More housing benefit cuts to come…

A whole raft of cuts to housing benefit, including the benefit cap, bedroom tax, cutting of housing benefit for those aged 25-35 years old, and more, since 2011 has increased poverty and homelessness across the UK as people struggle to meet soaring rents with less and less income. On top of this, a further cut to housing benefit could be coming in soon in the form of housing benefit sanctions.

For a number of years the government have been talking about extending the brutal sanctions regime that is currently terrorising claimants on JSA and ESA to housing benefit. Under their plans, people in part-time work who claim housing benefit could have their housing benefit sanctioned if the DWP decide they are not doing enough to increase their hours or find better paid work. The government said they would be trialling this in April this year as part of the protracted roll out of Universal Credit, but so far, no one has heard anything more about this. Read more about this from welfare blogger Johnny Void. Eventually if the government’s plans are realised 1 million more people could be subject to the benefit sanction regime which is already causing suffering, hunger, homelessness, and deaths.

And it doesn’t stop there – Theresa May announced last month, in an attempt to stir up racial hatred and to attack both migrants and welfare, the Conservative’s plans to stop housing benefit to migrants who do not learn English if they get a majority government after May (which looks very unlikely).  Already, the government has made JSA for migrants conditional on them learning English, and is now threatening to extend this to housing benefit. No one should be forced to learn English or do any other training or unpaid work under threat of destitution. These moves also undermine the role of ESOL teachers who want to teach people who want to be there voluntarily. ESOL teachers have not signed up to policing their students and getting their benefits removed if they are late or don’t turn up for class. Whilst making lots of noise about forcing migrants to learn English, the government recently announced huge cuts to Further Education of 24% meaning that many ESOL courses are under threat.

Boycott Workfare is a grassroots group that has been fighting the government’s workfare schemes and benefit sanctions for years now. There is a week of action against workfare and benefit sanctions from 25th April to 2nd May which we will be joining.

Sanctions to housing benefit will cause even more homelessness and poverty in our communities. HASL will fight all cuts to welfare and in solidarity with migrant groups and others fighting these racist policies! And we invite you to join us. We want quality, secure and truly affordable homes for all!

HASL April news

Here’s some important HASL dates for your diary. We hope you can make some or all of the events!

Thursday April 9th 12pm at Papa’s cafe – our regular HASL meeting with kids activities and an Easter egg hunt.

Saturday 18th April – afternoon, location in Brixton TBC, HASL training session including ‘how to be a buddy’ skill share and eviction process legal workshop. Let us know you’re coming so we can keep track of numbers haslemail@gmail.com

Sunday 26th April – from 12pm HASL’s second birthday and supper club at Papa’s cafe. Celebrate 2 years of helping each other fight for the housing we need and deserve and organising in our communities.

Some of us from HASL will be visiting Oxford for the re-launch of their Oxford Tenants Union on Wednesday 22nd April. Please share with anyone who lives there who might be interested!

And don’t miss these events and trainings organised by some of our friends –

Events:

Reclaim Brixton Saturday 25th April 12pm Windrush Square – a day of protest and party to celebrate Brixton communities and resist gentrification.

Boycott Workfare is a campaign against benefit sanctions and forced unpaid work for benefits. Workfare and benefit sanctions deepen poverty and cause homelessness. And now the government are talking about introducing sanctions to housing benefit for in-work claimants, more on this soon. Boycott Workfare week of action 25th April-2nd MayBoycott Workfare Welfare Action Gathering Saturday 30th May.

Training sessions

Want to learn how to facilitate great housing action meetings for HASL and/or the Radical Housing Network? Facilitation training is on Sunday 17th May by London Roots Collective. Book your free place here.

Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation is running a course in May on benefits for people who are active in their local community on welfare issues. See attached leaflet more more details. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4vukjPu8rTPNklWNlNwV2tUWnJ3dnFZRTV5STd2YV9Mcmk4/view?usp=sharing

Our latest HASL blogs

Our open letter to Southwark council about their disrespect to homeless people and confirming our rights to have someone with us at the housing office. https://housingactionsouthwarkandlambeth.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/your-right-to-have-someone-with-you-at-the-housing-office-our-letter-to-southwark-council/

Effortless evictions: Deregulation Act 2015 – a recent change in law that gives landlords more power and makes us even more precarious. https://housingactionsouthwarkandlambeth.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/effortless-evictions-the-deregulation-act-2015-2/

Lib Peck won’t speak to poor people – when we tried to talk to her about poverty and homelessness at her £90 a head breakfast with developers last month https://housingactionsouthwarkandlambeth.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/lambeth-council-leader-doesnt-want-to-speak-to-poor-people/

Effortless evictions: the Deregulation Act 2015

In 1988, Section 21 of the Housing Act drove a bulldozer through decades of carefully considered law about the circumstances in which an eviction was fair or justified.  Under Section 21, all a landlord has to do to seize a family’s home is serve the correct notice.  In 2004, in response to landlords’ increasingly abusive demands for tenancy deposits, the government introduced compulsory deposit protection schemes.

The courts were clearly aware of the shocking power imbalance between private landlords and their precariously housed tenants, and they took the opportunity to interpret the tenancy deposit laws quite strictly.  As the result of a case called Superstrike v Rodrigues landlords were required to comply with the deposit protection regulations for a second time if a tenant stayed on after the end of a ‘fixed term’ tenancy, otherwise the landlord’s Section 21 notice would be invalid.

However, the government decided that this was too onerous a task for the people who sit there profiting from people’s basic need for a home.  In order to exploit the housing crisis for profit with minimum inconvenience, the government has now eased the regulations through the Deregulation Act 2015. It comes into effect this week.

Landlords no longer need to overcome the small hurdle of re-protecting a deposit, and giving their tenants information about the scheme again.  Landlords argued that this simple act of regulatory compliance was a ‘loophole’, and that they shouldn’t possibly be expected to put up with it.  For many tenants it was the only argument available: the only thing standing between their homes and the oppressive regime of indefensible (in both a legal and a moral sense) ‘no-fault evictions’.

The massive harm of Section 21 on housing does not need to be explained in detail.  The housing crisis speaks for itself.  The law treats houses as landlords’ financial assets rather than people’s homes, and the effects of that are clear in the extortionate rents, precarious leases and poor housing conditions that so many people have no choice but to endure.

A brief glimmer of hope – a viable defence to ‘no fault’ evictions’ – has been put out.

In addition, although the government has also passed a new law that makes it more difficult to evict people who have complained about the condition of their home (‘revenge evictions’), they have not said when they will bring it into force.  The two laws were two parts of the same Act of Parliament, but the government rushed through the section that helps landlords and sat on the bit that helped tenants. The government knows which side its bread is buttered, and it’s not the millions of victims of the housing crisis whose interests they have in mind.

Without security of tenure, tenants’ rights are worthless.

Abolish Section 21! Secure homes for all!

Your right to have someone with you at the housing office – our letter to Southwark council

We’ve blogged about some of the appalling treatment our members have faced at Southwark housing office, as well as the recent High Court proceedings where Southwark council admitted they were unlawfully turning homeless people away. These experiences make it even more important that people making homeless applications and seeking help from Southwark housing office know that they are allowed to have a supporter with them throughout the process. We have supported many HASL members at the housing office in both Lambeth and Southwark, and without our support, they said they would not have got any help from the council.

But at Southwark housing office, we have had a particularly bad response when a homeless applicant has requested someone from HASL be with them. At Southwark recently, when we have tried to accompany a HASL member to a homelessness interview, we were stopped from doing so by one of the staff with no reason given other than “this is my interview and I’ll decide who comes to it”. This member was refused a supporter at other times during the homelessness application.

We want Southwark council and the housing department to confirm to us in writing that people visiting the housing office are allowed a supporter with them at any time they wish. We hope that they will relay this message to all of their staff in the housing office. HASL and Hansen Palomares have written a letter to councillor Peter John, leader of Southwark council, in support of this crucial right to accompany each other at the housing office.

HASL are also organising a ‘how to be a buddy’ skill share afternoon on Saturday 18th April to share experiences and tips so that we can support each other effectively when visiting the housing office and other appointments with authorities to get the help that we need. More details coming soon.

Open Letter

Cllr Peter John, Leader of the Council

London Borough of Southwark PO Box 64529 London, SE1P 5LX

24th March 2015

Dear Cllr John,

Homelessness – the right to be accompanied

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) and Hansen Palomares solicitors both support Southwark’s most vulnerable people through the very difficult process of making a homelessness application.

We are writing to ask you to confirm that homelessness applicants have the right to be accompanied to homelessness interviews and assessments. It is a crucial right that is protected in other areas, such as disciplinary hearings at work, Jobcentre Plus interviews and work capability assessments. Moral support, solidarity, and practical help such as note taking are even more important when a family applies as homeless. HASL, Hansen Palomares and Southwark Council all know from experience that it is legally complex and extremely difficult emotionally.

We note with regret the High Court’s findings of Southwark’s ‘gatekeeping’ tactics in A (anon.) v London Borough of Southwark (Claim No CO/2035/2014). We understand that Southwark has started a complete reform of the homelessness application procedure since the facts of that case took place. We hope that, in the spirit of that reform, you will make it clear that at interviews and assessments Southwark welcomes – or at the very least tolerates – supporters of people who have lost their homes. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely, Hansen Palomares solicitors, Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth HASLemail@gmail.com

CC: Cllr Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for housing

Gerri Scott, strategic director of housing and community services

The editor, South London Press

Lambeth council leader doesn’t want to speak to poor people

Yum - coco pops outside the Marriot hotel, County Hall

Yum – coco pops outside the Marriot hotel, County Hall

Early this morning, HASL members, residents from Knights Walk estate, and Left Unity gathered outside the Marriot hotel where Lib Peck was due to have a £90 a head breakfast with property developers to plan more disastorus housing policies for our communities.

We had great music, a huge banner, and our own breakfast of coco pops and orange juice so that she couldn’t miss us but for some reason, she tried to pass without acknowledging us. As she entered the hotel a little after 7.30am, members from HASL tried to approach her to raise the issues our members, and many other Lambeth residents, are facing including evictions, homelessness, disrespect at the housing office, demolition of estates, homeless people being pushed into the private sector, and her own calls for the full criminalisation of squatting. But Lib Peck didn’t want to hear about hunger and homelessness in her borough. She muttered something angrily as we tried to engage her in conversation and she rushed off to her fancy breakfast. Rude. We gave her some loud parting shots as the gate was closed in our faces by security.

Lib Peck isn’t interested in bad housing and poverty – but we are, and we’ll continue to fight these together in our communities. And we’ll continue to make our feelings known at every fancy meal that Lib Peck and the rest of Lambeth council have.

Success for Gustavo! Protest works!

Members of HASL, Unite Community and Lambeth Housing Activists are celebrating today as the campaign to win accommodation for Gustavo Garcia, whose circumstances we blogged about previously, has finally been deemed vulnerable by the council and so qualifies for housing under priority need. Only a day before news of this success arrived, Lambeth’s cabinet member for housing – Matthew Bennett – wrote to HASL stating that whilst he “was very concerned from your email to learn that [Gustavo] had suffered a stroke and lost his job” it remained the case that Gustavo didn’t “qualify as being in “priority” need under the homelessness legislation that would see Mr Garcia housed in temporary accommodation”.

What a difference a day makes.

Southwark and Lambeth Housing Action activists occupy Lambeth town hall

Protesters occupying Lambeth Town Hall in support of Gustavo

This u-turn by the council shows us two things. First, that priority need is political. Second, despite pursuing every legal route with help of the very good solicitors at Lambeth Law Centre, it was protest and public pressure that in the end got the goods!

Gustavo and his supporters will be celebrating this victory at our next solidarity kitchen (details to follow). We would like to extend an invitation Lambeth’s new ‘advocate for housing rights’, Cllr Mathew Bennett, who, as this example shows, has clearly championed the cause of equality and access to shelter in his borough.

The fight continues – we need to ensure Gustavo is given decent affordable accommodation in the borough, something we are demand for all!

Everyone is priority need!

Crash Lambeth Council’s property developers breakfast

hasl BREAKFAST MEME
On Tuesday 24th March the leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck, is having breakfast with property developers at the swanky London Marriott Hotel at County Hall – no doubt to sell off more of our borough. At £90 a head it’s unlikely many of her residents are going to get a say, or any of the posh breakfast either.

So join Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth outside to let them know we won’t let anymore of Lambeth be sold off, and that we’d rather have a bowl of coco pops anyway!

Get there from 7.30am to welcome Lib Peck’s community destroying guests and bring stuff to make some noise to drown out their sleazy deals!

Join the Facebook event
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For more info on this outrageous breakfast see the Brixton Buzz article on it