What do Councillors do?

It’s all about potholes…..isn’t it?

I have done a weekly councillor surgery for over five years now, and I am often asked “isn’t it just about potholes, bins and street lights. The answer to that is an emphatic absolutely not. My case work has increased month on month especially in the last year with the introduction of universal credit. I have cases of homelessness, inadequate housing where a family of seven in a smaller than average three bed semi live across the road from a single elderly person in a four bed house with two entertaining rooms downstairs and two bathrooms. I deal with food bank requests from parents where both are working and cannot afford the rent, rates and bills whilst earning enough to feed and clothe the kids along with arguing about home adaptations that are desperately needed. I regularly attend PIP and industrial injury tribunals as a residents advocate, but occasionally there is a case that stands out for particular interest.

A gent came to see me with an issue that seemed fairly straight forward, he was a British national, who whilst working abroad on contract in the Arab Emirates married and had a child with a non EU national. It was his wife’s second marriage ( her husband had died ) and she already had two small children who he wished to adopt. His contract finished and he came home with his family to England. And this is where the problem started. The smallest child was an English national born abroad but the two primary age children came into the country on a visitor visa that was issued to them wrongly in the country they had left.

The parents were refused schooling for the two older children even though the local school had places for them and had agreed those places. The local education board denied them entry to the school system unless immigration would send a written authorisation. I then entered over eighteen months of letters and pleading phone calls to the Immigration department and the Education department trying to get these two children into a school that had already accepted them. It was a very concerning time for the family and me, as a primary schools chair of governors, as I know how missed time at school at this age is hugely detrimental to a child’s education and development.

It galls me to admit that I failed this family and did not get any resolution to their problem, I just kept going round and round in circles, bounced from one dept to another only to end up in the same place with the same answers. “Sorry it’s not possible.” We then got some hope when they got to a stage where they had biometrics done for passports, surely this meant that their applications had been accepted, but then we heard nothing for weeks and weeks. Once again I got on the merry go round which resulted in another request for them to get biometrics done and then we waited, and waited. Then suddenly one morning months later, out of the blue, a letter arrived stating that the children could go to school without any explanation from the home office and no further information about residency, visa’s or applications to stay in the UK. The family is still uncertain of the future, but at least the kids are in school now and trying to catch up.

This is the type of case work that I dread receiving, not because of the workload, but because of the bureaucracy that exists where one hand does not seem to know what the other is doing. My main worry is that this will become more and more common with Brexit on the horizon.