HASL’s 2016

The winter holidays are always a nice time of the year to look back at what we’ve been up to and what we’ve achieved together. Of course, whilst it’s important to celebrate our wins, sometimes there is not always a quick and easy solution to our housing problems, or to the wider and growing housing crisis we face. Direct action and practical solidarity don’t always succeed the first time (or the second or third!), so some of our members are still struggling for justice and the good housing they need. Each day, the housing crisis in London feels like it’s intensifying. But we know that we’re stronger by being part of the group and supporting each other. We’ll use this time to get some rest and come back with more energy in 2017 – we hope you’ll join us!

These wins and activities only happened with the collective efforts of our members and supporters. Organising together and supporting each other, we’ve seen directly how we can fight and get better housing and challenge the policies, politicians and practices that try to deny us the quality, secure, homes we all need. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in HASL and helped us grow!

As well as strong support from members and supporters of HASL, throughout the year we have built links and worked in solidarity with other groups across London. Thanks so much to our mates and sister groups – the London Coalition Against Poverty, English for Action, North East London Migrant Action, Espacio Mama, Queen Mob Collective, Anti-Raids Network, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, South East London Sisters Uncut and more.

January

Hundreds of HASL members and supporters supported a local squatted school (which had been unused for a number of years) in Camberwell emailing the headmaster and asking why he was making people homeless from the disused building. The headmaster was certainly taken about by the strong local response challenging homelessness and evictions, although on this occasion it was not enough to prevent the eviction.

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February

Action A mass visit to Lambeth council’s housing office to hold them to account over gatekeeping and poor treatment of our member Mary Luz. Mary Luz and her family would have been in secure council housing by now if the council hadn’t mistreated and gatekept her.

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Skillshare/workshop In February, HASL, English for Action and Haringey Housing Action Group joined the newly formed North East London Migrant Action to run a workshop looking at section 17 migrant housing and buddy training. The training day was really well attended and we learnt so much together about the legal side of section 17 housing and how to buddy each other to challenge the aggressive gatekeeping we face when trying to access housing help. It was really useful to skill share buddying tactics and problems and it’s great to see NELMA’s project developing to provide practical support for migrants at section 17 assessments. We’ll share our resources and notes soon.

March

Action With our friends London Coalition Against Poverty, we joined the National March Against the Housing Bill

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Lunch club in Brixton with crepe making

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April

Action We organise an even bigger and louder action in support of Mary Luz outside Olive Morris House. We try to deliver a cardboard house to the Leader of Lambeth council but we’re pushed out by security. Lambeth make a concession by increasing Mary Luz’s banding on the housing waiting list to band B but the council have still not apologised for the appalling treatment and gatekeeping Mary Luz was subjected to.

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Lunch club We celebrate our 3rd birthday with lots of our sister groups and delicious food and cake.

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May

Win! Together with South East London Sisters Uncut, we organised a twitter storm in support of our member – a domestic violence survivor – who was facing eviction from temporary housing provided by Southwark council. Hundred of tweets in support forced councillor for housing Richard Livingstone to tweet a public apology and a full homeless duty was accepted. Politics.co.uk covered the case here.

Win! A private tenant and HASL member, with the help of a good housing lawyer, takes his landlord to court and successfully defeats the possession order!

Skillshare/workshop We’ve been running a number of housing rights workshops with English for Action classes in south London combining ESOL teaching with discussing the housing crisis and housing rights and action.

Lunch club Hanging out with our sister group Haringey Housing Action Group at their summer picnic. The weather was a bit chilly but HHAG members prepared a feast!

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June

Solidarity/support Espacio Mama (a local mums group based in Camberwell) joined our regular meeting at Papa’s cafe making it our biggest ever meeting. We couldn’t all fit in the room!

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Win! English for Action support one of their students who is living in dangerous and unsuitable temporary accommodation provided by Southwark council. EFA students wrote letters to Southwark council leader Peter John and sent tweets about the situation. These actions forced the council to act and they provided Kenza with suitable temporary accommodation.

Campaigning We launched our ‘pledge to end gatekeeping’ – targeted at Southwark council, but also relevant to all London local authorities. We invite local community groups and other anti-poverty campaigns to sign it to show their support.

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July

Skillshare/workshop We ran a housing rights workshop at South East London Sisters Uncut occupied space in Peckham. We discussed housing rights and homelessness particularly in relation to survivors of domestic violence.

Lunch club Summer picnic in Burgess park

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August

Win! Despite it being summer holidays, we had a busy meeting at Papa’s cafe where we celebrated one of our members whose family had just moved in to their new council home which they got with the support of HASL!

Action A number of our members joined hundreds of people outside Byron Burgers to protest their role in working with the Home Office to deport Byron staff. Lots of our members are migrants and we believe everyone has the right to live in our communities free from the threat of detention and deportation.

September

HASL meet with senior Southwark housing staff. We were really proud of all our badass HASL members who met with a number of Southwark senior housing officers to talk about the many issues we face accessing housing assistance. Our group was mostly women, many of whom don’t have English as a first language, confronting the four male Southwark staff. Our 18 year old member spoke about how his severely overcrowded housing affects his ability to study and lead an ordinary life of a teenager. Our member who has faced 33 years of domestic abuse was really brave and spoke about her situation of Southwark refusing her a homeless duty.

We emailed Lambeth councillor for housing Matthew Bennett about some of the serious gatekeeping and mistreatment of homeless people at the housing office, and requested that he meet us to resolve these issues. We’re still waiting for him to reply to our email…

October

Support / solidarity Our friends who were involved in resisting an immigration raid in East Street in June 2015 were on trial this month for ‘violent disorder’ for their actions after a violent police charge. We wrote a blog in support and attended the court over the four week trial.  Two people were found not guilty but a third had a hung jury with a re-trial expected in April 2017.

Skillshare/workshop Our friends Queen Mob Collective ran a print workshop with our group teaching us how to screen print and lino cut awesome housing graphics at DIY Space for London.

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Action Halloween action at Southwark town hall demanding no more house of horrors

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Blogs Our member, a survivor of domestic violence who is homeless (living in a refuge counts you as homeless as this is not ‘settled accommodation’) writes about the difficulties she has faced trying to access the secure, council housing she needs.

November

Our members joined South East London Sisters Uncut for their meeting with Southwark council to makes demands on the treatment of domestic violence survivors trying to access housing help. One of our members, who is a survivor of domestic violence, bravely explained the shameful situation the council had left her in and demanded that the council take action to resolve it.

Skillshare/workshop HASL members participated in a workshop organised by the Solidarity Federation discussing direct action.

December

Win! Southwark council accept a full homeless duty to our member. It took 7 months of determination and effort for this win with the support of our group. It should never have taken 7 months for Southwark to provide this most basic support for our member. The last 7 months have been incredibly stressful and hard for her as she faced negative decisions from the council whilst her refuge served her notice. But together, public pressure made Southwark reverse their original decision that she was not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty. We’re some way away from the secure social housing she needs, and there are constantly new policies to make it even harder for us to access. But it’s important to celebrate this win.

Her lawyer emailed her to congratulate her on winning her case – here he recognised the incredible effort that our member and her supporters went to to achieve this decision!

Media Some of our member talked with Dissident Island radio show about organising in HASL. 

Action 5 HASL families who are living in severely overcrowded housing, confront councillors about their cases in the cabinet meeting. Southwark council are failing to follow their own housing allocations policy and give these families the priority for social housing that they need and are entitled to.

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Lunch club Our end of year celebration described by young HASL members as ‘the best party ever’!

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From the 35% Campaign: Southwark’s lost section 106 social housing

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Last week, great research conducted by 35% campaign revealed how Southwark council have failed to make sure that developers stick to their promises and provide the agreed amount of social housing in new developments.

In Southwark, there are around 25,000 people on the housing waiting list – many who are homeless or in poor quality accommodation and are desperately in need of secure, quality council homes (these statistics are from 2012, since this year, local councils have been desperately trying to cut their waiting lists so that demand for social housing looks less).

When we visited Southwark council last week in support of 5 HASL families who live in severely overcrowded private rented housing – the council made excuses that they don’t have enough council housing. Instead of making excuses, the council must treat homeless households and others in housing need with more respect by actually making sure developers deliver the social housing that we desperately need.

We’re not at all surprised that Southwark council haven’t bothered to look after social housing for their residents (just look at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates!) – we have experienced first hand their disrespect for homeless households and others in housing need. But we will hold them to account for their actions and fight together for the quality homes we all need and deserve!

Cross posted from 35% campaign

Southwark’s lost section 106 social housing

Ombudsman finds Council doesn’t know how much social housing it’s getting from developers

Posted on December 12, 2016

The Local Government Ombudsman has issued the damning judgement that Southwark Council has no procedure to ensure that social rented housing approved by the Council’s planning committee is actually being delivered. The Ombudsman further found that without a monitoring procedure ‘it is hard to know ..how many social housing units…developers [have] delivered’. Or indeed, how many remain social housing units.’

The Ombudsman’s decision came after the 35% Campaign referred its complaint that planning consents were being breached, listing 43 developments where we thought the social rented housing may not have been delivered as required.

In her decision notice, the Ombudsman said:

“In response to my enquiries the Council says it is taking legal action in response to several of the breaches identified by Mr X. It also accepts it did not have a systematic supervision procedure to check compliance. It relied on developers’ voluntary compliance.” (para. 12)

She concludes that ‘the Council accepts that fault’ and has agreed to roll out ‘a borough-wide annual audit to ensure compliance’, nonetheless noting that ‘until that audit is complete it is hard to know how many social housing units all section 106 agreements called for and how many developers delivered. Or indeed, how many remain social housing units.’ (para 20)

Despite the Ombudsman’s decision and Southwark’s own admission that it had no monitoring procedure in place, no further action is proposed in any of the other instances submitted – aside from the two cases subject to legal action (the Jam Factory and Signal Tower). This leaves unresolved issues about the levels of rent being charged for purportedly social rented properties.

Background

Our complaint was prompted after we discovered that the Richard Rogers Neo Banksidedevelopment had provided 32 social rented homes fewer than the number agreed at planning committee.

Following this we discovered that 44 social rented units had been lost from the Bermondsey Spa regeneration and had instead been switched to affordable rent, at 62% market rent, by housing provider Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT).

Local news coverage of the story: 21/05/15; 01/10/15; 11/02/16

The lost Bermondsey Spa homes were raised at the Aylesbury estate CPO inquiry in May 2015. The Council assured the inquiry that it had robust procedures in place and that it monitored compliance of S106 affordable housing provision every 12-18 months. This was evidently not true, but was asserted to show that NHHT could be trusted to deliver social rented housing in the Aylesbury regeneration.

Inquiry document 27 – evidence submitted by the Council to the CPO public inquiry, 12/05/2015

Southwark struck a deal with NHHT to reprovide the 44 lost social rented units on another site – Manor Place depot, but this deal double counted the social rented units and in any event the development is still not under construction.

Social rent is not affordable rent

Social rent is calculated by using a legal formula, based primarily on average local earnings; in Southwark social rent currently equates to between 19-25% market rate and this percentage falls as market rents rise.

Our list of suspect developments shows many where the level of rent identifies them as affordable rent, not social rent. The list was compliled by cross-checking planning committee reports, section 106 agreements, Land Registry information, the GLA affordable housing outturn dataset and CORE lettings data.

Amongst the sites we’ve looked at where the ‘social rent’ is higher than it should be, are the following;

Colorama buildings

This redevelopment of the former Colorama film processing warehouse in SE1 was completed in April 2016 and should have provided a total of 19 social rented habitable rooms, about 8 units, according to the planning report.

However, GLA affordable housing outturn data, shows that the developer has provided affordable rent, not social rent. These range up to 59% market rent, giving rent levels of £215pw (excl. service charge) for a 1-bed flat, over twice the current average social rent in Southwark (£100 pw).

143-149 Rye Ln/1-15 B’mouth Rd SE15 4ST (L&Q)

Southwark’s planning committee report (06/AP/0995) approved 61 new homes of which 7 should have been social rent, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by London & Quadrant as affordable rent of between 74% and 78% market rent.

32 Crosby Row SE1 3PT (Family Mosaic)

Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0140) approved the demolition of St Hugh’s church on Crosby Row and the construction of 22 new homes, which should have included 5 social rented units. But the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Family Mosaic as affordable rent at up to 57% of market rent.

177-184 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Linden Homes Ltd)

The planning committee report (11/AP/1390) for this development approved 38 new homes, of which 9 were supposed to be social rented units. The GLA data shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association as affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.

34-42 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Bellway Homes)

Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/3251) approved 41 new homes of which 8 should have been social rented, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association at affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.

Royal Road, Kennington SE17 3DA (Affinity Sutton)

This development was built on the site of a former old people’s home. The site was designated as one of the replacement housing sites for decanted Heygate tenants and sold by the Council, at cost, to Affinity Sutton housing association. Notwithstanding this, the new development wasn’t completed until 5 years after the Heygate was demolished and the government’s CORE lettings database is showing only 45 units let at social rents at this site, while 76 is the number required by the planning consent and correspondingsection 106 agreement.

430 Old Kent Road SE1 5AG – (Family Mosaic)

This is one of the Neo-Bankside off-site affordable housing sites, which according to Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0138) approved 22 social rented units, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered at affordable rents of up to 49% market rent.

Silwood estate regeneration Site 4B (Notting Hill HT)

This is yet another Notting Hill Housing Trust redevelopment of a council estate. It was supposed to provide 22 social rented homes as part of its redevelopment of the Silwood estate involving the demolition of 57 council homes and construction of 127 new homes. The definition of social rented in the section 106 agreement is worded as affordable rent and the CORE lettings data system shows that only 19 units have been let at social rent levels.

Conclusion

Southwark has confessed that up until now it has not ensured that social rented housing has been delivered in accordance with planning approvals, but instead relied on‘voluntary compliance’. Southwark promises an annual public audit as a remedy, with some unspecified ‘further investigation to ensure accuracy’ and has budgeted £60,000 for this. Developers and, unfortunately, housing associations have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted, so we doubt that this will be enough.

Southwark charges developers a 2% administration fee on the sum total of financial S106 contributions, including affordable housing. The table below shows this amounts to be a considerable sum each year and far more of it should be invested to ensure that the affordable housing conditions are properly monitored and enforced.

Extract from the Council’s most recent S106 contributions report

We also need an audit not just ‘going forward’ but also one looking back, an historical audit of all relevant planning applications for an least the past 10 years, to retreive the social housing that Southwark Council has lost through being let at higher than social rents. Only when Southwark has done this will we believe that it is ‘leading the fight for social housing’ as it claims and is not the developers’ free-for-all it has been labelled.

HASL families demand Southwark take action on overcrowding

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On Tuesday evening members of HASL (Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth) attended Southwark Council’s Cabinet Meeting to demand that Southwark Council ensures all families living in severely overcrowded houses are given priority for social housing immediately.

Southwark Council’s Housing Allocations Policy states that Statutory Overcrowded households qualify for Band 1 Priority. Our demand is simple: Southwark Council must follow the rules they themselves have set in place and put their policies into practice.

The council have the view that living in overcrowded housing is a ‘deliberate act’ of the families. Yesterday evening we asked them, how can enduring years of overcrowded and appalling conditions be deliberate? Southwark Council were unable to answer.

During our meeting, Southwark Council told us that they sympathised, but refused to meet our demands. We do not ask for sympathy, we ask for action. We will keep fighting until our demands are met, and the families facing overcrowding are given the Band 1 priority they are entitled to.

As well as sympathy, we were offered excuses numerous excuse from the councillors, we made our demand again that the situation is resolved immediately. The councillors got upset that their meeting agenda was being disrupted and threatened to throw us out. We held our ground and left of our own accord.

Thank you to the families who bravely spoke about their housing situations to a room full of suited strangers, and to everyone who came and supported including English for Action and South East London Sisters Uncut.

Camden council – stop the cycle of homelessness and poverty

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We blogged urgently earlier this month when one of our members was given a days notice by Camden council to view and accept private rented accommodation. Camden council were using their new powers given to them in the Localism Act to force homeless households to accept an offer of private rented accommodation. If they refuse this offer, the council can end their homeless duty and evict them from their current temporary accommodation. The council will also remove them from the social housing waiting list.

We are deeply concerned at Camden council’s policy and treatment of homeless households. Why are Camden council forcing homeless households to accept private rented accommodation – or else face street homelessness – when the private rented sector is one of the biggest causes of homelessness? Homeless households must be allowed to wait for secure social housing if they wish.

We demand that Camden council urgently review their homelessness policy and housing allocations policy:

  • Camden council must not force homeless households into the private rented sector. If a private rented offer is made, the uptake of this offer should be voluntary not mandatory. No one should face homelessness for refusing a private rented sector offer.
  • If a private rented sector offer is accepted, the council should allow them to remain on the waiting list for secure social housing. Homeless households, people in housing need, and those who have faced homelessness must be able to access secure, social housing.
  • Whether homeless households remain in temporary accommodation or voluntarily accept a private rented offer, these two groups must have high priority on the housing waiting list because of their high housing need.

Our member

Our member and her daughter were left in a hostel for over a year by Camden council, having to use shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. As soon as we raised concerns about this, they were provided with self-contained temporary accommodation. However, shortly after this, the council have now forced the family to accept a private rented offer.

We had another member who was also kept in a hostel by Camden council for over a year, and then after we challenged this, she was moved into private rented accommodation.

We are concerned that the council are happy to neglect people in hostel accommodation for years and when challenged, force them to accept a private rented offer. It certainly feels like a punishment for raising unsuitable hostel accommodation. After enduring unsuitable hostel accommodation, clearly these households need quality, secure social housing.

We sent a Freedom of Information request to Camden council to find out their policy on forcing homeless households into private rented accommodation. The FOI shows that in the last year the council conducted 112 suitability assessments, and have subsequently discharged their duty with a private rented offer to 25 households. So far, the number of households forced into the private rented sector is relatively small, although of course, the impacts on these families will be huge. That our member, who challenged her unsuitable hostel accommodation, was selected for a private sector discharge, does look targeted.

Overcrowding and insecurity

Our member is already worried about what moving into this private rented accommodation means in terms of insecurity. “How long will I be able to live there for? What happens after 2 years?” She asked us. Of course, with private rented accommodation, we can’t answer, because it is all in the hands of the private landlord (although any private rented offer given by the council through the Localism Act must be for a minimum of 12months) and whether she is able to cover what could be an ever increasing rent.

The accommodation is also a one bedroom flat so housing officers suggested that her 15 year old daughter could put a bed in the living room. This is totally unacceptable. Good quality housing means people have living space and private space. Living spaces should not double up as bedrooms.

Camden council must support homeless people and meet our demands above rather than their current project of cutting their housing waiting list.

How is she not vulnerable? 7 months and Southwark council still won’t support our member, a DV survivor

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Update from 3rd December 2016:

Yesterday evening we got good news from our member that Southwark council has finally accepted a full homeless duty. It should never have taken 7 months for Southwark to provide this most basic support for our member. The last 7 months have been incredibly stressful and hard for her as she faced negative decisions from the council whilst her refuge served her notice. But together, public pressure made Southwark reverse their original decision that she was not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty. We’re some way away from the secure social housing she needs, and there are constantly new policies to make it even harder for us to access. But it’s important to celebrate this win.

Her lawyer emailed her to congratulate her on winning her case – here he recognised the incredible effort that our member and her supporters went to to achieve this decision!

Thank you to everyone who emailed, tweeted, and supported our member and our group! Especially NELMA who always show amazing twitter solidarity! Thanks Sisters Uncut – South East London for inviting our member raise her case at your meeting with Southwark council. Collective action and solidarity works! Let’s keep on winning together and fight for the quality, secure homes we all need!

Original post:

This Wednesday, South East London Sisters Uncut are meeting with Southwark council to demand safe, secure homes for survivors of domestic violence. We send them our solidarity. Here we provide an update for the case of one of our members, a survivor of domestic violence, who has been challenging Southwark for 7 months now simply for a homeless duty. She desperately needs safe, secure housing so she can get on with her life. Why are Southwark council denying her this? We hope her case can be raised at the meeting and that Southwark are held to account. We hope that Southwark listen to Sisters Uncut and our member and make sure their domestic violence policies give DV survivors the help and support that they need.

In July, we first blogged about our member C who was denied a homeless duty by Southwark council because they deemed her not vulnerable, despite having endured 33 years in an abusive relationship. Hundreds of messages have been sent to Southwark’s councillor for housing, Stephanie Cryan expressing concern and support for C and questioning how the council could find her not vulnerable. But the council have still not accepted a homeless duty.

C then reviewed the council’s appalling decision with the help of lawyers. In the council’s review, they again decided that she was not vulnerable and would not accept a homeless duty. However, they then withdrew this decision. We hoped that they would accept a full homeless duty, but they returned another negative decision. Again, with lawyers, C is reviewing the new negative decision.

In September, C joined a meeting between HASL and Southwark council housing officials where she bravely explained her situation to them and challenged them on their decision. But they still refused to take any action to ensure that she is given the housing help she desperately needs.

C first made her homeless application to Southwark council in May this year. 7 months later and lots of effort and strength on C’s part, C still does not have safe, secure housing. During these 7 months, as well as taking on Southwark council over her own case, C has been a valued HASL member, supporting others with their housing problems too.

How can Southwark council draw out the homeless process for so long for vulnerable homeless people? In October, C was served with a notice to leave from her domestic violence refuge, requesting that she vacate the accommodation on Sunday 13th November. Southwark council must accept a full homeless duty and provide temporary accommodation immediately.

Southwark council’s negative decisions and delays have caused C significant stress and have negatively impacted on her well being. C desperately needs safe secure housing so she can get on with her life. Southwark are denying her this and instead she has spent the last 7 months trying to get them to provide the most basic support of suitable temporary housing.

Camden council, don’t force a homeless family into the private rented sector

Don’t let Camden council get away with this, tweet them your views @camdentalking

We’re very concerned about Camden council’s treatment of our member and her daughter. Today (2nd November) they were sent a letter informing them that their homeless duty is being ended because the council have found them a private rented tenancy. They must view this property tomorrow afternoon.

Firstly, we know that private rented accommodation is the biggest cause of homelessness, therefore it is unsuitable accommodation for homeless families to be housed in. They should be allowed to wait until they can access the secure council housing they need.

Secondly, Camden council have given only one days notice of this viewing (it is not clear whether they must move in tomorrow as well), when the family have work and school commitments. The family are Spanish speakers, but the letter was written in English, so they have not been able to fully understand the important information in the letter which warns them that the council is ending its duty. It is only through the help of HASL that they have understood the main message of the letter.

Private rented accommodation is highly unsuitable for the family who have experienced homelessness a number of times in the lives already. For a year Camden council housed them in hostel accommodation with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The family desperately need secure, quality council housing so that they can get on with their lives without the threat of homelessness and deeper poverty that the private rented sector causes.

The council also inform then that they will no longer be on the council’s waiting list for social housing and that if they re-apply, it is likely they will not qualify to join this list.

We are calling on Camden council to allow the family to remain in their current temporary accommodation which the family are satisfied with and to continue bidding for council housing. We believe no one should be forced into private rented accommodation and we are disappointed that Camden council are using their new powers in the Localism Act to do this.

In HASL, many of our members are homeless or faced with homelessness and we have been paying close attention to local councils and how they are using their new powers in the Localism Act which enable them to force homeless families into private rented accommodation. You can read more about the situation and your rights here. We’ll be taking action together to resist councils forcing us into insecure, unsuitable, expensive private rented accommodation. Everyone needs and deserves quality, secure council housing – homeless households and others in housing need desperately need this and councils should be doing everything they can to guarantee them this. Get involved in your local housing action group to make this happen.

We are hugely disappointed that Camden council is not supporting their homeless residents by ensuring they get the council housing they need. Instead they are forcing vulnerable people into unsuitable housing whilst cutting back the social housing waiting list at the same time.

Southwark council – no more excuses, no more housing nightmares!

This morning, HASL and our friends from Espacio Mama and English for Action visited Southwark council’s town hall in support of 5 families who face statutory overcrowding and have been subjected to long delays by Southwark council in getting the help they need. As Southwark council’s housing allocations policy states, these families should qualify for band 1 due to the serious and appalling nature of their living conditions. However, the council have insultingly responded that the families have caused the statutory overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. We know this is not true and it is an insult to even suggest this. It is basic common sense that these families have not endured years of severely overcrowded housing deliberately.

We demand that Southwark council follow its clear housing allocations policy and ensure these families are placed into band 1 immediately, the banding that reflects their severe housing need.

At the town hall, we bumped into the manager for homeless services Ian Swift on his way in to work, but instead of engaging with the group, he rushed past us, and instructed security to call the police on us!

Thankfully, the security staff decided this was not necessary and we were able to remain in the town hall and were not thrown out into the cold!

Two members from the press office came to speak with us about why we were there. We explained the 5 cases and the two members of staff agreed with us on a number of occasions that it was obvious that the overcrowded situations were not caused by a ‘deliberate act’ of the families. They promised that the cases would be looked into by Housing Director Gerri Scott and that we will hear from them soon. Let’s hope that we get some good news soon, and if not, we’ll be returning!

More information on the cases

As well as failing to follow their housing allocations policy in the spirit with which it was intended, and failing to acknowledge the acute housing crisis as the cause for overcrowding rather than the ‘choice’ of these families, we have also experienced long and unnecessary delays in getting the assistance from the council that we need. We have repeatedly provided the necessary information to process their cases. These delays and problems include:

One member first submitted information on her case on 23 May. She did not get a response for 3 months, and only then, because we contacted the council to chase up the case.

We first emailed Ian Swift about these five cases on 25th July detailing the statutory overcrowding and how they had all tried to access the housing register and had faced a number of problems doing so.

August we received a response finally saying that no applications are open for anyone and no documents have been received (even though 2 had receipts of having accounts). The group had actually visited the housing office and one stop shop on 25 July to submit information and documents, which had obviously not been processed.

HASL met with Ian Swift and a number of housing officers on September 14 where we requested to be told the information they needed in order to review these cases quickly, but they refused to tell us what further information was needed. We were promised that the cases would be independently reviewed within 10 days. 10 working days later and we had heard nothing. After a reminder, the person who had originally looked at the cases returned the reviews to us on October 10.

Accessing the housing register has been an extremely difficult process to follow and understand, particularly for non-English speakers as many of our members are.

In total, we have spent a great deal of our time over many months emailing Ian Swift and his officers, collecting together all the required information, to resolve these cases. Some might say we have been doing their job for them! These serious cases should not be taking months to resolve.

The families have highlighted the incredibly serious consequences of the appalling conditions they face:

Children and young people without space to study and play.

Children experiencing depression and mental ill health due to the overcrowded conditions.

Poor conditions, including the ceiling falling through in the kitchen, and the landlord renting out another room to an abusive person who threatened our member. The children are too scared to enter the kitchen after seeing the ceiling fall in.

Highly unsuitable shared accommodation for families with young children.

Once these cases are resolved, and the families are placed in their correct band 1, we will be happy to work with the council and in particular the housing office, so that the problems we have faced here and not encountered again.