using the Localism Act to end the duty that councils have to homeless applicants for social housing.
(there’s a copy of his briefing paper online- http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2012/11/homeless-legislation-a-thing-of-the-past/ )
It contains such kernels of wisdom as “removing the perverse incentive to become homeless …[by] ensuring that being accepted as homeless does not result in social housing“. We’ve all been there. You’re happily renting a perfectly good quality private let and one day, you think “Hmm, if I got myself kicked out of my flat, then I’d only have to spend a couple of short years homeless before I could manipulate Newham council into getting me a Housing Association place!”. BTW, just in case this does appeal to you, it’s not actually a couple of years of homelessness you need, it’s more like seven. But, nevertheless, the selfless logic of the DCLG is clear to see – by making councils deny social housing to homeless applicants, they’re actually reducing homelessness.
The many thousands of people being being made homeless due to LHA cuts, who Gale advises should be sent to live far away, will no doubt be grateful.
Bang to rights, then?
The Tories lied, the DCLG lied. They knew the devastating effects their policies would have but pretended not to and did it anyway, parachuting in their own adviser to advise hard-up (due to DCLG cuts) councils to do their nasty business for them. Right?
Well, this is where it gets interesting – in the same way as they refuse to see the bleeding obvious effects that their cuts are having, the story as told so far seems to offend the DCLG’s internal logic, or rather that’s the only explanation I can see because if it wasn’t for what the DCLG did next, the story would have stayed within the rather dry realms of the housing-law world. They would have (near-as-dammit) gotten away with it.
‘No, no, no’, they pouted, ‘Localism gives councils the choice. We wouldn’t tell councils what their austerity policies should be – we’re just giving them the freedom’.
But what of the DCLG advisor telling the councils how it’s gonna be?
‘Ah.’ say the DCLG, ‘”He has advised the Government in the past, but he is not employed or seconded by DCLG, and it’s not true that this advice reflects our views. This alleged advice was not paid for, or commissioned by, or given to DCLG…
He has been told he should not present himself as a government advisor“
Wow! Scandalicious indeed! Drop the boring ”government department actually quite right-wing” story – there’s a rogue government adviser on the loose, blagging his credentials to persuade London councils of his own warped plans to screw over the homeless!
Weirdly enough, while this fantasist is pursuing his one-man agenda, he’s also advising councils to provide the government political cover for their HB and homelessness services cuts.
(As Nearly Legal’s excellent blog describes it:
The paper advises local managers how to persuade local councillors to adopt the new homelessness powers, some of whom it suggests may be reluctant to use them. It urges officials to “avoid as far as possible the risk of the changes being used politically, leading to statements such as … ‘Isn’t this all about cuts and welfare reform?’ … [and] ‘Surely the homeless are in the greatest housing need?’“)
Odd strategy for a one-man band, isn’t it? If he’s not employed by the government or DCLG, then why’s he trying to protect them from the flak from their cuts?
Well, obviously enough, despite DCLG’s denials, Andy Gale is indeed their man at Newham Town Hall. This Guardian journo unearthed the whole story: