High Court shows Southwark Council is rotten to the core

It’s clear to us, and as our recent occupation of Southwark Council offices highlighted, this council is rotten inside and out.

Outside, the council projects its lies about regeneration, claiming for example it will build 11,000 council houses over the next 30 years – an unlikely commitment from the same councillors responsible for the massive Heygate Scandal?

While inside, at the council’s housing offices, service users and members of HASL have been bullied and intimidated, as Ruth’s case has shown.

Yet if anything confirms in black and white this rotten council it has been the recent High Court judgement finding that Southwark’s housing officers conspired to illegally evict and destroy the belongings of one of their tenants.

In a proven case of “my housing officer’s out to get me” the court has given a scathing 79-page judgment, which was partly based on Southwark’s own internal report into its housing officers’ misconduct.  The High Court found that there were no reasonable grounds for evicting the tenant, who represented himself against Southwark’s legal team, but that:

  • Southwark carried out an illegal eviction.
  • Southwark’s court proceedings were an abuse of process.
  • The tenant’s housing officers “conspired to evict [him] by unlawful means, to seize and destroy his possessions by unlawful means and to cause him harm and loss [by depriving] him of his possessions by unlawful means”.
  • The housing officers then covered up their conspiracy (which was itself another conspiracy).
  • The housing officers’ motive was to harm the tenant, and they misused their powers as public officials.
  • Southwark was negligent.

The details of the findings:

Christine Okwara became the tenant’s income officer in 2012.  She set out on a course of harassment and victimisation.  She covered her tracks by suppressing documents and fraud.  While the tenant did his best to meet his shortfall Ms Okwara took increasingly pernicious steps to have the tenant evicted by any means, overlooking all procedural requirements.

Ms Okwara’s actions, the court found, were sanctioned by her line manager Brian Davis.  “Mr Davis and Ms Okwara had an ulterior motive in seeking AA’s eviction. They had limited prospects of evicting him lawfully and they therefore appear to have embarked on an eviction with the intention of evicting AA even though this could not be done lawfully”.

A further staff member, Ms Yusuff, conspired with them to carry out the illegal eviction.  They arranged for the eviction to take place seconds after the final court hearing without a housing officer being present. They each gave three interviews about the eviction, changing their stories each time (the judge found that they had met up to tidy up their accounts).

Dishonestly, and quite needlessly, Ms Okwara arranged for the tenant’s belongings to be removed and destroyed.  She told the enforcement officers that he had already removed what he wanted.

The judgement goes into some detail explaining the subsequent cover-up, carefully analysing Southwark’s botched attempt to disguise their vengeful actions (see paras 179-188).

Southwark’s outrageous behaviour continued throughout the High Court trial.  They refused to put the report, and many other damaging documents, before the court until they were ordered to do so.  They never disclosed the residential team records, and entries on the tenancy file since 2010 had been lost.

What did Southwark’s hateful actions achieve?  After the final eviction hearing Ms Okwara wrote in an email that she was “happy that this tenant lost his appeal”.  The tenant was street-homeless for over a year.  All of his possessions (including much of his life’s work, stored on various electronic devices) were spitefully destroyed, despite there being no reason for doing so.  He has now reached a private settlement with the council.

While the internal report into the destruction of the tenant’s belongings made findings of gross misconduct and misconduct against the housing and income officers responsible it is not yet clear what action has been taken against these reprehensible individuals, whose actions show their scorn for the concepts of social housing, security of tenure and lawful procedures.  In a country where evictions are all too easy, these individuals deliberately shunned even the scant procedural protections that the law gives to people’s right to stay in their homes.

Further analysis of the case here.

We say enough! Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth call for officers involved in this case to be dismissed.

We are planning further actions against Southwark Council so get involved! Join or meeting or sign up to our anti-eviction phone tree.

Massive Housing Solidarity, Southwark Council Ineptitude            

Southwark Town Hall occupation

Southwark Town Hall occupation

UPDATE 20/10/2014 We heard from Ruth on Monday that on Friday (the day after our occupation) the council had got back in contact with Ruth and offered her accessible temporary accommodation for Ruth and her kids. Although a one bedroom flat for Ruth and two kids is still not appropriate temporary housing. Massive thanks to everyone who came down and supported.

We left Ruth this evening heading to temporary housing we had achieved after a 2 hour occupation of Southwark town hall and a 3 hour wait at the Peckham housing office where we were subjected to the abuse of aggressive male staff members. We had met together at 10am in the morning and had believed the situation had been resolved with decent temporary accommodation for Ruth and her kids.

Unfortunately, when Ruth arrived at the temporary housing, she found out that Southwark council had given her housing that had stairs leading up to it. Because of her disabilities, she could not physically access this accommodation. This is yet another massive failure of Southwark council in their duty to Ruth and her kids to add to the massive list of failures.

This same week, a damning court judgement highlighted some of the issues in Southwark council’s housing department. Cllr Richard Livingstone tried to brush these aside as a ‘one off’ but Ruth’s situation shows similar abuses and neglect from housing officers. We know for sure that these are not one offs but that this is the culture of hate that operates in the housing office.

The occupation this morning saw twenty supporters and Ruth make their presence felt in Southwark town hall’s lobby. The brilliant Focus E15 mums travelled across from East London to offer their support and solidarity. A Spanish housing activist over here for the counter-MIPIM mobilisations also joined. After an hour or so, when the suited officials of the town hall had enough of angry mothers sticking up for each other and telling them to sort things out, and realised we weren’t going to leave until our main demand of decent temporary housing was met, they agreed that they would get Ruth temporary accommodation.

This felt like a huge victory as our group had managed to overturn a negative decision made by the council through our collective direct action. We were told we could collect the keys to the accommodation from the Bournmouth road housing office. We had been reluctant to go there after a previous visit where staff had been rude to us, with the manager shouting in our face before storming off, but we were assured it would be simple and quick.

Two important questions arise – Why did it take 20 people occupying the town hall before Southwark were able to use their discretion to house Ruth temporarily whilst her appeal took place? Since receiving the appeal lodged over a week ago, which listed Ruth’s health problems and that she has two young children, why did Southwark decide they did not want to offer her temporary housing when it was in their powers to provide this?

Why did Southwark Council offer a woman with mobility issues accommodation which had stairs. Is there not a system that looks at the accessibility of accommodation and makes sure that people are matched up with housing they can actually safely enter and live in?

Leaving our awesome occupation at the town hall, a smaller group visited Bournemouth Road in Peckham to sort out the temporary housing we had been promised. Before we even entered the building, the male staff there were confrontational, abusive, aggressive. They had obviously been told that a group of us were coming and decided the appropriate way to react was to behave in this way. We were a group of 4 women and one baby and the male staff were verbally abusive, shouting in our faces, refusing to give us their names, security staff refusing to show us their badges. One physically intimidated one of the women standing close and moving forward so that she had to back out of the building to get away from him. As he did this she informed him that he could not physically assault her in this way, to which he replied ‘I can assault you’. The men then came outside to take photos of the women outside and informed them that they were going to put them on Facebook.

The experience was extremely distressing for all of the women who told the male staff they felt scared and intimidated by their behaviour. We saw these same staff members verbally and physically abuse other women who were separate from our protest as they entered the building. The aggressive, intimidating behaviour of the male staff is particularly concerning seeing as the housing office is a place that vulnerable women,  many of whom may be survivors of domestic violence, visit to try and get help.

Something must be done about the behaviour we experienced today and that is clearly standard practice in the housing office. The joyous feeling of our occupation felt quickly lost as we were subjected to these people in the housing office and had to wait for three hours for temporary accommodation to be found – which in the end was not accessible for Ruth. We made it clear that we would be supporting Ruth until she gets the safe, secure housing she and her family need. We will also be taking on the toxic environment of Southwark housing until something is done about this. The massive housing solidarity today from people across the borough and across London is inspiring and we’re gonna keep on growing!

Support needed this Thursday – temporary housing now!

UPDATE: We will be meeting tomorrow – Thursday 16th – at 10am on the south end of London Bridge by the staircase with the big spike, next to Evans cycles. If you are Brixton based, we will be meeting outside Brixton tube at 9am to head up together. Join us there to show your support for our HASL member and her family and demand housing NOW.

One of our members has faced appalling treatment by Southwark council which saw herself and her family made homeless. We have got legal support from a community law centre and are in the process of appealing the decision that made them homeless and have requested temporary accommodation from the council whilst the appeal takes place. However a week on, Southwark council have failed to provide the desperately needed temporary accommodation for the family. Join us on Thursday 16th October, meeting at 10am on the south end of London Bridge next to the staircase with the big spike and near to Evans Cycles to demand temporary accommodation now. For Brixton based people, meet at 9am outside Brixton tube station to travel together.

Southwark council have shown extreme disrespect for our member and their process has caused immense harm and distress to the family who do not have a safe and secure place to stay due to the council’s negligence. Join us there to show your support. Check our blog, facebook and twitter for updates.

Lib Peck – What’s your priorities! Social housing or social cleansing?

Lambeth Council leader Lib Peck will be speaking at MIPIM, the world’s leading property fair, being held in London Olympia on 15th – 17th of this month. MIPIM is the place for developers, speculators, landowners and politicians to meet in order to carve up our cities while prioritising profit over people. It has been the favoured honeymoon destination of Southwark Council and Heygate developers Lend Lease over the years; one of many wonderful matches made at MIPIM.

MIPIM, where our cities are carved up between politicians, investors and developers.

It seems Lib Peck’s session, “Affordable Housing: Is it Worth it?”, and the opportunity to schmooze with private investors takes precedence over meeting her constituents. One resident of the Guinness Estate in Lambeth due for eviction before Christmas awaits response from the council leader who has remained silent over the possibility of a meeting to discuss the fate of 45 households being cleared from this estate.

Lib Peck – we ask you to meet residents of the Guinness estate and their supporters at MIPIM on Wednesday 15th. Show us what your priorities are: the fight against the homelessness of your constituents or private profiteering in our Borough?

The Radical Housing Network has plans to protest at the opening and closing of MIPIM, while also organising a conference to discuss and mobilise for the alternatives. Join us!

A response to Cllr Richard Livingstone

Following a popular HASL blog post on regeneration practices in Southwark, Richard Livingston, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for housing, got in touch stating he was happy to look into the case.

Hence we ask him:

1) To ensure the council uses its discretion to provide D and her family with temporary accommodation immediately in Southwark during the period in which the decision regarding her homelessness application is being reviewed. The review has been filed today (Thursday 2 Oct) and details will be sent via email to Livingstone. We also request that Livingstone ensures that the council make sure that D is quickly housed in secure, affordable, local social housing after being stuck in temporary accommodation for 9 years; D has serious medical problems and two young children.

2) To investigate high rents being charged to homeless people in Southwark owned temporary accommodation on a decanted housing estate (Aylesbury) where residents were living on a building site.

3) To investigate whether temporary tenants and precariously housed tenants (such as ASTs) in decanted housing are being made homeless following eviction or if they receive genuinely affordable housing in the borough after being moved on, i.e. is Southwark actually “keeping people in their homes?”

4) To investigate the culture of gatekeeping and intimidation in benefit and housing offices in Southwark. D’s is not the only case. We can report, from our experience, the systematic practice of preventing access to services, benefits and housing in Southwark to those entitled. We suspect the cause lay in both the scarcity of these resources, aided in no small part by Southwark Council, the working conditions of staff in Southwark offices and a working practice encouraged by management.

We would like a response on the first point by the end of the week. On points 2, 3 and 4 we are happy to negotiate a deadline for response.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

London Coalition Against Poverty meeting this Friday

LCAP

Inspired by the Focus E15 mum’s occupation and Our Hendon’s regular blockades of Barratts to prevent the destruction of their homes? Want to get involved in local and London-wide housing action? Come along to this Friday’s London Coalition Against Poverty general meeting. London Coalition Against Poverty is made up of local groups which meet regularly to provide support and take action together on issues faced and raised by their members – from helping each other make bedroom tax appeals, visiting the housing office on mass to take on the gate keeping of the homelessness application process, and the odd occupation of council homes facing sell-off.

Every 2-3 months, groups that are members of LCAP, of which HASL is one, meet up together to share what they have been up to in their local boroughs, exchange advice and tactics, and plan actions and other events such as training sessions. Whether there’s an LCAP group in your area that you’d like to meet, or you’re interested in starting a group, come along this Friday to meet people and get involved! The meeting will start at 1.30pm at Casa Latina (groundfloor room), 10 Kingsgate Place (off Kilburn High Road), Kilburn, NW6 4TA

You can read more about LCAP’s stories, experiences and ideas for organising in this ace pamphlet.

Keeping people in their homes, a Southwark Council guide to homelessness

2286_Phase_1___Aylesbury_Estate_by_Durkan_Limited

A few nights ago, at a meeting in Camberwell, Cllr Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Housing at Southwark Council, waxed lyrical about the council’s grand plans to build 11,000 new council homes, adding, at one point, it was ‘important for the council to keep the people in their homes’.

Southwark Council’s Richard Livingstone, a crusading force against evictions? Not quite.

Housing practices around ‘regeneration’ are well documented and not exclusive to Southwark alone. Here’s how it works in practice: First council tenants are en masse rehoused (‘decanted’) from council estates and leaseholders are pressured into leaving. Next councils use the empty homes to generate income and prevent squatting etc often by allocating them to some of the people from housing waiting lists, these persons and families are given deeply insecure/shorthold/temporary tenancies. The net effect for the council can be fewer people on housing waiting list and a continued income stream before regeneration goes ahead. However for the new ‘temporary’ tenant with few rights the horizon can simply be homelessness.

D got in touch with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth last week after being evicted from temporary accommodation she held for seven years on the Aylesbury Esate due to rent arrears. The rent for her ‘temporary’ and cramped family home was £205 per week, paid to Southwark Council. Initially, D was able to afford the rent until she became ill forcing her to take a lower paid but more manageable full time job. Her weekly income was marginally higher than the weekly rent. Seeking support a Southwark Council worker misinformed D on two occasions; as is the general culture of gate keeping in all benefit offices she was turned away from making an application for the housing benefits she was in fact entitled to. With these benefits affordability of the flat would remain in question however without them D soon fell behind with the rent payments.

Even more outrageous behavior from Southwark came when on the day of the eviction the council asked D to come into the housing office. D sat there from 9am believing she was going to resolve the issue. While waiting D received a phone call from her kids in the afternoon: bailiffs were breaking in the door finding D’s frightened children inside. In the office D appealed, only to be made to leave. “We thought your kids would be at school” council workers told D. We want to know if this disgusting tactic is a regular practice of Southwark Council to aid the work of bailiffs?

Now evicted the council also issued a letter stating they had discharged their duty to rehouse D on the grounds of D making herself ‘intentionally homeless’ due to the rent arrears. HASL accompanied D to the council’s homelessness office, to make a fresh application, but the council officers refused this point blank.

Appalled by the council’s treatment of D HASL has been advised to seek a review of Southwark’s decision not to house her. Southwark should exercise its discretion to provide appropriate temporary accommodation under s.188 (3) of the Housing Act. Further, Southwark have withheld D’s belongings and shown only contempt and disregard for D’s circumstances. This must be resolved.

This is what regeneration in Southwark looks like. Get involved with HASL to fight for secure housing and empowered communities. Text 07741910527 to join our anti-eviction phone network and be informed of upcoming events and actions.