Too Long in Temporary! Janeth’s family

 

Watch the short video we made with Janeth where she speaks about the difficulties of living Too Long in Temporary and the impacts on her family’s health.

In July this year, it marked the 6th year Janeth and her family have been living in temporary accommodation. Originally from Lambeth, the family have been housed in 5 different temporary accommodations across London. Lambeth council place homeless families in band C at the bottom of the housing waiting list meaning that Lambeth’s homeless households may never get the permanent, safe, secure council homes they need. We are supporting Janeth’s case and all homeless households who have spent Too Long in Temporary.

Janeth’s oldest child, aged 9, has spent over half his life living in temporary accommodation. Her other 3 children have spent all their lives living in temporary accommodation. The temporary accommodations have often been very poor quality – they have lived in a hostel, a severely overcrowded flat, and many of the properties have had infestations and damp and mould issues. The poor quality housing and constant moving has seriously affected the family’s health with the children developing coughs, asthma, skin rashes, and anxiety. They have suffered these health conditions for many years. Her oldest son is constantly worried that he will have to move home again and change schools. Homeless households and others suffering from bad living conditions are also at higher risk of catching and being worse affected by Covid 19, a Lancet article highlights the particular vulnerabilities of young children in temporary accommodation.

The family have submitted strong and detailed medical evidence to Lambeth council about the impact of their housing conditions on their health. The children’s school has stated that the housing situation is negatively impacting the children’s health and their future educational outcomes. Their GP called for an urgent move. Yet, despite this evidence, Lambeth council have refused to award the family band B on the housing register for an urgent medical move. The family received a very short and vague decision letter in July this year which failed to properly engage with the evidence submitted. Camden Community Law Centre are helping the family to review the decision and the family have now been waiting over a month for a response.

We are calling on Lambeth council to award the family band B based on the serious health issues they continue to suffer in temporary accommodation so that they can move into the permanent council housing they desperately need. As well as supporting homeless families who have an urgent medical need to move to permanent council housing, Lambeth council must also urgently change their housing allocations policy so that homeless households are not stuck at the bottom of the housing register with no hope of council housing.

We know there is a desperate shortage of high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes in our communities. We campaign together for high quality, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we need!

Stop blaming families for overcrowding! Community campaigners launch open letter to Southwark council

Read our open letter supported by 30 community groups to Southwark council on the treatment of overcrowded families here Thank you to all the groups who have signed and supported our letter and campaign.

Press release:

Over 30 groups and individuals including grassroots housing and migrant support groups, anti-gentrification campaigns, legal aid law firms, unions, health workers and a local church have written to Southwark council concerning its treatment of severely overcrowded families.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and Public Interest Law Centre drafted the letter to Southwark council after supporting a number of severely overcrowded families who were being blamed and penalised by the council for ‘deliberately’ causing their overcrowding. In some cases, Southwark council demoted families to band 4 at the very bottom of the housing register where they would never be able to access the permanent council housing they desperately need.

These decisions continued during the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic when the heightened vulnerabilities of those living in overcrowded housing were clear.

The letter highlights how the council’s policies on overcrowding are not properly or fairly defined with vague concepts such as ‘deliberate act’ and ‘deliberate worsening of circumstances’. This has led to a ‘culture of refusal’ that seems to have been adopted by housing officers towards some of the borough’s most severely overcrowded and vulnerable residents.

While overcrowded housing is caused by high rents, benefit cuts, discrimination in the private rented sector, and a shortage of family-sized council homes, the council has been using their policies to place the blame on individual families who had no other options but to rent overcrowded housing. In one case, the council deemed statutory overcrowding a ‘deliberate act’ when a father returned to his home after being unlawfully deported by the Home Office.

The letter highlights how the council’s policies and practices on overcrowding penalise households from low-income and BAME and migrant backgrounds who simply cannot afford or access less overcrowded housing and face additional barriers, reinforced by the government’s racist Right to Rent policy.

The groups and campaigners call on the council to end the use of ‘deliberate act’ so that overcrowded families are supported rather than penalised and in order to stop the culture of blame and refusal which it fuels. Other steps to ensure that severely overcrowded families are awarded the correct priority on the housing register are also requested.

Helen Mowatt from PILC says:

‘In this letter we highlight the Council’s failure to apply its housing allocations scheme and support overcrowded families, in a fair, open and transparent manner. We have now supported several families who have felt the harmful effects of the council’s policy and practice on overcrowding. We have found that cases with similar facts are being treated very differently under the scheme by council officers. This inconsistent approach to decision making supports our feeling that a culture of blame and refusal has developed, where some officers are unfairly reducing the priority of families, which encourages others to follow suit. These decisions are only overturned when either HASL or a lawyer intervenes – which is worrying as many families are unaware of their rights under the scheme, the existence of community groups like HASL, or their right to legal representation.  Something must be done to ensure that the council’s policy on overcrowding is both fair and clear, that officers are correctly applying it, and that families facing hardship are properly supported moving forward.’

Elizabeth Wyatt from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth says:

‘The decisions we have seen blaming families for overcrowding are offensive, harmful and deeply distressing. It has only been through the extraordinary efforts of the families themselves in challenging the council’s decisions that has seen many of them be overturned. In some cases, this has taken years. But these decisions should never have been made in the first place. The council must immediately stop these policies and practices which punish overcrowded families and direct its time and resources to the real causes of the housing crisis – high private rents, benefit cuts and a shortage of family sized council homes. Even before Covid 19, overcrowded housing was a public health crisis. The Covid 19 pandemic saw these families trapped in cramped, unbearable living conditions during the lockdown and at higher risk of catching and spreading the virus and of becoming seriously ill. The need for high quality, safe, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes has never been more urgent.’

A 17 year old living in a studio flat with her brother and parents says:

‘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. 

I feel really bad because it is like the treatment of [by the council] 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.’

HASL member’s section 21 and the end of the eviction ban

 

A mother and her young daughter were served with their 3rd section 21 in April during lockdown. The Covid 19 pandemic actually gave her a feeling of ‘temporary relief’ because she knew that the eviction ban in place they had more time in their home. Our HASL member has good form in taking on section 21s but having been homeless before, being repeatedly threatened with homelessness is taking it’s toll. To make things worse, the home they are fighting to stay in has had serious disrepair and is overcrowded – but as she points out, it’s still better than other private rented homes or going through the homeless process again.

Originally from Lambeth, our HASL member and her young daughter became homeless in December 2017 and approached Lambeth council to make a homeless application. Lambeth council found the family a 1 bedroom private flat in Croydon where they are still living. The offer of this private flat came under Lambeth council’s misleading ‘homeless prevention’ scheme ‘Temp to Settle’ – which our member took on and also successfully challenged!

Housing homeless families in private rented housing does not prevent homelessness as she experienced when her landlord served the first section 21. Over the last 2 and a half years, she has faced so many battles to make her home livable, to remain in her home, and to keep her rights to stay on Lambeth’s housing register. She explains how being part of HASL has helped her to get through all this. For her, secure social housing feels so far away that it would be like winning the lottery.

Our member describes her experiences including being served with a section 21 during lockdown and her feelings about the eviction ban ending.

 

Moving in – disrepair creating an environmental health hazard

When I viewed the property in December 2017, it was like a show room – what I didn’t realise is that all the white walls were painted in anti-mould paint. After 3 weeks of being there in winter time, mould started to come through very quickly and the worst places in the kitchen and the bathroom. So I spoke with the estate agent and he was really rude to me and he said, “we’ve rented this property out for 10 years and we’ve never had any complaints about the damp and mould, you’ve caused this and you need to pay for it”. It was a battle. And I said “how dare you, even if I washed and dried the whole street’s washing in this property, the amount of mould that has appeared so quickly could not have been accumulated from me”. The day I was moving in, the previous tenant warned me against renting the property, he said it’s not healthy and had given him asthma. 3 weeks later, I knew exactly what I he was talking about. I went straight to environmental health, they had a look around and served them a notice and said to the landlord you have a certain amount of time to do the work. So the landlord ended up paying £4,500 putting in insulation boards. When environmental health came to check the work, he noticed I didn’t have a smoke alarm or Co2 alarm and the landlord was directed to deal with this. Lambeth council gave the all clear for this property knowing there was not a smoke alarm or Co2 alarm. They don’t care. The work is basically putting a plaster on it because structural problems still remain.

Now the winter is coming again, it’s going to start getting damp, and I hope it doesn’t affect my daughter. She caught a cold and virus she was in hospital for 3 days on a nebuliser. She might be asthmatic but the doctors cannot test this until she is 5 years old.

I thought I was safe here and I never thought I would be asked to leave without a good reason. The quality of the property was poor and I was left feeling unhappy realising that the housing system just didn’t care how they treated us.

 

Section 21s

 

In April 2019 I got my first section 21 and it worried me and I knew what was to come after attending your meetings. It was a very stressful and worrying time for me as I did not know what would happen if I lost at court. Fortunately, I won that case but I knew it would be a matter of time before I was served another and I was on 9th December 2019. Then I was served another section 21 on 24th April. This was served at the beginning of the pandemic – I was slightly relieved because everything was put on hold and I knew it gave me a bit more time. But it was always at the back of my mind as I knew things eventually would start up again.

 

When I received the notice, my heart dropped, I was deflated, I thought “here we go again”. It is a horrible and scary feeling not being in control especially having a 3 year old daughter and not knowing what will happen to our future.

 

I was housed here and set my roots here in Croydon and I knew my daughter would need to go to nursery and I would need to make these important decisions, but these were made highly stressful for me not knowing what my future would hold.

 

This all happened at a hard time for me, although the pandemic gave me a feeling of temporary relief I knew it was not forever. Although I wanted the pandemic to end so we could all move on and go back to normal there was a part of me that was happy that it was affecting the housing situation, if that makes sense.

 

The end of the eviction ban

 

I feel very anxious and nervous about the eviction ban ending, it means that my hell will reopen again putting me in a helpless and worrying situation that I have no control over. It means this journey I do not want to be on will start up again causing me a lot of worry and stress especially as my daughter starts nursery in September, it’s making me depressed. I’m stuck just waiting, laying low, I’m waiting for my name and number to be called basically when my hell will be reopened, until then, I’m just here.

 

When my name is called, I’ll just have to handle it head on. I wouldn’t be sounding so confident and ready if it wasn’t for knowing that you guys will be there to help and support me along the way.

 

End section 21

 

I think the rules on section 21 being served without any good reason should be stopped – it’s not fair that landlords can serve these without a valid explanation which causes so much disruption to families being served them. This is allowing the councils and landlords to participate in a business rather than a service. [In HASL, we have come across a number of times where private landords who rent to homeless families through the council, threaten eviction in order to get another ‘incentive payment’ from the council]. The landlords can accept more tenants from the council and get another incentive which they keep and then the landlords can just get rid of the next family and do the same again. So it’s basically a business rather than a service. Until we stop section 21s, this won’t change. I believe that it should be compulsory that a valid reason should be given until you can serve one, because until then none of us have any security and until this changes, the housing pandemic will never end, it is a vicious cycle and has no sense in trying to help people like myself who go to the council for support.

 

It’s ridiculous how section 21s can be served. It’s not right at all. You can’t sack someone without an explanation because if you’re unfairly sacked you can go to a tribunal.

 

Trying to be settled

I’ve settled here, it’s not fair on my daughter, they think it has no effect, my daughter is young and I don’t know what effect this could have on her, we’re sowing our roots. I want to stay here because I’m settled, I’m starting a life here now, and my daughter is at a crucial educational start of her life and I’m doing the best I can. It’s not easy to up and go and start again. I’ve made the best out of a worst situation and you can’t expect people to just up and move. We need that security so that we can make future plans.

 

Solutions

 

There is not enough council houses and they’re not making any more and it goes back to money – its renting, renting, renting. Myatts field estate which is now called the Oval Quarter, the whole estate was council and now 5% is council and the rest is private rented. And it is about £2,500 a month.  And they’re like caravans, you can hear your neighbours, the quality of the places are poor. They just want to rush and take everyone’s money, they pop them up like it’s a ping up tent, it’s greed. If you want to resolve the situation and you’re going to get people social housing, you need to make social housing, because everything goes up except for the wages so how do you expect us to survive.

 

Social housing

It would be like I’ve won the jackpot, it would be such a weight off and load off my mind. For my daughter not needing to worry. I do not know what the future holds. The rug could be pulled from my feet and I have to pack and go. To have that security it should be a basic necessity, but unfortunately we are being denied this, it would be a dream come true, I can’t explain. It’s so far away from it that it doesn’t even cross my mind. When that day comes, I’ll be so happy. But I’d also feel sad knowing there are people that are going through hell and I’ve had the opportunity. I never even thought about it, I’ve never thought about it that far down.

 

Joining a housing action group

If it wasn’t for me attending your meetings, I wouldn’t be where I am today because I definitely guarantee, I would have gone down the wrong avenue and I would have shot myself in the foot. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the support that you give for us to take action to tackle what they chuck at us, we are only able to do that with your support and knowledge and your determination because I tell you from now I’m not stupid, but I never would have thought to have done what you guys have, you’ve held my hand and taken me along and where I am today with my head still above water, I would drowned if it was not for you lot.

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

 

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