HASL protest in support of Ruben and all Lambeth families living in bad housing

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No more overcrowded housing – we need family council homes now!

Our member Ruben and his family have been living in overcrowded private rented housing for 5 years. Today marks the 5th anniversary of when he first joined the housing register hoping to access secure and spacious council housing in their local community. But 5 years on and they are still waiting for the council home they need and deserve while Lambeth ignore vital medical evidence about his son’s health.

Ruben has submitted medical evidence to the council about his son’s health condition. This evidence shows that the overcrowded living conditions are making his son’s health worse. But Lambeth are ignoring this important evidence. They have also failed to respond to his complaint at the handling of his case.

This morning we visited Lambeth’s new Civic Centre to show our support for Ruben and his family and to demand that the council recognise the medical evidence they have submitted. Many of the families who joined us are also suffering from poor housing conditions and our protest highlighted the need for secure council housing for everyone.

The presence of our large group, big banners and chanting meant that a senior housing officer came to speak with us about Ruben’s case. Ruben spoke very powerfully about the impact of the overcrowding on his son. The housing officer has promised to review their case so we are waiting on their response. We made our message clear:

Lambeth council must accept this vital medical evidence which should see the family placed in band B.

We shared cake marking the 5th anniversary of Ruben’s time on the housing register – as well as HASL’s 5th birthday! We also spoke with lots of interested and supportive passersby.

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We know many other families are facing long and unacceptable waits for the council homes they need. We know that overcrowded and poor quality housing has huge and damaging affects on our lives, our health and our communities.

Shamefully, Lambeth council have only built 17 new council homes in the last 4 years and at the same time they have been trying to knock down a number of council estates. This is a disastrous housing policy in the middle of a severe housing crisis.

Get involved in Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to take action together for the good quality, secure, spacious council homes we all need.

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Southwark must support survivors – house F now

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When F went to Southwark housing office in September 2017 for the second time to ask for a homeless assessment, she was given this instead. Unlawful gatekeeping.

UPDATA 30th ARPIL 2018: Our member F was housed in temporary accommodation by Southwark council. She is very happy in her temporary accommodation because the location is close to her community and she has use of her own bathroom for the first time in almost 2 years. But the council have still not confirmed a full homeless duty for her. They must  give F the peace of mind and security of a full homeless duty where she can then bid for secure council housing. Southwark council must support survivors.

Original post:

Our member F was made homeless by domestic violence. When she visited Southwark housing office for help she was gatekept on two occasions – turned away without any housing assistance. With our help, she was finally able to open a homeless application, but 6 months later the council have failed to give a decision letter or temporary accommodation, leaving her threatened with street homelessness this month.

Southwark council’s treatment of our member, a vulnerable survivor of domestic violence, is unacceptable. F does not have English as a first language, a factor that is often used by housing officers when refusing help and which makes her more vulnerable in general as it harder for her to access basic support services. She suffers from a number of health issues and is experiencing severe stress and anxiety caused by homelessness. The council’s unlawful gatekeeping and delays has meant that she has been forced to live in unsuitable hostel accommodation for the last year and a half. During this time, one hostel she was staying in evicted everyone with days notice and she was forced to move to another.

If the council had acted when she first approached for help in October 2016, she might have been in secure council housing by now, instead, she is fearing street homelessness yet again.

The council must accept a full homeless duty and provide her with suitable temporary accommodation.

The council must also seriously reflect and investigate how F came to be so seriously mistreated in this way over this last year and a half. This gatekeeping and mistreatment has had a devastating impact on F’s life for the last year and a half.

We know that F is not the only person to face gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. Southwark council must take urgent action to end unlawful gatekeeping of vulnerable homeless people and ensure they are treated respectfully so that a situation like this does not occur again.

Lambeth Council: Follow the correct procedures for homeless people in your borough!

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For 5 months one of our members, undergoing a basic homelessness process, has faced terrible treatment from Lambeth council. Since our group started, we’ve supported many of our members in Lambeth with their housing problems. We’ve repeatedly faced Lambeth’s gatekeeping and denial of support to vulnerable people, its many dubious and questionable schemes designed to stop homeless people from securing the legal duties they are entitled to, and its general incompetence.

Many of our members have been wrongly turned away by the council when they present as homeless. Sometimes, through sheer persistence, sometimes with a buddy support them, they may manage to see an official from the Housing Advice and Options team. This official is likely to be from the ‘Preventions’ desk – second line defence staff, not someone who deals with the homeless assessments. Instead of opening a homeless application the council is effectively ”pre-screening” applicants through an unnecessary, intrusive and drawn out process. Many find themselves unable to properly begin the formal homeless application.

We’ve experienced this directly and very recently. Our member, M, went through Housing Advice and Options service last September, where she was inaccurately told that she’d likely be found ‘intentionally homeless’. Once the mountain of required evidence the official needed was submitted, she was then booked in for her homeless assessment interview and completed that on 11th October (after chasing the council to make sure the assessment was being booked). Having eventually secured this important homeless assessment appointment, the council then attempted to deny the application by being really difficult and terrible with corresponding and communicating on the case with the family.

Since the interview, the deadline for Lambeth to reach a final written decision has come and gone (it was due in late November). The family are still waiting to hear from the council, and all attempts to impress the urgency of the situation have been met with obfuscation. We submitted a stage one complaint, which resolved nothing, so have now escalated the matter to a stage two complaint, with further action underway because it is uncertain how successful the internal complaint process will be in this case with this council.

This situation is one experienced by countless people across Lambeth, many of whom we’ve met, many of whom we haven’t. Each of them has been repeatedly failed by a council which seems to show little regard for statutory, or it’s own, responsibilities, which misleads and harms its residents and continues to keep thousands of families trapped in unsuitable and unsafe housing conditions. We are stronger when we fight this together!

Lambeth: give M a full homeless duty and provide her and her family with suitable temporary accommodation in the borough until more long-term decent council housing can be found!

 

Southwark Council don’t evict H and her daughter – accept your duty to them

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H’s baby has lived all her life in this single room in a hostel in Southwark. Now the council want to evict them and force them to Nottingham. Eating, sleeping and living in one single room has caused the family mental and physical ill health.

UPDATE ON THIS CASE:

Our member and her baby fear eviction this week by Southwark council. H and her baby have lived in a single room in a hostel provided by Southwark council for 18 months. For H’s baby, this room has been the only home she has ever known. Having seemingly been forgotten in this hostel, we contacted the council to request suitable housing for the family (this was even more urgent after there was an incident at the hostel where a male resident was threatening towards H and her baby). The council’s response was to say that they would be evicting the family and that they must go to Nottingham where they say she has a ‘local connection’, despite them having lived here for 18 months and having vital community and support networks here.

This treatment of H and her baby cannot go on. The council must contact H and HASL immediately to confirm that she has a homeless duty with Southwark and to provide her with safe and suitable temporary accommodation. H has faced enormous stress and anxiety over the last month on top of the mental and physical ill health her and her baby have suffered in this unsuitable housing. The family need security, peace of mind, and suitable housing immediately.

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HASL members showing our support for our member H

Original post:

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One of our members H, who is a refugee with a one year old daughter, was facing ‘immediate’ eviction by Southwark council from temporary housing. H and her baby have been in Southwark council’s hostel accommodation for 1 year and 5 months.

 

For now, after we emailed and tweeted the council over our concern about the imminent eviction, she has been given 4 more weeks in the temporary accommodation. But instead of forcing her out in 4 weeks time, the council must accept that she has a local connection to Southwark and they must give her suitable temporary accommodation, and allow her to bid for council housing. H and her daughter need peace of mind and security after the incredibly stressful eviction threat and the unacceptable time they have spent in hostel accommodation.

 

When we first met H, she explained to us the terrible effects for her and her baby of living in hostel accommodation for the last 17 months. Her baby didn’t have enough space to learn to walk and H herself struggled with being confined to a single room for eating, sleeping and living. We decided we would contact the council to request that they provide the family with suitable temporary accommodation in a flat.

 

The council replied to our request for an urgent move from the hostel and into suitable temporary accommodation by saying that H did have a homeless duty but that her ‘local connection’ was with Notthingham council.

 

H made a homeless assessment with Southwark council because this is where her home is. Her baby has only ever lived in Southwark.  The family have lived here for the last 1 year and 5 months in hostel accommodation. It is clear that their local connection is Southwark.

 

Instead of evicting the family and forcing them to Nottingham, Southwark council must accept that H has a full homeless duty with them and they must provide her with suitable temporary housing. This must be done as soon as possible so that the family are housed in safe and suitable accommodation and have some security over their future, instead of the fear that they currently feel.

 

The handling of this case by Southwark council has caused H enormous stress. She does not have English as her first language so communicating with her about it is very difficult. The council have not taken this into account, nor the family’s significant welfare needs and vulnerabilities, instead opting for a quick eviction of this vulnerable family. Southwark council must support their vulnerable residents, not shift responsibility by evicting them out of the borough.

 

HASL’s 2017 end of year blog

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It has been another busy and exciting year for our housing group. We’ve seen our group grow (both in numbers and in confidence!) and together we’ve achieved lots of important victories. The commitment and determination our members have shown to the group and to each other has helped the group grow and achieve more together, both on our individual cases and in building a strong network of practical solidarity and action across south London. We had to change our meeting venues as we were too overcrowded in our old meeting rooms. We’ve started an almost-regular kids club for HASL children. We’ve also seen lots of our long-term members move into council housing and we’ve seen how the security, adequate space, and cheaper rents have transformed the lives of these members. We’ve also helped members improve their housing situations by helping them with homeless applications, supporting them to challenge unsuitable temporary accommodation, challenging private landlords over deposits and disrepair and helping to stop a number of evictions.

 

Here are some of our highlights of the year – but these are just a selection of things that we have been up to. We’ve been organising on a pretty much daily basis, providing help and information, support, buddying, food and friendship for each other. We have our 2 meetings each month which have been really busy and where we provide most of our support for each other. We are learning and enforcing our rights together and helping each other. We campaign for more than the rights we currently have as these do not protect us enough – we want good quality, secure, truly affordable homes for everyone and our lives and communities free from poverty. As people dealing with serious housing and poverty problems, organising this practical solidarity is a massive achievement.

 

We know that the housing and poverty crisis we face in London and beyond is huge. But we’ve seen that acting together we can get important wins and fight for our needs and communities. In 2018 we’ll continue to fight for the good quality council homes in our communities that we all desperately need and deserve (and against the government’s plans to introduce fixed-term council tenancies), along with local campaigns such as challenging Southwark council’s use of hostel accommodation and Lambeth council’s confusing homeless ‘assistance’.

 

Thanks to all our members and supporters for all your help over the last year! A big thanks to all the other wonderful groups we’ve had such fun organising with including English for Action and North East London Migrant Action. We’re part of the London Coalition Against Poverty – you can sign up to our irregular email newsletter here for news, events and how to get involved.

 

January

 

A busy and productive meeting in January!

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We also joined the first meeting of migrant and housing groups – organised by North East London Migrant Action – looking at ways to resist the government policy detaining and deporting EEA nationals who are rough sleeping. (more on this below including victory!!)

 

February

 

We visited Lambeth County Court 4 times in February and early March supporting our members facing eviction from private rented housing. Going to court is a really stressful experience – no one should do it alone! There was a big gang of us in Lambeth County Court and it really helped to have so much help and support – although it was still a stressful experience no one should have to go through!

 

We ran a housing rights workshop with Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union at Mayday rooms making links between our two groups and sharing basic housing rights and plans for action.

 

Screening of I, Daniel Blake organised by DIY Space for London followed by a Q&A with us afterwards.

 

March

 

HASL families living in overcrowded housing made a short video to highlight their situations and as part of their ongoing campaign for Southwark council to take urgent action on overcrowding.

 

We helped with Freedom of Information requests to learn more about how the Home Office, local councils and homeless charities were conducting raids on EEA national rough sleepers to detain and deport them. Corporate Watch turned this into a report here. North East London Migrant action have been organising campaigning and resistance to challenge this racist and hateful policy, including the court case in November. This policy was found to be unlawful by the court in December! A brilliant example of grassroots solidarity and campaigning combined with legal action.

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The Brixton Blog covered some of our Lambeth council gatekeeping stories.

 

April

 

We hosted the London Coalition Against Poverty general meeting and wrote about it here. It’s great to meet our sister groups from across London and organise and socialise together. We shared lots of successes, tactics, and made plans and good action points.

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We ran a housing rights workshop with the brilliant English For Action at one of their classes in Lambeth. Their students were really engaged as we discussed the housing rights we have and things that we can do to get more!

 

Our research from Freedom of Information requests looking at how London councils are forcing homeless families out of London was published in the Guardian. You can read our full report here. We wrote up our findings for Novara Media here

 

May

 

We organised a twitter storm and launched a petition in support of our long-term members who were being denied help by Southwark council for their severely overcrowded and unacceptable living conditions. Later on in the year, the families all eventually got the council housing they desperately needed, but they should never have faced such poor treatment from the council.

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With many of our members concerned about what Brexit would mean for them and their families, we contacted Southwark Law Centre who came to deliver a ‘Know Your Rights’ workshop for us.

 

We featured in the Southwark News talking about our experiences of out-of-borough temporary accommodation.

 

We decided to canvas the Labour canvassers who had been leafleting in our Walworth area. We confronted the Labour canvassers demanding their commitment to immediate action on our serious housing cases that we presented them with. Whilst they made empty promises to look into the cases, we also leafleted and held our ‘No More Overcrowding’ banner outside Morrisons and received a very warm response from passersby.

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June

 

Brilliant and very useful blog from EFA London (English for Action) helping us to talk about and understand the Grenfell tragedy and how as people dealing with bad and unsuitable housing, we can organise for the safe, secure homes we all need.

 

We had our first kids homework club in Peckham library. Lots of HASL kids are dealing with really stressful and unsuitable housing, so it’s nice to have a space centred around them and to make our activities more kid friendly!

 

We had some of our research looking at how London councils are forcing homeless families out of the city published in Legal Action magazine.

 

July

 

We helped run a workshop at the Get Organised! day long event for grassroots groups to skill share and build links together.

 

August

 

HASL summer BBQ in Burgess Park.

 

Our member Alvaro and his family spoke about living in overcrowded housing and Southwark council’s disgusting treatment of them for Channel 4 news – we were very proud of them! We wrote about their case and four other families also in overcrowded housing for Verso’s blog here.

 

September

 

Homemade cheesecake and lasagne at our kids club!

 

October

 

We helped run a packed workshop on organising practical solidarity at the London Anarchist Bookfair with our friends Haringey Housing Action Group, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and Brighton Solfed. We also had a very stylish stall with lots of housing rights leaflets as well as screen printed t-shirts and tote bags.

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November

 

We joined the brilliant United Voices of the World the union at their monthly meeting to talk about housing rights and how we fight for the secure, quality council homes we all need.

The UVW members were so welcoming and engaged with the workshop – it was so much fun to join them. We can’t wait to work together more as there is so much overlap between the issues we are dealing with and our organising tactics!

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We supported an important court case challenging the racist Home Office policy of detaining and deporting EEA nationals who were rough sleeping. This court case was organised by our friends North East London Migrant Action who have been campaigning and resisting this hateful policy.

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We helped with an in-depth interview about our organising here for Shine A Light.

 

December

 

Southwark council threatened to evict one of our members and force her to Nottingham where they say she has a ‘local connection’. We helped to guarantee her an extra month in her temporary accommodation, but we want the council to accept a full homeless duty to our member and house her in suitable temporary accommodation. We’ll be supporting our member to challenge the council’s appalling treatment of her.

 

Our busy last meeting of the year with cake that one of our members made for us!
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HASL cake

Lambeth Council’s Cycle of Homelessness – Challenging the Temp 2 Settle scheme

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Lambeth council have been making it harder for homeless families (and Smurfs) to get the quality, secure council homes they need and deserve

Are you homeless or facing homelessness in Lambeth? Are you making a homeless application with Lambeth council?

When you visited the housing office to make a homeless application, did the housing officer invite you to instead join the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?

In our group, many of our members have tried to make a homeless application but instead been offered the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme. We are concerned about the confusion and stress this is causing for homeless families and how the scheme is being used to avoid certain protections that homeless families have when they make a homeless application

We always recommend that people have a buddy when visiting the housing office and with this confusing scheme, it is even more important for people to know their rights and have support through this process. It is also vital that we campaign together for better treatment, real housing help (instead of schemes like this) and for council housing for everyone.

What is the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?

Temp 2 Settled is a scheme started in November 2014 by Lambeth Council which is being used to end or prevent a homeless assessment and therefore reduce the number of homeless duties on their records. This is done by offering people a 6 month private sector tenancy when you end your homeless assessment.  The sweetener that is offered is that it will improve your chances of council housing by being placed into band B (rather than band C where households with a homeless duty are usually placed). It is mainly aimed at homeless families as they are more likely to be given a homeless duty.

The effect of this scheme can be seen by comparing Lambeth’s homeless assessment decisions with that of the similar and neighbouring Southwark council. Before the scheme was introduced in November 2014 both Lambeth and Southwark made about 900-1,000 homeless decisions each year. Since then Southwark’s homeless decisions have soared to over 2,000 a year and Lambeth’s have dropped to almost 750. Hundreds of homeless applications will have been stopped with the use of the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme, or will have been discouraged from ever being started, because homeless families have been promised that they have a better chance of getting council housing by doing this instead of doing a homeless application.

Will the Temp 2 Settled scheme help me get council housing quicker?

Not for most homeless families. Although it depends on your specific circumstances. If you are not already on the housing waiting list then you will only join the list when you go through the Temp 2 Settled scheme and you will be put in band B. If you are given a private rented sector tenancy outside the borough of Lambeth, as over half are, then you will only stay on Lambeth’s housing waiting list for 2 years (because you are now living in a different London borough so after the 2 years are up you are no longer allowed to remain on Lambeth’s housing register). This means you will have very little chance of getting council housing before being removed from the waiting list. Last year only 2% of 2 bedroom social housing lettings were made to people who had been in Band B for less than 2 years. It was higher at 22% for people waiting for a 3 bedroom home.

If you have a homeless duty with the council then you will be housed in temporary housing and will be in Band C on the housing register. As Lambeth council explain in the Temp 2 Settled letter, in band C you may never be able to bid successfully for council housing. However in their Temp 2 Settled letter the council forget to tell you that if you choose the Temp 2 Settled route, and you are new to the waiting list, your chances of successfully bidding for council housing are very little too and you will likely have been forced out of your home borough of Lambeth.

Is the housing any better on the Temp 2 Settled scheme? (for example, is the Temp 2 Settled scheme housing better than the temporary accommodation you get when you apply for a homeless duty?)

The Temp 2 Settled scheme is mainly for homeless families. There are already legal protections for homeless families with a homeless duty for example, families can only be housed in bed and breakfast or other hostel-style accommodation for a maximum of 6 weeks by law. After this, you will likely be found self-contained private sector accommodation. This is likely to be similar to the private accommodation you are offered under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.

However we have found over the last year that Lambeth are more likely to house people somewhere in Lambeth through the Temp 2 Settled scheme (42% of placements) than through temporary housing (27% of placements).

This seems like the only clear advantage to the Temp 2 Settled scheme but why are Lambeth appearing to keep private tenancies within the borough for the Temp 2 Settled scheme? Why should someone be punished by being moved out of the area for wanting to keep the protection of a homeless duty? It is deeply worrying that Lambeth appear to be reserving in-borough housing for the Temp 2 Settled scheme and are disadvantaging those who take a homeless duty with the council.

With the Temp 2 Settled scheme, you are able to view the accommodation before accepting it, so if it is not in Lambeth you could still refuse it and continue your homeless assessment.

Why is the Temp 2 Settled scheme bad?

  • It causes unnecessary stress and confusion for homeless families at a time when they are already dealing with enough stress from homelessness.

 

  • It divides Lambeth’s homeless families between band B and band C on the housing waiting list – this is blatantly unfair to give some homeless families more priority than others when they have the same high level of housing need. Another inequality is that those on the Temp 2 Settled scheme appear to have a higher chance of being housed in Lambeth compared to those who get a homeless duty. This scheme increases housing inequality amongst some of the most vulnerably housed/homeless people.

 

  •         By accepting a place on the scheme you lose your homeless duty with Lambeth Council. This means that when the private tenancy comes to an end Lambeth will have no ongoing duty towards you. You will have to start a new homeless application. You also give up other protections/rights that you have when you make a homeless duty, for example, the ability to review the suitability of the accommodation.

 

  •         Because the scheme is ‘voluntary’ it has no legal protections. If Lambeth had done these private sector offers through the channel they are meant to for homeless people then you would have an automatic homeless duty for the next 2 years and your private tenancy would be for a year minimum. You also would be able to challenge unsuitable offers within 21 days. None of these protections exist under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.

 

  •         As mentioned before, if you are placed outside of Lambeth on the scheme you will be removed from the housing waiting list after 2 years. If you have a homeless duty with the council and are housed outside the borough in temporary housing, Lambeth are legally required to keep you on the waiting list, even if it is low down on it.

 

  • It helps Lambeth council hide the true number of homeless families in the borough because they are not recorded as statutory homeless duties.

 

What should we do about it?

The Temp 2 Settle scheme is clearly not in the interests of Lambeth’s homeless families as the many problems with it listed above show. We are campaigning to end the Temp 2 Settle scheme and return to the previous, fairer method where homeless families are provided with temporary accommodation, band B priority on the housing waiting list and can remain in temporary accommodation if they wish until they successfully bid for council housing. This is how Southwark council’s housing allocations policy and housing register works and it is fairly straightforward and easy for homeless families to understand.

We should not be forced to give up protections against further homelessness for a slim chance at getting council housing quicker. We shouldn’t be forced to gamble for secure, truly affordable council housing we all need.

Recent migrants (and others who do not already have housing register accounts and so have not accumulated time on the housing waiting list) should not be discriminated against and disadvantaged in getting council housing because they cannot get on the waiting list before becoming homeless. (If someone who was not previously on the housing register goes down the Temp 2 Settle route and are housed outside of the borough, then it is very unlikely that they will get council housing in the next 2 years, so when these 2 years are up, they will be removed from the list. If someone had been on Lambeth’s housing waiting list 2 years before becoming homeless and going down the Temp 2 Settle route and being housed out of borough, then they stand a better chance of successfully bidding for council housing before the 2 years are up.)

The lack of council housing should not be used to justify pushing homeless people out of Lambeth and ending all responsibility for them. The council should be building more council homes and should stop destroying and selling off what we already have.

Get involved in HASL to help us stop this scheme and help people access the homelessness support they need and deserve.

Case study

One of our members and her child were made homeless after their private landlord evicted them in order to get new tenants who would pay higher rent. She visited Lambeth council’s housing office to make a homeless application. Instead of a homeless assessment being opened as she had originally requested, The Temp 2 Settled route was offered to her. After a great deal of stress about what she should do, she decided that she wanted to take this route because the incentive of being in band B was important to her. She accepted a 6 month private tenancy in Southwark (and the landlord received a payment from Lambeth council for accepting her as a tenant). However, after 6 months, her landlord contacted her saying that he was going to evict her, because he wanted another payment from the council. She was absolutely distraught at facing homelessness again and after such a short period of time. Fortunately, it seems like an idle threat from the landlord, as he has not yet given her a section 21 (which he needs to do if he does want to evict her). However, if he were to go through with evicting her, she would have to visit Lambeth’s housing office yet again to make a homeless application. Again, she might be offered Temp 2 Settle and the cycle of homelessness would continue.

Whose priority, Southwark council?

One of our HASL families has finally secured the priority they are entitled to under Southwark council’s housing allocations policy (well, mostly!)

Earlier this year, a family with two dependent children came to a HASL meeting to talk about the state of the private rented accommodation they’ve been forced to live in off the Old Kent Road – an area notorious for overcrowded housing and Houses of Multiple Occupation. The family have been in band 3 with no priority on the housing waiting list for years and were stuck not quite knowing how best to progress their case with the council and how they could better their living conditions.

In June, the family submitted an online ‘change of circumstance’ form on the council’s website in order to apply for higher priority on the council waiting list for social housing, in line with the council’s housing allocations policy – the full policy which can be found here.  *N.b. – judging from the council’s cabinet meeting documentation on their website, it looks like the council is currently consulting on its policy with cabinet decisions due in summer 2018. Our worry is that people who find themselves struggling with homelessness (for any reason, such as being overcrowded, in unsafe accommodation, fleeing domestic violence, being evicted with nowhere else to go etc) will be de-prioritised.

As part of a policy many local government institutions are following, doing things online was supposed to make things easy and quicker, but this turned out not to be the case because it doesn’t change the practice of gatekeeping councils use to deny support to marginalised groups of people.

After submitting another ‘change of circumstance form’ in August and visiting the council to provide further supporting evidence, the council still didn’t respond to discuss the family’s needs or the ‘priority stars’. (Although all council housing allocations schemes must provide  ‘reasonable preference’ for people falling into certain categories set out in the Housing Act 1996 e.g. homeless people, people who need to move on welfare grounds, not every council operates a ‘priority star system’ – Southwark does, but Lambeth doesn’t, for example.)

Over the next three months of having no support from the council, we decided to go directly to senior housing staff who we’ve encountered before in previous cases and actions in an effort to move things along. After several back and forths, the council were initially only happy to award a priority star to the family for being a ‘working household’ – itself a very questionable reinforcement of the ‘work ethic’ we hear politicians emphasis: ‘work for your benefits’, ‘work to be awarded better’, which simply punishes and disciplines already vulnerable people. The working household star applied to the family because they ‘met the criteria’ i.e. worked over 16 hours/week for at least 9 of the last 12 months and were over 18 years of age.

The family also qualified for the ‘community contribution star’ as well as having higher priority based on medical and welfare needs, and overcrowding, but the council initially refused to budge and kept delaying the awards by continuing to request information that had been submitted in person and online many times previously. Despite this we kept pushing, knowing that the council hopes people will just give up or disappear even though they could well be eligible, according to the policy’s own terms, to priority because of their needs and current housing situation.

One tactic which has helped move councils into action and stop them mucking around with excuses has been to submit formal complaints. We submitted two during October and November on how the council was treating the family and denying them the priority status they qualified for, and this seemed to help nudge the decisions in the right way – the family were later told that the council had moved them into band 2, with two priority star awards! This means that the family will have significantly better chance of bidding on suitable long-term social housing and that the process to get this should be quicker, which is great news for our members!

However, something Southwark remains very resistant on is the issue of overcrowding. In their housing allocations scheme, band 1 is given to people who are ‘statutorily overcrowded’ (defined by part X of the Housing Act 1985) and have not caused this statutory overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act.’ For anyone that follows us knows, many of our members spent and continue to spend, time challenging Southwark’s erroneous decisions on overcrowded households, but we’ve had a good deal of success as a group taking collective action on this issue.

And this family’s case is no different. After a senior housing officer was asked to properly assess the accommodations, he stated that the family were not statutorily overcrowded. This was the same response to the overcrowding point in our first complaint to the council. The line the council are taking is clearly wrong – the family is a couple with two children sleeping in a one-bedroom flat, with a small separate washroom/toilet and the rest comprising a small open plan kitchen.

The council says that the two children (one 16 years old and the youngest 4 years old) can sleep in the bedroom or in the kitchen, as it counts as a ‘living room’, but this honestly cannot be the case! Asking the parents or the children to sleep in the kitchen, seriously? The family have quite rightly stressed that this is not good for anyone, so they all sleep in the small bedroom, which is also very unsuitable. This living arrangement is having a huge effect on the family and their health and ability to function at school and work – it’s stressful, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

A review and second stage complaint has been submitted in an attempt to put pressure on the council and resolve this issue so that the family get the increased priority they should have in band 1, or at the very least a further priority star.

So, good news, but also some more action left to do, but hopefully the status the family has now will help them into better, secure and long-term housing, a lot sooner!

To help support each other, listen to our experiences, share knowledge and take action together, join your local grass roots direct action housing group – run collectively by the people affected!