Lambeth council – don’t kick Susana and her son off the council housing waiting list!

Watch our member Susana explain Lambeth’s trick to homeless families when they approach the council for a homeless duty. We have written a more detailed blog post about this scheme here.

As Susana asks Lambeth council herself in the video, she wants Lambeth to let her remain on the social housing waiting list until she can bid successfully for a council home back in her home borough. We are supporting Susana’s demand to Lambeth council and we demand an end to this scheme which disadvantages homeless families, particularly migrant families.

This scheme does not help homeless families – it only helps Lambeth council to:

  1. Kick families out of Lambeth
  2. Reduce their homelessness statistics
  3. Kick families off the social housing waiting list

Lambeth council are exploiting vulnerable families’ desperation for secure council homes. They convince homeless families to give up their homeless duty (where they would be placed in band C and told they will never get council housing) and accept a private rented offer in return for being put into band B. But if the private rented offer is outside of Lambeth, then in 2 years time, the family are kicked off Lambeth’s housing waiting list. Lambeth council have lower homeless statistics and families are forced out of borough, in 2 years time, they are off Lambeth’s waiting list completely.

Homeless families need council housing – Lambeth council should not be turning access to council housing into a gamble. Instead of creating schemes like these targeted at vulnerable homeless people, Lambeth council should be doing everything they can to make sure there is enough council housing for everyone who needs it.

As well as supporting Susana’s case and other members in our group affected by this scheme, we will continue campaigning on this issue, and we are also looking at possible legal challenges.

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November LCAP news and upcoming events

Make sure to sign up to our London Coalition Against Poverty news and upcoming events newsletter which we (hope to!) send out every few months. You can sign up here

Dear LCAP members and supporters,

Please find below an update of what LCAP groups have been getting up to across London and find out how you can get involved.

Thank you for your support!

1) News from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

2) Haringey Housing Action Group

3) Upcoming events

4) Making a standing order to LCAP – help us get 100 supporters! + other fundraising news

1) News from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

Activities and campaigns

Meetings

Our regular meetings have been very busy with 50-60 people with immediate housing problems (with a peak of 90 people at our Saturday September meeting). At our Saturday meetings we also have 20-30 kids and a growing team of adults helping to run kids activities. At our meetings we give advice and support and share housing rights information and plan on our personal cases and wider campaigns. We’ve been getting more experienced at dealing with such large group meetings but we want to run a group training session so that we can all be involved more in running meetings and the group in general. Lots of our old members have been returning to help others which has been a great help. Common problems include dealing with the homelessness process, especially the Homelessness Reduction Act, overcrowding, unsuitable temporary accommodation, disrepair in private rented housing, joining the housing register and long waits on the housing register for council housing.

Through our meetings, we’ve helped to organise buddying at the housing office, small group meetings to work on a specific task or problem and other practical help and support on our cases.

Twitter storms work – support us online!

We often tweet local councils and councillors about our members’ cases and wider problems that our members face. This has been really effective in highlighting our members problems and forcing the council to act. Recently, our member D was threatened with eviction from temporary accommodation for rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit. Twitter pressure helped to stop the eviction. 

Our member F, who we mentioned in the last LCAP news, who is a homeless survivor of domestic violence is reviewing Southwark’s decision that she is not in priority need and is now awaiting the outcome of this review. We’ve tweeted in support of her here. Please retweet and/or write your own tweet in support of her.

Council tenancy rights training

In September we ran a council tenancy rights training session for 7 members who had all recently moved into their new council homes. It’s really wonderful to have gone from sharing homelessness rights to council tenancy rights with these same members.

Call to stop all evictions from temporary accommodation

Universal Credit is continuing to cause serious problems for many of our members, the long delays in receiving Universal Credit are causing rent arrears. A number of our members in temporary accommodation have faced eviction threats due to Universal Credit rent arrears. We’re calling on Southwark council to stop all evictions from temporary accommodation. Homeless households need support not evictions.

Homelessness Reduction Act

We continue to be unimpressed with the Homelessness Reduction Act which has simply drawn out and made the already stressful homeless process evening more confusing. It has simply caused more anxiety and stress for families who have been offered private housing in Manchester and Birmingham. We do not have a single example of where the HRA has been better than the old law. We wrote a blog post on the Homelessness Reduction Act here. Haringey Housing Action Group have written a new homelessness rights leaflet to help people understand the new law and enforce their rights at the housing office. Hopefully this will be launched soon.

Protests and campaigns

Back in July, we joined other local groups and campaigners to call on Southwark council to stop the disastrous social cleansing plans for Elephant and Castle shopping centre. We’ll continue to support campaigns and protests against the council’s social cleansing plans and calling for council homes and community facilities for our needs. You can see photos here.

Future plans

We’ve got lots of ideas and plans for activities and campaigns we’d like to run, including a training session sharing ideas and tactics on running the group, more social events, and campaigning for 3,4,5 bed council homes as there is a particular shortage and extra long waits for these homes.

Recent successes

Ruben’s victory

In the last LCAP news, we mentioned our protest organised by Ruben with our support on his case. Exactly a month after our protest, Ruben received confirmation from Lambeth council that he would have higher medical priority on the waiting list. This meant that Ruben and his family were able to successfully bid on a new home.

Southwark council successfully challenged on overcrowding
With the help of our friends at the Public Interest Law Centre, we were able to challenge Southwark council’s incorrect calculation of statutory overcrowding – not only will this challenge benefit our member and her family, but also other families who are suffering from overcrowded housing which is a big problem in our group and across Southwark and London. Southwark council had been calculating statutory overcrowding wrongly and telling people who were statutorily overcrowded that they were not!  We regularly contacted the council to explain to them that they were wrong. With the help of a lawyer from PILC and the effort of HASL members, we were able to get the council to admit that they were wrong!

There’s an article with our members explaining about the victory here

Read PILC’s press release here

Other cases

We’ve had many important successes where families have been able to move into council housing, or seen some other improvement on their housing or case, as a direct result of the support and help they have received in meetings. At the beginning of each meeting, someone has arrived with good news to share on their case. This has come through long-term involvement and group support. Of course, the reality is that it often takes far too long for people to get the suitable, secure, council homes they need, but we know that with help from the group, we have helped people to access their rights and council housing. One of our members emailed us: I can say that I have my flat for my son and me, it is the biggest flat that I’ve ever seen in London, more that I expect, thank you so much.

Website: www.housingactionsl.org Twitter @housingactionsl Facebook Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

2) Haringey Housing Action Group

We meet regularly at 10am on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month at North London Community House, in Cafe Life, 22 Moorefield Rd, N17 6PY, behind Bruce Grove Station, opposite the Royal Mail sorting office.

Website: www.haringeyhousingaction.org.uk/ Twitter @haringeyhousing Facebook Haringey Housing Action Group

3) Upcoming events

Saturday 10th November, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have been invited to speak on a panel on homelessness and the housing crisis at this years Rebel Law conference. Rebel Law describe themselves here: Rebel Law UK is an entirely student-run conference which brings together students, lawyers and activists determined to use the law for the benefit of marginalised communities and individuals. Running for its third year the Conference will again be taking place at the University of Law’s Moorgate Campus, on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th November.

Saturday 10th November, we’ve also been invited to speak at Solfed’s conference  ‘Radical unionism at home and at work’.

We will be organising an end of year celebration. Get in touch with your local group for updates.

4) Making a standing order to LCAP

We’ve recently been on a funding drive to get 100 people to sign up to a standing order of £4 a month which would help cover our yearly running costs. Standing orders from supporters help build solidarity and make fundraising for us stress-free and sustainable as well as allowing us to retain our independence and autonomy. We’re half way to our target and we’d love to meet our target by the end of the year. You can read and share our funding drive blog post here. If you would like to set up a standing order with LCAP please email haslfinances@gmail.com

We also recently received a grant of £1,500 from the Edge Fund alongside lots of other great grassroots groups that we were proud to be included with.

Press release: SIGNIFICANT VICTORY against Southwark Council.

Cross posted from the Public Interest Law Unit. The original post can be found here.

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“Further to a successful legal challenge by the Public Interest Law Unit (PILU) and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), it has become apparent that Southwark Council have been incorrectly applying the ‘space standard’ test for statutory overcrowding as contained in s.326 of the Housing Act 1985.

Had Southwark applied the law correctly, it would have been recognised that the family in question were living in statutorily overcrowded conditions, and that in accordance with their allocation scheme they should have been placed in Band 1 and given an additional ‘Priority Star’ to reflect that status.

The evidence provided by HASL and as a result of a Freedom of Information Request suggests that the error in fact forms part of a wider unlawful practice.

Since December 2017, HASL have come across five cases where households have reported to Southwark that they are overcrowded according to the space standard for the number of people in the property and the number of rooms, that in each of these cases Southwark has proceeded to measure the size of the rooms and that in only one of the cases has the household been placed in Band 1 on Southwark’s allocation scheme.

The Council’s response to a Freedom of Information request showed that since February 2018, 46 banding decision had been made which had involved assessing whether a household was statutorily overcrowded, all of these cases had been assessed with reference to the space standard set out in s326 Housing Act 1985, and all had been assessed solely with reference to floor area as opposed to the number of rooms. 13 of those cases had been found not to be statutorily overcrowded.

Southwark Council have now admitted that the test for statutory overcrowding had been incorrectly applied the case in question, and while the Council have been reviewing previous decisions made on this basis, it is unclear whether everybody affected will notified and awarded the additional priority that they are entitled to.

Helen Mowatt, solicitor from PILU said:

Southwark Council has formally adopted the measure of overcrowding contained in Part 10 of the Housing Act 1985 within its allocation scheme and is required to properly apply this when allocating social housing. A failure to do so is a breach of the Housing Act and amounts to an unlawful failure to follow a published policy.

Southwark have been erroneously applying the space standard contained in s326(3) Housing Act 1985, by assessing overcrowding solely with reference to floor area and not also with reference to the number of rooms, as required.

The error in our client’s case is material. Had Southwark correctly applied the space standard, his household would have been deemed statutorily overcrowded months ago, they would have been placed in Band 1 of the allocation scheme and awarded an additional priority star.

This was also not an isolated error on the part of the Council. The evidence we have obtained from HASL and as a result of our Freedom of Information Request shows that Southwark have been consistently misapplying the law in every case. It is therefore likely that many households have wrongly been assessed as not being statutorily overcrowded and placed in the incorrect housing Band.

We know that there may have been as many as 13 cases since February 2018 which must now be reviewed, but we are unclear as to how many households may have been affected before this date. We will be seeking assurances from the Council that they will review all relevant cases, but if anyone thinks they may have been affected, please contact HASL and/or seek legal advice.

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL has said:

Overcrowded housing in the private rented sector, but also in Southwark’s own council housing, is one of the main problems we come across in our group and is one of the more invisible sides of the housing crisis. We know many families forced to live in single rooms, studio flats and one bed flats because of discrimination and extortionate rents in the private rented sector. We know first hand the devastating impact that overcrowded housing has on people’s lives particularly their mental and physical health. We have been raising the problem of overcrowding with Southwark council for years but the council have failed to engage and take meaningful action.

Southwark council should be supporting their residents to access their housing rights and the secure council homes they need, instead it took a legal challenge before the council would accept that it had been wrongly denying that our families were statutorily overcrowded. Together with PILU, we will be making sure that the council goes back to review all previous decisions and applies the law correctly for all future cases. 

Southwark residents and all Londoners desperately need good quality, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes in our communities. We welcome anyone struggling or worried about housing problems to get involved in our group to support each other and take collective action for good housing for everyone.” [ENDS]

For more information please contact Helen Mowatt at hmowatt@lambethlawcentre.org or Elizabeth Wyatt at elizabethwyatt1988@gmail.com

 

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Southwark Council – No more evictions from temporary accommodation

no evictions

Last Monday, we supported one of our members to stop the eviction of her and her daughter from temporary accommodation provided by Southwark council. By emailing and tweeting Southwark councillor Stephanie Cryan and the manager for housing, we were able to get Southwark to stop the eviction.

You can read our tweets here and thanks to everyone for the retweets and tweets in support as it makes such a difference (please keep on following our social media and sign up to our email alerts for future online support).

D and her daughter had only been given a weeks notice from the council that they would be evicted. Due to this short notice, they had not been able to get an appointment at the Citizens Advice Bureau. The eviction was due to rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit. D had been in touch previously with the council and they were aware that she had taken steps to deal with the arrears. D is a single parent who does not speak English as her first language. So why were the council being so quick to evict her?

This attempted eviction is not a one-off case. Threats of eviction from temporary accommodation due to rent arrears has become a familiar problem in our group. We have supported 5 other members with this problem this year. There must be many more people who our group has not met who are affected by this problem. One of these families was forced to leave her home but was re-housed the same day after we supported her at the housing office – during the move from one temporary accommodation to the other, her 3 year old daughter broke her leg. Homeless households are already a vulnerable group. Why are Southwark council being so quick to evict them?

Problems with universal credit, low paid and insecure work, and high temporary accommodation rents all mean that it is very easy to fall into rent arrears. Instead of evicting people, homeless households need support to deal with these problems. No one should be evicted from temporary accommodation.

As well as being wrong, we think that some of these eviction threats by Southwark council may be unlawful as the council have told families in temporary accommodation flats that they must leave, but the council have not got a court order which can be required for some types of temporary accommodation.

We are calling on Southwark council to stop all evictions from temporary accommodation and give support to homeless households who are in rent arrears. Homeless families need secure, quality, council homes not evictions!

Funding Drive! We need 100 supporters!

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Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and our sister group, Haringey Housing Action Group, (together making up the London Coalition Against Poverty) are in need of funds. As two active grassroots groups we currently have over a 100 active members who are learning our rights, helping each other to enforce these, providing vital moral support, and organising collective actions and campaigns. Through our years of organising in north and south London we have built up really strong support networks that organise practical support on housing and other poverty issues on a daily basis. However, as we have grown so have our costs, and we currently spend £5000 a year for our basic running costs of hall hire, refreshments and leaflet printing.

To cover these costs we want to sign 100 people up to standing orders of £1 a week (or £4 a month). We could try and raise this by charging membership fees, but our members are already struggling with rent arrears, Universal Credit delays, high rents and low paid work. We encourage our members to support our group by their active involvement in running the group and this is really effective and how we have been able to achieve so many important wins. That’s why we want to find 100 supporters to pay the equivalent of fees, so our members don’t have that extra problem.

We provide long-term support and solidarity on housing and poverty problems for each other. To continue doing this, we need this long-term sustainable funding!

If you would like to set up a standing order with us please email haslfinance@gmail.com and we’ll send you our bank details. We’ll also ask you to confirm whether you would like to receive our email newsletter which we send out every 2 months or so.

Please share this message with others and help us get 100 people signed up!

Southwark council, don’t evict our member F, a survivor of domestic violence

support survivors
Southwark council pledged to improve their treatment and provision for vulnerable survivors of domestic violence, yet one of our members F is facing street homelessness again after Southwark council have refused her a full homeless duty and are ending her temporary accommodation next week.
Our member F suffered domestic abuse for 5 years, she then faced months of sofa surfing and a year and a half in 5 different unsuitable hostels. She does not speak English and she suffers from a number of medical problems which she has struggled to get treatment for due to language and cultural barriers. Yet the council have deemed her not to be vulnerable enough for a full homeless duty.
Southwark’s approach to domestic violence survivors is made clear in this statement in the decision letter:
I have considered that you have previously been a victim of domestic abuse; I do not however consider this would render you vulnerable.
A number of other similar broad and unsubstantiated statements are made about how F is not vulnerable, despite us submitting detailed information about the many vulnerabilities she faces and deals with every day.
If a survivor of domestic violence is not considered to be vulnerable, there is something very wrong with the test that Southwark council are using.
Why is Southwark council not taking domestic violence seriously? Why are they still failing to support survivors? How can they justify making our member street homeless?
F must be given the full homeless duty that she needs so that she has some stability and security. She must be able to access the safe, secure council housing that she needs and deserves.
Southwark must support all survivors of domestic violence and support them to get the safe, secure housing they need.
no evictions

Some first thoughts on the Homelessness Reduction Act

On 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force across England.

The Homelessness Reduction Act brings significant changes to the assistance that homeless people will receive from their local council. Under the old homelessness law, single homeless people were often not given any help. This new law is supposed to change that.

However, under the old law we know that many families and individuals who were entitled to assistance were turned away without any help – a practice called gatekeeping.

Will this new law change the culture of gatekeeping that we’ve faced (and challenged!) in the housing office? Will the Homelessness Reduction Act really reduce homelessness?

We know what will reduce homelessness – secure, quality council homes in our communities for everyone, higher wages, higher benefits and an end to racist rules and immigration controls (including Right to Rent, No Recourse to Public Funds, restrictions on EEA benefits being some we’re familiar with).

Unfortunately, the Homelessness Reduction Act doesn’t include any of these. There are really basic homeless law changes that could actually help reduce homelessness such as abolishing priority need which Scotland have done and phasing out intentional homelessness as Wales are doing but it doesn’t even include these good steps.

So what does the Homelessness Reduction Act mean and how does it work?

We’re still trying to understand it fully. There’s a flowchart here which is a useful starting point.

We certainly had strong criticisms of the old homelessness law and process. Many of us in the group have had very bad experiences of it. But trying to understand the HRA makes us miss the fairy simple old homeless law and process.

Our experiences so far of the HRA has included Southwark council’s trial of it over the last year, a homelessness assessment at Lambeth’s housing office and a workshop we attended by Doughty Street Chambers. All of these experiences have given us some deep concerns about the HRA.

There are a number of changes that we believe make things much worse for homeless people under the Homelessness Reduction Act and we are very worried about their impact:

More stress for homeless people – Personalised Housing Plans are patronising

The Personalised Housing Plan that every homeless person must follow is deeply patronising. It brings in the harmful conditionality that has been running out of job centres where the blame and responsibility is placed on the claimant/homeless person. During this severe housing crisis, homelessness law is placing responsibility on homeless people to solve homelessness themselves. Homeless people often visit the housing office as a last resort after exhausting all their other options. As if being homeless wasn’t difficult enough, as if people haven’t done everything to prevent their homelessness already, they are being given extra tasks under threat of sanction.

Under the old law homeless families could get interim/ temporary housing from the council – alongside this, if they wished, they could look for alternative housing completely voluntarily, so the PHP simply acts as a coercive and patronising tool.

Worse rights for homeless people – 6 month private tenancies create a cycle of homelessness and poverty

The new law allows the council to discharge their duty to a homeless household with a section 193A offer. This is a 6 month private tenancy. This offer is far worse than the previous private sector discharge offer that a council could force on a homeless household under the old law. Under the old law, a council could discharge their homeless duty by offering a 12 month private sector tenancy with 2 years protection if they became homeless again. This private sector tenancy had to meet a list of criteria to make sure it was decent quality. If the household became homeless within 2 years of the start of the tenancy, then they would have an automatic homeless duty with the council.

6 month private sector tenancies for homeless households is the exact opposite of what homeless households need – after enduring homelessness, you need security that you will not face this again. Secure council tenancies provide this. A 6 month private tenancy means that homeless households will face a cycle of homelessness, insecurity and poverty.

The new law is even more complicated than the old law

The new homelessness process and law is not easy to understand. Flow charts appear to be the favored way to explain it, it is much more complicated than the previous law. These flow charts show many routes and options – but getting to secure, quality council housing looks further away than ever before. Before, we were able to use our clear and simple leaflet with the 5 tests that a council would do to investigate for your case. Whilst the old law was still difficult to understand, it was simple enough that we could know and share our basic rights. We have certainly struggled to get our heads around the new law.

Slowing down and drawing out an already difficult process

Under the old law, the council had 33 working days to investigate a case and make a decision on whether the applicant was owed a full homeless duty. Now, if you are homeless, the council have 56 days under the relief duty to investigate your case and come to a decision. This increased wait will simply mean more stress and delays for the homeless household awaiting their decision.

Some positive developments?

Of course, ensuring that everyone who approaches the council as homeless or facing homelessness gets help is a welcome development. Although under the old law, the council did have a duty to provide ‘advice and assistance’ to anyone who approached as homeless. Most councils just regularly chose to gatekeep single homeless applicants instead from this duty.

The new law also possibly provides better support for those households who are in priority need and deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ as a duty under section 190(2) arise. Although again under the old law councils were supposed to give households a reasonable amount of time to find other accommodation. Nearly Legal confirms that the new law ‘potentially’ gives households more time than under the old law.

What’s been happening in Southwark who piloted the Homelessness Reduction Act?

Southwark council explain their pilot of the Homelessness Reduction Act

Southwark council were featured in a Guardian article on the Homelessness Reduction Act. They explain the ‘positive effects’ of the Homelessness Reduction Act in the borough:

  • Numbers of households being put up in temporary homes have halved in a year, and the use of unsuitable and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation has been eliminated.

The dramatic halving of households provided with temporary accommodation cannot be denied, but how exactly was this achieved? What has happened to those families now? (By the looks of it they have been housed out of borough in private rented housing – see next bullet point.)

Before the HRA the council had been able to avoid the use of B&B accommodation to house homeless families. It was only in June 2016 when the council first started using B&Bs. Before this they had not used B&B accommodation at all for homeless families. It is already unlawful to house families in B&B accommodation for over 6 weeks (and the law says that councils should do everything they can to avoid housing families in B&Bs at all) so homeless households already had protection against this and Southwark should not have been housing families in B&B accommodation.

  • People threatened with homelessness were helped to find homes in the private rental sector – though this was often many miles away in outer London boroughs.

Housing people outside of their communities in private rented accommodation cannot be seen as a positive effect. This is social cleansing. Being re-housed in outer boroughs also means that they will no longer be entitled to be on Southwark’s housing waiting list so that they will not stand a chance of moving back to their home borough in council housing. Southwark council says that 358 households were placed in private rented accommodation (although it does not say whether this was in or outside of the borough). These families will have missed out on the protections afforded to them that you do have in temporary accommodation with a homeless duty (for example, the ability to review suitability of temporary accommodation, immediate rehousing if the temporary accommodation private landlord wants you out, ‘reasonable preference’ on the housing register and certain standards in the quality of the private rented accommodation with private sector discharge).

  • The borough provided mediation to rehouse young people at home after they had been thrown out by their family following a row.

What was the quality of this mediation? Was it really effective or did young people just give up on pursuing a homeless duty? Young people cannot remain in their family home forever and often family tensions and rows arise from being forced to live together, something mediation cannot resolve.

  • In some cases it paid off tenants’ rent areas.

This is of course a positive thing.

  • In the first year Southwark topped up the £1m government grant it received to test the new system with £750,000 of its own cash.

Depending on the true outcomes for homeless households and those threatened with homelessness that will determine whether this was money spent in support for vulnerable families or gatekeeping and socially cleansing them.

Our experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act in Southwark

Same old gatekeeping – reducing homelessness by pretending it doesn’t exist?

Our member M approached the council as homeless. M and her family were living in M’s mother’s flat. The two families were very overcrowded living together in the small flat and M’s mother asked her to leave. M approached the council to make a homeless application, but they told her that they could not open a homeless application until after 56 days had passed.

J and his family faced a similar situation living at J’s mother in law flat which was two small to house both families. J, his wife and his two children all share a single room. The stress of the situation lead J’s mother in law to ask his family to leave. They made a homeless appointment with the council but again it seemed the housing officer was reluctant to open a homeless application. They were told that they could remain in their current housing situation while they looked for other places to live. The housing officer suggested that they have mediation between J and his mother in law so that J’s family could remain in the home. Since the first homelessness appointment, J heard nothing from the housing officer (despite making a complaint about this) and 3 months have passed.

Our member F made her homeless application in October last year when the council were trialling the Homelessness Reduction Act, yet she heard nothing from the council about her application for months. When she faced eviction from her hostel this April, it took a twitter storm before the council would confirm temporary accommodation for her.

We have been supporting all of these members with their cases.

Another HASL member met a young street homeless man on the street. He was a care leaver. He told her he had been to the housing office for help but was turned away.

What can we do?

We’ll be organising leafleting sessions to speak with people about their experiences of getting housing help from the council and we’re also organising a Homelessness Reduction Act workshop with Southwark Law Centre to learn our rights together.

Join your local housing action group to support each other with housing problems and fight together for the good quality, secure homes in our communities that we all need and deserve! The Homelessness Reduction Act won’t reduce homelessness, it’s up to us!