Mapping the damage of Gatekeeping


You’ve probably read interesting analyses of the image on the left – an amalgamation of the damage sustained by multiple returning bombers in WW2. The initial response to increase armour in the most bullet-ridden areas of the planes completely misunderstood the issue (as those were actually the areas that the plane could sustain damage and still be able to return home). The term ‘survivor bias’ was used to describe this effect.

The effect can also be seen in how the legal sector responds to illegal council practices around homelessness law.

The image on the right is a map of the complaints upheld by the LGO in homelessness cases in 2021-23.

It would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that focussing on illegal council practices in the red areas, like London, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool is the most effective way to get improvements.

But that doesn’t take into account the ‘survivor bias’ involved in the system – the green areas simply never get caught breaking the law, because they are blind spots in the existing legal support system – they are the areas that don’t ‘return home’ in the WW2 bomber analogy.

The opposite conclusion would lead to better results – lawyers should focus instead on those areas where no one even took a case to the LGO, let alone got it upheld, instead of the biggest urban areas.

In the training we deliver to people around the country we get to hear about council practices all over the place, and it is difficult to express just how bad many councils’ practices are. In London they at least seem to know that there are rules to the game and have turned it into an artform of endlessly grinding advocates down, knowing even if they get caught breaking the law the ‘fines’ are less than the cost to follow the law in the first place. But in the sticks, they sometimes don’t even know the rules at all, having never been effectively challenged by anyone.

And obviously pressure on housing stock is lower in the sticks than London, so with just a couple of years of consistent, robust challenges, it would be possible to get dramatic improvements by taking complaints to the LGO and making noise about them when they get upheld.

And because the solution to homelessness is to increase housing stock, prompting improvements in the sticks seems to be better than endlessly fining London councils insignificant amounts where they are the areas which have the least prospect of building more homes.

In short, l believe lawyers would do well to actively seek cases outside the big cities – They would have much more impact overall.

– Mike