Lambeth’s Temp to Settled Scheme – what has changed and what happens now?

HASL visit Lambeth council’s Civic Centre last March protesting against the Temp2Settled policy

Were you homeless and housed by Lambeth council outside of the borough in private housing?

Were you placed in band B on the housing register?

Did your housing register bidding account get closed?

Did you hear about Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and Public Interest Law Centre’s successful legal challenge which means your bidding account should be re-opened?

Our leaflet can help you understand your situation and your rights.

LEAFLET IN ENGLISH

FOLLETO EN ESPANOL

Following HASL and PILC’s important legal and campaign victory in June over Lambeth council, we have produced a new leaflet to explain what this means for families who were affected by the Temp to Settle scheme and who were removed from Lambeth’s housing register. Families affected by this scheme still could face problems in the future so please do get in contact with HASL so that we can support each other with our cases.

Many families who approached Lambeth council as homeless were not even aware that they were put on this Temp to Settle scheme – many only found out when their bidding accounts were closed. But if you were housed outside of Lambeth in private housing and were put into band B, it is likely that you were affected by this scheme.

If you are a Lambeth family (or if you used to live in Lambeth) who is  concerned or confused about your situation, please do get in contact with us by email or SMS/ whatsapp (details in leaflet)and we will do our best to help.

Victory for Milton’s family

Overcrowding is a public health crisis – we need 3, 4, 5 bed council homes now!

Southwark Council has spent more than two years blaming Milton’s family for being severely overcrowded and punished them by placing them into band 4 of the waiting list where they would never be able to get the permanent council housing they desperately need. Even during the height of lockdown, when Milton was still going to work as a cleaner, worried that he would bring Covid19 home to his family and their tiny studio flat, the council insisted they were to blame for the overcrowding.

But last week, with the incredible solidarity of HASL members and Public Interest Law Centre, Southwark Council finally placed the family into band 3 on the housing waiting list. This is a huge step forward for Milton’s family and they are overjoyed, but they are STILL awaiting the statutory overcrowding priority that they are owed!

200 Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth members joined together across London to
support Milton and the family’s campaign. It was really moving to witness such a strong display of unity in a time when the group has been forced to remain apart. We shared our photographs from home and our workplaces in an ever-growing twitter thread!

Sky-high private rents, welfare cuts, low wages and the long-term sell off of council housing cause overcrowding. Nobody chooses to live in cramped, often unsanitary conditions in which it is immensely stressful to cook, sleep and home-school.

So why are Southwark council so intent on blaming their own residents who are living in some of the most severely overcrowded housing in the borough?
We know that Milton’s case is not a one-off. We’ve seen many other similar decisions blaming families for overcrowding and we’re supporting our members to challenge them and campaigning in support of all overcrowded families.

The Coronavirus has highlighted and compounded the existing immense health risk of living in overcrowded housing. We’ve been making videos of our experiences of overcrowded housing during lockdown. Sharing small and crowded conditions has huge impacts on mental and physical health. It’s now clear that these households are also at a significantly greater risk of the virus.

Many HASL members are from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority groups who face extensive racist prejudice from landlords and local government on a daily basis. While only 2% of White British households are overcrowded, 30% of Bangladeshi households and 15% of Black African households are. When this appalling statistic is considered alongside recent data from Public Health England and the New Policy Institute that states the significantly increased risk of BAME people to suffer from Covid, it is even more shocking that local government is willing to deprive anybody of their right to access safe, secure and decent housing.

Milton and his family should never have been treated like this by Southwark Council. They deserve good quality housing, and not to be blamed for their situation. The council should be focussing it’s resources on how to help people, especially during a pandemic. They need permanent council housing now, and no other family should have to go through this again!

Lambeth council’s social cleansing scheme stopped!

HASL visited Lambeth council’s Civic Centre last March protesting against the Temp2Settled policy

Thanks to our friends Public Interest Law Centre for writing this press release about the legal and campaign victory that we have worked on together.

There is great coverage in the Brixton Blog here. 

We will be producing an information leaflet for those affected explaining about the legal victory, what your rights are now and what more needs to be done!

 

Important win for homeless families in Lambeth

Lambeth Council agrees to amend a housing allocations scheme that had resulted in hundreds of vulnerable families being removed from its social housing register 

Lambeth’s Temp2Settled Policy 

Since 2014 Lambeth Council has been encouraging its homeless families to withdraw their homelessness applications, and to move into temporary private sector accommodation, by offering them higher priority for social housing. However, in very many cases, the deal that Lambeth was offering actually prevented these families from staying on the social housing waiting list at all.

Under the ‘Temp2Settled’ Scheme, those approaching the council as homeless were told that if they agreed to forego their rights under the housing and homelessness legislation, they would be placed in Band B (rather than Band C) and therefore have a ‘much better chance’ of successfully securing council housing or housing association tenancies.

However, what these families were not told was that if they were placed outside the borough (as hundreds were) they would almost certainly be removed from the housing register altogether before they were able to bid successfully for social housing and be rehoused. That was because they would lose their ‘local connection’ to the borough after two years.

These families never had any real prospect of securing permanent accommodation, as the average wait time for securing permanent family-sized accommodation in Band B has always been more than five years. We therefore suspect that Lambeth council may have designed the policy with a view to denying applicants their housing rights.

Other consequences – suitability of accommodation and eviction 

Apart from being removed from the housing register and losing their local connection, these families also felt the wickedness of Lambeth’s policy in other ways.

Unlike the accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation, there is no statutory requirement for  ‘Temp2Settled’ accommodation to be ‘suitable’, and there is no right to challenge the suitability of the offer of accommodation by way of statutory review. Families therefore often found themselves in unsanitary or uninhabitable living conditions and forced to stay there as they were unable to challenge private sector accommodation that was unconstrained by suitability requirements.

Given the unstable nature of the accommodation, many families faced threats of eviction from private landlords. On top of all this, having been placed many miles outside the borough of Lambeth, some had no choice but to travel long distances in order to retain their support networks and to get to and from work or school.

The legal challenge 

The Public Interest Law Centre, with support from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), brought a legal challenge on behalf of four families affected by the ‘Temp2Settled’ scheme. Each client had either faced eviction or felt forced to reside in unsuitable or uninhabitable living conditions. In many cases this led to them and their children suffering a deterioration in their mental wellbeing and physical health.

As a result of the challenge, and not long before the case was due in court, Lambeth agreed to amend its policy and reinstate the four families to its housing register with immediate effect. Applicants who opted for the Scheme (only to be placed in private rented accommodation outside of the borough and removed from the housing register after two years) are also to be reinstated.

Barristers Nick Bano and Liz Davies (Garden Court Chambers) and David Wolfe QC (Matrix Chambers) were instructed.

Quotes:

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL says:

“Our members told us they were tricked and deceived by Lambeth council when they visited the housing office as homeless. More and more people were coming to the group telling us they had been removed from the waiting list with no idea why. This allowed us to build our legal challenge, but there are still hundreds of households who have been struggling alone. 

Lambeth’s Temp2Settled scheme is yet another example that so-called homeless prevention which pushes families into the private sector does not work and is not fair. 

PILC and HASL have successfully challenged it here and we will continue to do so wherever these schemes fail to act in the best interests of homeless people. 

Real homeless prevention is safe, secure, high quality council housing in our communities, and a welfare system accessible to everyone that ensures a dignified life free from poverty.”

Helen Mowatt, solicitor at PILC, says:

“This case is an important victory for the hundreds of families who have been affected by the  ‘Temp2Settled’scheme, and we hope sends a message to councils – that it is not acceptable to place targets above the needs of the community. We know that there is a culture in housing departments that regardless of how vulnerable you are, the ultimate goal is to get the numbers down. Schemes like ‘Temp2Settled’ are adopted to further the gentrification agenda, as it is in the commercial interests of councils to get as many homeless and low-income families out of the borough as possible. 

Of course, this mentality trickles down from central government and is linked to the limited housing stock and to a decade of austerity measures. But councils need to be pushing back against this—and not taking it out on homeless families who approach the council for support. We must continue the campaign to ensure that those families no longer feel forced to reside in uninhabitable living conditions, are protected from eviction, and have access to secure council-owned accommodation.”

One of the four claimants had this to say:

“I first encountered Lambeth council’s ‘Temp2Settled’ Scheme when I became homeless in 2017 and was at my most vulnerable.  The council officers sugar coated the nature of the Scheme and persuaded me to agree to enter into it – they told me that it was the best option for myself and my baby as we would be provided with permanent council accommodation in our home borough within a matter of weeks. However, I later discovered that relying on this advice had put myself and my daughter at great risk. The conditions of the property I was placed in were very poor and it was not safe for us to live in. I have also been threatened with eviction on several occasions. 

My intention has always been to do right by my daughter and to do the best for her. I believe that Lambeth Council took advantage of this and of me when I was at my most vulnerable and when I had no choice but to place my trust in them. When given the option of a stable and secure home for my daughter, of course I was going to take that – even if it meant living away from our home borough for what I was told would be a short period of time. 

My daughter is now 3 years old and at the crucial age of starting nursery and settling down for the starting of her educational life. This should be an exciting time for us, but the consequences of the council’s scheme (the suitability of accommodation, threats of eviction and being forced away from the place I call home) had impacted us both greatly – causing so much stress and anxiety. Not knowing what my future for my daughter looked like and whether we would be able to return to our home borough, made making important life decisions for me very hard. 

Without HASL and the Public Interest Law Centre, who dedicated their time in helping us not only get justice, but also to expose the way me and others were treated, this would still be happening undetected, and Lambeth council would be able to continue to treat families in this way without any accountability for their actions. 

I am proud of myself and of all the other residents who stood up to the council and I hope this sends them a message that council officers cannot continue to treat us like we are just numbers which they need to reduce at any cost. We are human beings and have families, just like they do.”

HASL’s lockdown diaries – overcrowded housing

Severely overcrowded housing has always been one of the main problems our members face. Overcrowding is particularly bad in the private rented sector where high rents and low housing benefit rates mean that families are forced to rent small flats, studios or even single rooms. Lockdown has made this serious situation even worse as families are forced to stay in cramped conditions 24/7. 

The government was warned by academics and the homeless charity Shelter that urgent action and support were needed for overcrowded families to stop the virus spreading, but the government ignored these plans preferring to allow the virus to spread within families and households living in overcrowded housing. This is neglectful and unforgivable.

We’ve been supporting our members and campaigning on overcrowding for years –

Helping people get the correct priority on housing waiting list and challenging bad decisions by the council that families deliberately caused their overcrowding

Helping with homeless applications

and importantly calling for the 3, 4, 5 bedroom safe, secure and good quality council homes we need!

This demand is more important than ever. No one should have to spend a moment longer in overcrowded housing!

Our cases – severely overcrowded housing

overcrowding blog image

Southwark council – stop blaming families for overcrowded housing! Urgent action now.

For years, we have been supporting our members in severely overcrowded housing and campaigning on this issue. We wrote this blog before the coronavirus. But the coroavirus has added another danger to those living in already unsafe housing conditions. In such tiny living spaces, these families cannot self-isolate from family members who are unwell. Now we are required to spend more time at home, these families are trapped in these tiny living spaces and the stresses and difficulties of living in overcrowded housing will be felt even more strongly. Overcrowding is often a housing issue that is overlooked. It’s vital that we don’t let this happen.

94% of private rented homes are too expensive for families on housing benefit.

A recent report shows that 3.6 million people living in overcrowded housing

Families who are living in overcrowded and statutory overcrowded housing often in the private rented sector is one of the biggest housing problems we come across in HASL.

Why is Southwark council’s answer to overcrowding to blame families and tell them to leave Southwark?

These are the cases of 2 long-term members where the council’s approach and treatment has been particularly bad.

In R’s family’s case, it will soon be the 2 year anniversary of when they first applied to join the housing register in April. They have faced long delays in processing it and were then placed into band 4 (the very bottom of the housing register) after the council decided that they had deliberately caused their overcrowding. As well as the daily difficulties and suffering that comes with living in such overcrowded housing, the family have worked tirelessly to prove to Southwark council what is obvious to everyone else – that they did not deliberately choose to be overcrowded.

In R and her family’s case, the council’s letter was highly judgemental declaring that the family had made a ‘choice’ to live in these conditions. It was patronising and offensive explaining how families have ‘settled’ across the country and registered with GP and schools as if this family had failed to do these things. The letter accused them of trying to queue jump the housing register when the family did not even know about the housing register before meeting our group. The council tell the family that they should live elsewhere in the country.

Is every overcrowded Southwark resident told to live in other parts of the country? Or is it because this family is from a migrant background?

R is a 17 year old living with her younger brother and parents in a studio flat. She explains the many difficulties of living in overcrowded housing:

It affects our studies because the flat is too small. Because we have the beds and the kitchen next to each other and we just have a small table where we eat and do our homework. Whilst my mum is doing the food, I am trying to do my homework and it is really distracting and really stressful. My brother is playing too so it is hard to focus.Because everything is together in one room, there is the smell of food when I’m trying to sleep this means that it affects my studies as well because I cannot sleep well.

It is so stressful, my head cannot focus. I have to just go outside the flat to get some air to deal with the stress because the flat is too small, I cannot think in there.I don’t have any privacy, to change my clothes I have to go to change in the toilet and it is really uncomfortable.

I can’t bring my friends home because it is too small – my parents are there and my brother is there. My friends could not fit inside. So I have to go to the park to meet with them which is dangerous because it is dark at the moment.

She explains how she feels Southwark council have treated her family’s case:

I feel really bad because it is like the treatment of us is racist, they are being really strict to us, they don’t care about the family. Sometimes it feels like really embarrassing for us to apply for housing. We are immigrants so applying for housing makes us feels embarrassed, every time they say no to us, you cannot apply for housing. But we feel like Southwark is our home. I have my friends here, my church, I go to the gym to relax and get away from the flat. I do volunteering which makes me feel good.

It feels like we’re treated like we have done a crime because of the way they have treated our case. They are asking us for so many documents about all our life.

The council need to know that it is important to think of the families of young people, they need to focus on young people, we see the problems of knife crime, because maybe these situations affect them. I have friends applying for housing and they feel bad and have bad influences, they are in a space where they don’t do well and that is related to their housing.

Southwark council boast about the new council homes they’re building but they can’t use this to hide the appalling treatment they’re targeting at some of the most vulnerable Southwark residents right now. There are no excuses for this kind of treatment of overcrowded families. Southwark council cannot shift the responsibility here either – they are the ones blaming and punishing overcrowded families. They must address their actions, urgently resolve this family’s case, and ensure that all overcrowded families are supported and treated respectfully.

Another HASL family living in statutory overcrowded wrote about their situation. Again, Southwark council have told them that they have deliberately caused their overcrowding. The family are now challenging this decision with lawyers and it is going to court. But Southwark council should not be wasting public money to blame families for overcrowding.

I am living in a flat studio. We are a family of four, consisting of two parents and two children aged 14 and 11 years.  It affects us in many things for example, when they get home my children do not have a place to do their homework, I have a small table, they both start to discuss, and I have to tell them one to do at the table and the other in bed, so the fight starts and my son says: I want a room and a place where I can do my homework. I understand their anger that they are 14 years old and they need their space … at night when they went to bed to sleep, they sleep together in a bed because there is no space at all sides. 

The room is very small.  My wife and I sleep in a living room combined with a kitchen room, we have a sofa bed that every morning we have to pick up.  We have a clothes closet for all four because we have no space.  We want to rent a two bedroom apartment but it is very expensive and the agencies ask you for many documents, and they ask us what you work for, how much you earn, how many hours you work.  If you have benefits we cannot rent you.  Why so much inequality?  That is, those with more money have more advantages. And those who do not earn much can not rent an apartment. Not only me there are many families that live in these situations and can not rent. And there are people who take advantage of us, there are private agents and they take 500 pound commissions. It’s not fair. Everyone has the right to have a normal life.  I am not asking for a luxury life, simply an apartment with two rooms for 4 people. I think people who have never seen or have never lived they do not know.  That’s why they make us difficult.  I hope one day we can all have a decent apartment to live in (for everyone).

HASL statement and information on the Coronavirus

overcrowding blog image

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a group of families and individuals struggling with homelessness and other bad housing, such as severely overcrowded private rented housing. We support each other with our housing problems and we take action together for the safe, secure, good quality council homes we all need and deserve.

We have spoken about Coronavirus in our meetings and we know that our members are very concerned. Like with the housing crisis we face first hand, it is clear to us that the government are not taking the action needed to protect our communities. It’s important that we do not panic and that we act responsibly and carefully. During this pandemic, like with our housing problems, we are here to support each other with practical and emotional support and to build a collective response with demands and collective action (most likely online). We know that by looking out for each other and supporting each other we can bring about the positive changes that we need. Together we are stronger.

Information and resources 

Health – Information in different languages from Doctors of the World about coronavirus and accessing medical help can be found here.

Safety – Advice on social distancing means that more people will need to stay in their homes. If you or any family member is made to feel afraid or is suffering abuse or harm by another family member, please do not suffer alone. Please speak to these professional services and ask for help. Solace is an English speaking organisation but can offer help over the phone in different languages with interpreters. Latin American Women’s Aid is a Spanish speaking organisation.

HASL – We are very sad that we will not be able to have our group meetings in coming months, but we will be discussing how we can continue to support each other and what additional support our members may need. We invite our members to get in contact with us about any concerns they have and ideas they have for supporting each other during these difficult times.

Work – Our members have spoken to us about concerns they have about their work, for example, work places closing, bosses ending contracts. Now is a good time to join a workers union such as United Voices of the World or IWGB so that you are able to learn your rights, access legal support, and the support of a union.

Our housing situations and coronavirus

Homelessness and bad housing affects our lives and our health daily. Bad housing is a public health crisis. The Coronavirus is also a public health crisis, so many of our members and others who are homeless or in bad housing suffer a double crisis. For those of us in bad housing, we are at even greater risk of the Coronavirus than those who are well housed. With small, overcrowded and shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, it is easier for the virus to spread and more difficult for people to ‘self-isolate’.

Hostels – many of our members are living in hostels where they share bathroom and kitchen facilities with other households

Severely overcrowded housing – our families live in tiny studio flats, single rooms or one bedroom flats.

Temporary accommodation – temporary accommodation is very insecure for its residents, it can be ended very quickly by the council. Temporary accommodation is often out of borough so households are taken away from vital support networks and face long commutes to their home borough on public transport.

Work and benefits – many of our members are in low-paid work and are worried about losing their jobs. Many work as cleaners where they are being pressured to work even harder. Many of our members also face benefit problems with Universal Credit.

Our demands on homelessness and housing

We have come up with some basic demands that we hope our local councils will work on, and that central government will implement. But ultimately, we know that it is up to all of us to make these happen!

no evictions – councils must reassure residents of temporary accommodation that they will not face eviction. Councils must also extend this to their council tenants as well. Councils must focus their resources on housing people not evicting people. End private sector evictions.

housing for homeless people – councils must do everything in their powers to house everyone who approaches as homeless into suitable, self-contained housing. There are plenty of empty homes in our neighbourhoods that must be used, including council estates facing demolition as well as new private housing developments standing empty.

measures and protections for those living in hostels – councils must put in additional health and safety measures for those living in hostels and communicate with these households to ask if they would prefer to be moved into self-contained housing

severely overcrowded households – offer the option of re-housing for severely overcrowded families into more suitable and spacious temporary accommodation or ensure that they have the correct priority on the housing waiting list if they wish to remain where they are.

housing benefit/ housing element of Universal Credit – these must cover the full rent for people of all ages – stop capping benefits!

communication – Southwark and Lambeth councils – please communicate with us about what support and measures are being put in place for households living in hostel accommodation, those in self-contained temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing so that we can communicate with our members.

 

In HASL, we will keep on finding ways to support each other and keep our group running even if we cannot meet face to face. The fight for good housing, welfare, migrants rights, workers rights, and good healthcare is more important than ever!

Open letter from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to Southwark council – 3 things

We are a group of families and individuals struggling with homelessness and other poor housing conditions, such as severely overcrowded private rented housing. Our group is the biggest group of families in temporary accommodation and other poor housing conditions in Southwark. We have over 400 members who are actively involved in the group.

We support each other with housing problems including overcrowding, unsuitable temporary accommodation, high rents, dangerous conditions, gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. We learn our rights together, support each other and fight for good quality council homes for everyone.

The homeless process and accessing the housing register can be very difficult and stressful for our members and anyone in housing need. We are concerned that the council are making large changes to policies and practices which directly affect homeless and other poorly housed residents without engaging and notifying us.

This is causing many of our members yet more stress, confusion and feeling disempowered. We want the council to promise to engage meaningfully with our group and others before making any policy changes that affect homeless and overcrowded households.

In our group, there are a number of key issues that we would like the council to respond to.

(1) Huge reduction of homes on the housing register bidding account/ Southwark Homesearch

In the last year, there has been a significant drop in the number of homes appearing on Southwark Homesearch (our housing register account where we bid for social housing). The council has not given a satisfactory explanation for this huge decrease. Some weeks there have been no 3 bed homes available or only one 3 bed home available.

We believe it could be that the council have been increasing the number of direct offers that they are making to households in temporary accommodation. This then leaves fewer homes to be put on the Homesearch list. We would like the council to explain what is going on as this has a big effect on households in temporary accommodation and others on the housing waiting list, for example families living in severely overcrowded private rented housing.

We have submitted a Freedom Of Information request to ask for the council’s direct offer policy as we cannot find one.

Action required:

• An explanation for the reduction of homes on Southwark Homesearch and also public access to the direct offers policy.

• Letting HASL and other groups and others directly affected respond to the direct offers policy and any future housing allocations policies.

(2) Reducing and denying priority on the waiting list for overcrowded households

We wrote a letter to Councillor Kieron Williams about this issue, including the 5 cases of our members who are all overcrowded families living the private rented sector, on 1st October 2019 but we have not received a response. We also sent tweets with a number of questions which also went unanswered but Cllr Williams did reply to say that he supported the council’s decisions against our members. We have since helped to overturn 2 of these bad decisions that Cllr Williams was so confident in. This blame and punishment of overcrowded families must end. This treatment has been particularly targeted at overcrowded families in the private rented sector.

Action required:

• Stop targeting new housing register applications from overcrowded families in the private rented sector and reducing their priority to band 4 on the housing waiting list.

• Ensure that statutorily overcrowded families get the priority they are entitled to on the housing register.

• Remove the 5 year local connection criteria and return it to 6 months. The 5 year local connection means that overcrowded families are wrongly being refused access to the housing register.

(3) Out of borough, unsuitable temporary accommodation

We know a lot of members who have been housed far outside the borough across London in unsuitable temporary accommodation, such as this member and her toddler. A number of our members in this situation are single parents who are working or are disabled and we see the huge difficulties and disadvantages that these families are suffering away from their support networks in their home borough. The council must look to bring these families back to their home borough. There are empty homes available on the Aylesbury estate and we want confirmation that all these homes are being used for temporary accommodation.

We understand that the sourcing and allocation of home borough temporary accommodation is complicated but efforts should be dedicated to this task as it has such a significant impact on homeless households. Co-operation with other boroughs is one way to improve things as well as engaging with the households affected as well.

Although the council have promised that some families are on a waiting list to be brought back into their home borough, we are not clear about how this waiting list operates. We need an explanation of this waiting list so our members can understand when they are likely to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in their home borough. The council must ensure that those with additional vulnerabilities and needs are housed in their home borough as soon as possible. It feels as though some of our members housed across London have simply been forgotten.

Action required:

• Inform us and all homeless households in out of borough accommodation what the process for re-housing them back in their home borough will be.

• Ensuring that single parent families and others with vulnerabilities are prioritised for re-housing back in their home borough.

• Informing families who are housed out of borough what their position is on the waiting list for re-housing in temporary accommodation back in borough.

• Checking with families if they do want to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in borough before making the offer (some families might not want to move at that moment).

We need a clear explanation of the policies and practices that the council are enacting now that are affecting us all. We need answers urgently to understand what is going on and it is vital that our concerns and demands are listened to and acted on. We expect that the council can give clear responses to these 3 areas within 2 weeks seeing as we have already raised point 2 with councillor Kieron Williams on 1st October 2019.

We understand first hand that there is a huge shortage of good quality, secure council housing that is a root cause of all these problems, with cuts to local authorities making things worse as well. (But Southwark council have played their part in creating this housing crisis by demolishing thousands of good quality council homes in the borough starting with the Heygate estate and currently on the Aylesbury estate.) The shortage of council homes is not an excuse to deny vital housing support and assistance and respectful treatment to people now. We hope the council will respond to our concerns and engage with and act on our suggestions.

From Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

 

Supported by;

English for Action

HASL’s 2019

 

It’s been another busy year of housing support and action in south London! Together we have won better housing, including council housing with our members, we have helped each other to enforce our housing rights, we have provided vital moral and practical support for each other, we have helped our group to grow and meet more people, and campaigned for the good quality, safe, secure council homes we all need and deserve!

 

As well as our 2 regular meetings each month attended by 50-100 plus people, we’ve also organised protests, run workshops, helped to start a new housing support group, started a film project, and helped to put together legal challenges against unjust council policies.

 

Thank you to all our members and supporters for all your time, effort, determination and commitment. We couldn’t have achieved these things without you! You have helped us to build a strong solidarity network across south London where we learn our rights, support each other, and win together.

 

We know that in 2020 fighting for housing and migrant rights and against poverty and other injustices will be more challenging than ever, but we know that together we are stronger!

 

We’ve already got lots of plans for 2020! We look forward to seeing you in the new year!

 

Here are just some of the things we got up this year (we haven’t included all successes and our day to day activities, such as buddying to the housing office, the referrals to lawyers, small group planning meetings, etc, as it would be too long!)

January

We protested at Southwark council town hall about their poor treatment of homeless survivors of domestic violence. We are continuing to support our members with their cases and we will be writing a more detailed blog on Southwark council’s treatment and failures of survivors of domestic violence in the new year.

 

February 

 

We organised a HASL group training and banner painting session. The group training session was to reflect on how the group works and share ideas, plans and skills for running the group so that more people can be actively involved. One of our long-term members explained “We do everything from the heart and it is very beautiful” We also organised protests and painted banners. One of our members brought cake to celebrate her new council home.

 

Over 50 of our members joined our A Home Close to School protest at Southwark council town hall in support of 4 of our members who had been housed in temporary accommodation far away from Southwark. This was our strongest and loudest protest to date and it resulted in the manager of housing coming to speak directly to us and guaranteeing he would look into the cases we were raising. Southwark News article here and another article here In May, the families were finally moved back to their home borough!

 

We joined Aylesbury residents protesting about their broken heating system and the council’s purposeful disrepair of the estate. There is a video of the protest here.

 

We helped 2 members to stop their evictions from temporary accommodation for rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit.

 

 

March

 

Don’t kick us off the waiting list! After our Southwark protests the previous months, we organised a protest against Lambeth council’s cruel and discriminatory policy of kicking homeless families out of the borough and then removing them from the housing waiting list. At our protest in Lambeth Civic Centre we met other people in the waiting room who had been removed from the waiting list and they joined our protest.

 

One of our members was awarded £2,700 in compensation from the Local Government Ombudsman for Southwark council’s mishandling of her housing case.

 

We organised a small workshop for our members who had recently moved into new council homes to talk about their new rights as council tenants. One of our members said: “I wouldn’t have this home if it wasn’t for you. We would be in the same situation as before, nothing would have changed.”

 

April 

 

We visited Liz Atkinson’s children’s centre in Brixton to talk with the women who attend the centre about housing rights.

 

We helped our member, a survivor of domestic violence, to challenge the gatekeeping she faced by Southwark council and get temporary accommodation for her and her family.

 

May

 

We ran a housing rights workshop with Surrey Square primary school and spoke with the parents about the housing issues they are facing and what their legal rights are, and of course, how we support each other and campaign together.

 

June

 

We ran a housing rights workshop with our friends English for Action and this resulted in the start of a new housing support group in Southwark with English for Action students!

 

We ran a workshop on organising collective support and action at Mayday rooms as part of the Anarchist Festival. A number of people who attended the workshop have since become involved with HASL.

 

July

 

Our member V is a survivor of domestic violence who also suffers from a number of serious medical issues that her tiny studio flat was making worse. With help from our friends Public Interest Law Centre, we helped her to challenge Lambeth council’s decision that she did not qualify for band B for medical reasons.In October our member signed a tenancy for her new council home.

 

One of our members received an accelerated possession order. Due to the tight deadline, we helped to fill in the defense and find lawyers to take on her case. She was able to successfully stop the eviction attempt by her private landlord.

 

August
Our HASL summer picnic in Burgess Park

 

We helped to stop another eviction from temporary accommodation.

 

Our regular Saturday meeting had a lot of victories! Including 3 people who had achieved their correct banding on the housing register (after being wrongly refused by their councils) and another family who had moved from B&B housing into self-contained temporary accommodation back in their home borough. Another family had recently successfully bid on a housing association home.

 

September

 

 

Surprise birthday celebrations!

 

October

 

We sent an open letter to Southwark councillor Kieron Williams about Southwark councils treatment of overcrowded families. We’re still waiting for an answer. We’ve also written a blog post here and we are working on legal routes and planning more campaigning on this important issue.

 

HASL members spoke at the Haldane Society talk ‘Abolish section 21: restructuring renting or technocratic tinkering’ on our experiences of private renting and section 21.

 

We organised an EU Settlement Scheme workshop with Public Interest Law Centre to support people making the application and we organised a follow up workshop the following week.

 

November

Inside Housing published an article on Lambeth council legal challenge

We attended the brilliant Reb Law conference and spoke on a panel: (Un)intentionally homeless: challenging bad housing decisions with housing lawyers and a housing barrister.

 

One of our Southwark overcrowding legal challenges that Public Interest Law Centre took on was successful.
 
December
 
Our member Nelcy on strike for better conditions at her workplace with her union IWGB. HASL members joined Nelcy and IWGB on the strike and protest march through University College London.
 
With the help of GT Stewart solicitors, our member successfully challenges Southwark council over her unsuitable temporary accommodation. We hope our member will be re-housed back in her home borough of Southwark very soon. 
 
Our end of year party! Thanks so much to everyone who attended and helped us to celebrate all our achievements this year. It was a much needed event after the General Election result and the HASL kids made some amazing banners about housing and migrant rights so that we are well prepared for 2020! 

Don’t blame families for overcrowding!

A recent report showed that there are people 3.6 million people living in overcrowded housing.

Another report shows that 94% of private rented homes are too expensive for families on housing benefit.

Almost everyone accepts there is a housing crisis and that the root causes are the unregulated private rented sector, benefit cuts, low wages, and lack of social housing. There is huge support for social housing as one of the main solutions.

But Southwark council have taken a new approach to the housing crisis. They are blaming overcrowding on families themselves.

Recently, 5 families, living in overcrowded housing in the private rented sector, have received decisions telling them that they have deliberately caused their overcrowding. They have been put in band 4 at the bottom of the housing list where they have no chance of social housing. This is a big change in policy for Southwark council. Previously overcrowded families would be placed into band 3 and depending on the level of overcrowding, they may qualify for a priority star for statutory overcrowding. Some families may qualify for band 1. Now these families are being denied any priority for overcrowding and statutory overcrowding, a serious and severe level of overcrowding.

So what is going on?

These decisions are wrong, immoral and, we think, unlawful. They are hurtful and devastating for our members who receive them. How can Southwark council justify making these decisions against their own residents? Why are they blaming and targeting the victims of the housing crisis?

Many of these families are migrant families who already face significant discrimination and barriers to accessing decent housing. Why are Southwark council introducing new anti-migrant, discriminatory policies into their housing register?

We have written to Southwark’s councillor for housing Kieron Williams asking him for answers and to advocate on behalf of our members and all overcrowded families. 

The council must immediately change these decisions and give our members the priority they are entitled to.

We also feel our members are being targeted. We made a Freedom of Information request asking how many households had been placed into band 4 for ‘worsening circumstances’. In the last 12 months, there have been ‘less than 10’. However, in the last few months, 4 of our members have been put into band 4.

Our members are stuck in appalling conditions in overcrowded private rented housing because they have no other option, they could not rent anywhere else. They have been discriminated against by private landlords who won’t rent to them because they are claim benefits, because they do not speak English, and for having children.

Now they are discriminated against by Southwark council who tell them the overcrowding is their own fault.

Meanwhile, we know that Southwark council are housing homeless families in temporary accommodation that is overcrowded, including temporary accommodation that is statutory overcrowded. When our members challenge the council on these overcrowded conditions, the council are happy to use the housing crisis as their excuse.

We will be campaigning in support of our HASL families and all overcrowded families to make Southwark treat them properly!

 

Protest for a Home Close to School

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a home close to school

All this situation is affecting us physically and psychologically. It impacts on our education, work, welfare and health. We have asked to the Council to move back to Southwark, but instead of helping us to move back, they offer us a house at Birmingham.

I am the main carer for my parents, who are in their late seventies, they do not speak English and live in Southwark. My mum has high blood pressure and mild dementia. My dad cannot walk too much as he has problems on his knees. They have been in trouble many times because my mum at middle of the night feels bad and needs to go to hospital, they have to wait for me at least one hour.

Taking to our daughters to school is a big deal, we take the bus because we do not have enough money to take the train. They have to wake up early and leave the house early. Usually, there are not seats available in the bus. This is a long journey and they want a seat because they want to sleep. They arrive tired to school. Many times they want to go to the toilet, we have to get off from the bus in any place. Sometimes, there is traffic. We frequently arrive late at school, at least 2 or 3 times per week.

Last Thursday, over 50 HASL members occupied Southwark HQ for two hours calling for homeless families to be given: a home close to school.

Homeless families in Southwark and across London are being housed in temporary accommodation further and further away from their schools, communities, and work places. This is having a hugely negative impact on our daily lives. Children are sick on the long bus journeys to and from school. They fall asleep in school because they are so tired from the journey. Their education and welfare is suffering. GCSEs are stressful enough without adding 4 hour+ bus travel each day. Parents are tired from the school run and from long commutes to work. They don’t have as much time and energy to spend with their family. Parents have had to reduce their work or change work. Parents’ immigration status can be affected if they cannot work enough hours. Temporary accommodation a long way from our home boroughs can impact every aspect of our lives.

Whilst our members are forced to endure these long journeys to school, homes on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth lie empty. We were at the town hall in support of 4 HASL families who are housed on the outskirts of London and whose children are currently studying for their GCSEs. The families also have other urgent circumstances which mean they need to be housed close to their former homes and communities. They are asking to be housed in temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury estate which is close to their secondary schools. This was the demand we made to Southwark and that the families made directly to Michael Scorer, the Strategic Director for Housing and Modernisation, when he came to speak to us.

Southwark council’s own temporary accommodation policy says that families with children studying for crucial exams like GCSEs should be given priority for re-housing in the borough. So we wanted to know why they have not been following their own policy.

It was our biggest and loudest protest to date and the energy and determination of the group was inspiring! For the whole time, we made noise and chanted so that Southwark council could not ignore us. Our members made a line across the hall forming a blockade. Eventually, Michael Scorer, came down to speak to us. Our members made him give them his word that he would support their cases. He promised to look into the cases and give a response as soon as he could the following week. The families are anxiously waiting to hear from him about their cases.

Everyone in our protest had direct experience of living in temporary accommodation or living in overcrowded private rented housing. Everyone understood and felt the very real suffering of bad housing. They came out to support other members of the group and show such strong solidarity.

HASL children and young people played a strong and vital role in the protest speaking about the stress and exhaustion they face studying for GCSEs and spending so much time travelling to and from school. One child made her own placard about the eviction attempt her family had faced and the long journey she has every day to school.

Our demand to the council to be housed in empty flats on the Aylesbury estate, close to school, is fair and practical – we are after all just asking them to follow their own policy as well as homelessness law. Why force people to travel miles where there are empty flats available?

The situation for homeless families in temporary accommodation is getting worse. Due to a lack of council housing, (as a result of disastrous national policies as well as in part due to Southwark council’s sell-off and demolition of council homes), there are not enough 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes on the housing waiting list so our members are stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation for years. This cannot continue! Southwark council must house families in their home borough such as on the empty homes on the Aylesbury estate. We need 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes now!

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