Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have uncovered Lambeth Council’s dirty tactics of pushing homeless applicants for social housing into the private sector. Since November 2012 councils in the UK have been granted the authority by the Conservative government to dispose of homeless people into the private sector, yet as recently as June this year Lambeth claimed in Freedom of Information Requests not to have used this power. The Localism Act, see also here, which introduced the policy, undermines access to decent and affordable housing for all and means that councils can claim that the demand for social housing has fallen thereby allowing them to continue to sell off or underdevelop social housing stock.
Despite their statements otherwise, Lambeth are in fact pushing families and individuals applying for council housing into the private sector, as one member of HASL has recently experienced. Lambeth are effectively forcing those bidding on council housing while in (most often very cramped and unsuitable) temporary accommodation to “cooperate with the council to prevent homelessness” by taking up privately rented accommodation. Those who comply are moved to a higher council housing priority band, from C to B. As one HASL member has said “I have no choice.”
Applicants for social housing are forced to decide between waiting in unsuitable temporary accommodation on a lower priority band or being moved into the private sector where:
- In the overwhelming majority of cases Housing Benefit alone will not cover private rents in the borough.
- Renters are forced to work but remain in a poverty trap being told, like one member of HASL, not to earn too much; she can only apply for jobs with a low wage or risk losing her housing benefits and becoming homeless.
- Many landlords refuse to rent to those on benefits (For an example see here)
- For these reasons the individual or family remains threatened by homelessness.
Lambeth are discussing what work they can do to pay extortionate rents in the area, yet as we have said before, housing benefit already acts as a subsidy for private landlords.
Finally, Lambeth’s tactic bribe of a move up the priority band for social housing becomes voided as more people enter band B than ever before. Again thanks to the powers granted via the Localism Act councils can determine with government guidance who is deserving of the slim quantities of social housing. Increasingly across London this is becoming reserved for those in work or ‘volunteering’ and as politicised provision for ex-servicemen.
Instead of maintaining a housing policy where homeless families and individuals are given social housing in the borough, Lambeth Labour Council have willingly adopted a Tory policy via blackmailing people into picking precarious private tenancies. Tenancies with such high rents can only be payed for with the perfect mix of benefits and low wages otherwise you’re back at Olive Morris House once more declaring yourself homeless.
Social housing for all!