Laura couldn’t understand how her son could be removed from the Council’s housing list after accidentally disclosing his spent convictions. However, the lack of understanding around spent/unspent convictions by Council staff surprised her even more.
My son Roman was aged 22 when he applied for and was accepted onto the housing register. After a year of bidding for a property, he was delighted to be offered a flat. On the day that he went along to view it with a member of staff from the Council, he was asked:
Do you have a criminal record?”
The question really confused him. If he took it literally then he’d have to answer ‘Yes’. However, his convictions were spent and so legally he didn’t need to disclose and could answer ‘No’. Assuming that the Council must be allowed to ask the question, he decided to be honest and said ‘Yes’.
Two weeks later, he received a letter from the Council stating that he was being removed from the housing list as he’d failed to declare his convictions on his original application form. He was absolutely distraught.
I was furious that the Council had asked Roman such a misleading question and that they’d not taken the time to find out more about what he’d disclosed before they decided to remove him from the housing list. I telephoned the Council and explained to one of the members of staff that as Roman’s convictions were spent, there had been no need for him to disclose them when he filled in the original application form. I was bluntly told that if we wanted to appeal the decision, we’d have to follow the appeals process. So that’s what we did.
I spent hours looking up Roman’s legal rights and found that just as I’d thought, spent convictions didn’t need to be disclosed in order to be added to a housing register. I also found a ruling from the High Court in London from a case in 2016 which I quoted in the appeal.
The Council had 42 days to reply to our appeal and during that time I rang the Housing Officer to try to find out how the appeal was going. I can’t tell you how shocked I was when he told me that the Council had obtained Roman’s criminal records from the police (without our consent) which went back to when he was 13 or 14 years old. Although the police had listed every arrest and conviction, they hadn’t set out whether they were spent or not – so not a lot of help at all. This meant that we had to wait even longer for the Council to yet again contact the police to confirm whether the convictions were indeed spent.
The police confirmed that Roman’s convictions were spent and ultimately we won the appeal. Although he was reinstated onto the housing register, the flat that he’d set his heart on had been allocated to someone else.
I understand that the Council has a criteria to follow when somebody applies to join the housing register. What I find hard to believe is how the Council did not understand the law around spent/unspent convictions; practically everybody I spoke to who worked in the housing department had no idea what I was even talking about. If they’d been trained properly, it would have saved so much time and Roman would now be living in the flat he wanted to live in.
The impact of this has caused the whole family so much unnecessary stress but at least Roman had our help and support. Not everybody has this and I wonder how many people in the same situation would just have accepted what the Council said and took it no further.
Roman is bidding for property once again and hopefully it won’t be too long before he finds a new home.
By Laura (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
There are generally long waiting lists for social housing due to a lack of housing stock. This is a rising problem and people with convictions can be more badly affected, often due to their not being able to demonstrate a local connection to one particular area.
Council’s and housing associations shouldn’t be asking housing applicants about spent convictions and, where these are disclosed in error, they should be disregarded. If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of your spent conviction then like Laura, we’d always advise you to appeal the decision.