Including the Most Excluded? A Qualitative Study on the Address Registration for People Experiencing Homelessness in Belgium

Published date01 July 2023
AuthorLaure-lise Robben,Griet Roets,Martin Wagener,Wim Van Lancker,Koen Hermans
Date01 July 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(6) 1093 –1117
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231162538
Including the Most
Excluded? A Qualitative
Study on the Address
Registration for
People Experiencing
Homelessness in Belgium
Laure-lise Robben1, Griet Roets2,
Martin Wagener3, Wim Van Lancker1, and
Koen Hermans1
In many European countries, one needs a permanent address to be entitled
to social rights. To address this minimum prerequisite, mechanisms for
administrative inclusion are in place for persons experiencing homelessness,
such as the reference address in Belgium. This paper disentangles the non-
take-up mechanisms behind this reference address by drawing on interviews
with professionals. Our evidence suggests this is a minimum minimorum
of social protection, albeit it can reflect and reinforce exclusion of the
beneficiaries. This article contributes to the debate on the entitlement and
non-take-up of rights, and the possibility of an administrative address that
includes the most excluded.
administrative exclusion, social exclusion, homelessness, non-take-up, social
1KU Leuven, Belgium
2University of Ghent, Belgium
3UCLouvain, Belgium
Corresponding Author:
Laure-lise Robben, LUCAS, Centre for Care Research and Consultancy and Centre for
Sociological Research, KU Leuven, Minderbroedersstraat 8, Leuven 3000, Belgium.
1162538AAS0010.1177/00953997231162538Administration & SocietyRobben et al.
1094 Administration & Society 55(6)
In many European countries, obtaining and exerting rights and services starts
with registration in the national register (European Commission, 2019a).
These civil registries have been essential to govern societies (e.g., Frohman,
2018)- initially to identify citizens for purposes of taxation and military con-
scription, and, with the expansion of welfare states, also for determining
one’s eligibility for social rights and benefits. To date, this civil registration is
a minimum prerequisite to gain access to social rights and services. In its
absence, “one does not exist” because one cannot fully participate in eco-
nomic, civil and political society (Prescott, 2015). Consequently, a civil reg-
istry has become, besides a source of information, an instrument for inclusion
and exclusion (Peeters & Widlak, 2018). However, “invisible” or “hidden”
persons, such as persons experiencing homelessness (PEH), prove to be a
difficult fit for the criteria of the registry (Glasser et al., 2014) and are not
officially registered. This is problematic, because being administratively
excluded induces the exclusion from social rights and services (Peeters &
Widlak, 2018). Specifically for PEH, losing one’s permanent address leads to
the vicious cycle that has come to be known as the “Postal Paradox”: having
no address keeps PEH homeless because access to social rights and services
is restricted (Byrne, 2018).
To address this minimum prerequisite, different policy responses present
an alternative to guarantee administrative anchorage for PEH, such as the
“ProxyAddress” in the United Kingdom, fictitious addresses in Italy, the
“Address Point” provided by the postal service in Ireland, the “Main residence
confirmation” in Austria, and the letter address in the Netherlands (Crepaldi,
2019; FEANTSA, 2018). In this paper, we shed light on one specific case: the
reference address for PEH in Belgium. This key policy highlights what we
describe as the minimum minimorum of access to social rights for PEH. The
reference address was initially designed for PEH to facilitate access to social
protection schemes, yet, over the years, poverty organizations raised concerns
on its limited access and the overall effectiveness in including its target group
(e.g., BAPN, 2019; Combat Poverty Service, 2018; Netwerk Tegen Armoede,
2017). Annually, it is estimated that 75,000 persons in Belgium are not offi-
cially registered. Accordingly, if this reference address is not accessible for
whom it was designed for, it fails to fulfill its aim. This study therefore empiri-
cally explores the determinants and mechanisms underlying in the non-take-
up (NTU) of this reference address. In this context, NTU refers to the
phenomenon that persons or households do not claim or do not receive bene-
fits or services they are legally entitled to (van Oorschot, 1994). Despite the
extensive literature on NTU of rights and assistance in welfare states, research

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