Southwark council – accept your duty to house a survivor of domestic violence and her family

Southwark council must support survivors, not force them back to abusive relationships.

HASL and Sisters Uncut are supporting ‘S’ and her three children who have been told by Southwark council that they must leave their interim accommodation even though they have nowhere else to go.  Southwark council’s housing officers have told S that it is safe for her and her children to return to her abusive partner so they will not accept a full homeless duty and provide temporary accommodation for the family.

We are deeply concerned at Southwark council’s treatment of a survivor of domestic violence. S explained the difficulty it took to reach the stage where she felt able to escape, and now Southwark are forcing her to return.

We are calling on Southwark council to make sure the family are kept in their accommodation and that a full homeless duty is accepted. Southwark council must listen to and respect the experiences of survivors of domestic violence. The family desperately need a secure home. They have already fled their previous home, they must not be thrown onto the street with nowhere to go.

Please join us and Sisters Uncut tweeting Southwark council in support of S.

We all need safe, secure, social housing. No one should be forced to live in an unsafe situation.

Read more on Southwark’s treatment of survivors of domestic violence in this blog by Sisters Uncut cross-posted below.

In January, a woman who we’ll refer to as ‘S’ escaped with her three children from the home that she was sharing with her abusive husband. After years of physical, sexual, financial and psychological abuse, S’s household had become a place so unsafe that she actively avoided being alone when her husband was around. After a recent incident of physical abuse, S took her children and sought help from Southwark Council. As a mother of three young children fleeing an abusive relationship S has the right to secure and stable housing, a place where she can find respite from the suffering and the hardship that her and her family have endured.

However, although Southwark Council initially provided S with temporary accommodation, they soon rescinded their support. They sent a letter to S stating that “it is reasonable for you to continue to occupy your accommodation (with your husband)” and that “we are not satisfied that your continued occupation of the property would lead to any further domestic abuse towards you”. This is the place that S had fled only a month before; a place where, in the final months before escaping, she had slept in the living room with the couch pressed against the door to prevent her husband from coming in at night to molest her.

The fact that Southwark Council believe this house is an acceptable place for S to live is a disgusting example of their failure to provide a safety net for survivors seeking to live a life free from fear. Their message to these women is clear: we don’t believe you and this isn’t our problem.

Currently, councils have a duty to house people who are homeless due to experiencing domestic violence if they are a UK citizen or eligible for support (i.e. can access benefits), are pregnant or have children, or are care leavers or under 18. Additionally, councils should take into account any vulnerabilities a person presents with, such as a mental health condition or having an experience of domestic violence. Many councils choose to overlook the additional vulnerability someone has after experiencing domestic violence when it comes to coping with homelessness.

It is clear that Southwark do not take domestic violence seriously and do not believe it is their responsibility to intervene, support survivors and hold perpetrators accountable for abuse. Just a few months ago, Southwark Councillor Dan Garfield was found guilty of abusing his wife. Worryingly, Southwark Council had been aware of the abuse perpetrated by him and even after his first police caution for assaulting his wife, was promoted to a position of authority within Labour in Southwark. Southwark Council have since defended this decision stating they “felt it was right to allow those involved to deal with this as a private family matter”.

Domestic violence is not a private matter: the anti-violence movement was founded in order to challenge this antiquated and harmful notion that violence against women that happens within a relationship should not be a public issue. In reality, we know that intimate partner violence often intersects with, and is reinforced by, harmful state practices and policies such as denying women safe housing when they need to leave an abusive relationship. Councils must take responsibility for providing safe housing and suitable support services for survivors.

With S’s case, Southwark Council have decided this is not a matter of domestic abuse but merely a “relationship breakdown”. In a letter written to S., Southwark write that “relationship breakdowns are commonplace and naturally it is difficult for parties involved to communicate and live together when their relationship is strained – however this does not render the tenancy unreasonable for your continued occupation”.

We can see then that even where women fleeing violence do meet the eligibility criteria for being housed, councils can simply decide they do not have a duty towards them by claiming that the relationship the woman has left was not abusive. This perpetuates a dangerous message to survivors: you will not be believed, so do not bother to disclose to anyone.

Sisters Uncut call for Southwark Council to urgently review their treatment of domestic violence survivors.

Homeless assessment teams currently have very little training on how to recognise domestic abuse; in S’s case, this meant her relationship has “not been deemed as domestic violence” in spite of her own account of the abuse and several third-party supporting documents (such as police references and a letter from a domestic violence agency). Rather than support S, the council have treated her with suspicion. Her words have been purposefully distorted to suggest her relationship was not actually abusive. By refusing to believe S’s account of her own abuse, Southwark have effectively chosen to take the side of S’s abuser, and their disturbing gaslighting tactics reflect those employed by her ex partner.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) and Sisters Uncut are coming together to shed light on Southwark’s mistreatment of domestic violence survivors. We demand secure and stable housing for all survivors of domestic violence who desperately need housing to flee an abusive relationship.

The case is being heard at the Central London County Court

HASL member takes landlord to court

 

 

More often than not, our direct action casework is needed because the law is practically useless for tenants. Sometimes, however, we can take on the landlords and win.

 

HASL has been working closely with DC Resists – a group of residents (sadly, many are now former residents) at the beautiful Dorchester Court estate in Herne Hill. The estate had been taken over by a shady landlord company called Manaquel, who are in many ways the most extreme example of greedy, heartless profiteers of the housing crisis.

 

Since taking over Dorchester Court the company has raised the rents to eye-watering levels. They’ve allowed the buildings to fall into disrepair. They evicted families just because they could. In short: they destroyed a community because they could squeeze a greater profit out of their asset.

 

Dorchester Court didn’t roll over. They opposed Manaquel at every step, and HASL were proud to help.

 

HASL DC resists

 

When they came to evict Ravi he approached a tenant-friendly lawyer, who helped him to defeat Manaquel’s possession claim on a technicality. Manaquel tried again, and Ravi’s solicitor spotted an even more technical defence to the claim, which was rejected by Lambeth County Court on new year’s eve. Ravi appealed – and won.

 

Ravi argued that – because Manaquel is a company – it can’t sign documents like an ordinary person can. Instead, two authorised people have to sign all of its documents in order for the signature to comply with Section 44 of the Companies Act 2006. One of the documents (the certificate attached to the ‘prescribed information’ that landlords have to provide when they take a deposit) wasn’t properly signed, so the Section 21 notice wasn’t valid.

 

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Tenants can only win temporarily – it’s only a matter of time before the landlord tries again.

 

In the private sector these technical defences are the only way of beating private landlords. It’s always worth checking – and checking carefully – whether the landlord has complied with all the technicalities that the law requires in order to take away someone’s home. HASL recommends that you see a legal aid solicitor if your landlord tries to evict you – especially because the new Deregulation Act has introduced several new technical defences.

HASL is 3!

 

Yesterday afternoon HASL celebrated our third birthday with a birthday lunch club at Pembroke house in Walworth with about 50 of our members, supporters and friends. It was a really lovely afternoon and the high attendance and general loveliness of the afternoon hopefully captures our organising of the last three years and how much we have grown and developed as a group. The birthday lunch club also captured what these lunch clubs are all about and the various important roles they play –

A really warm, friendly, supportive atmosphere to chat and hang out, sometimes talking about housing, and other issues, but sometimes forgetting these as well

Linking up people with other groups we organise with that can provide support, for example, introducing someone who does not have English as a first language to English for Action, introducing people to Anti-Raids Network and Sisters Uncut.

Collectivising child care with some children’s activities, alongside children playing together, and hanging out with adults too. As one parent noted, ‘If you leave them [your children] for a little bit, you find someone else is looking after them!’

A chance to celebrate our recent wins. One of our members had moved into her new council home the day before and was really delighted. Throughout the afternoon people also commented on how HASL has helped them ‘it is so hard to find someone who helps with these problems, thank you for the help’, ‘the support from the group really means a lot to me’ and lots of similar sentiments.

Making sure we have good quality food! We try to make sure that we collect really fancy, luxury food donations, cos we all deserve quality food. We also try to make sure that we have plenty of food so people can take some home with them too. Our solidarity-donations network of supportive, local shops is slowly growing which is really exciting. Lots of people commented on how delicious the food was.

Action planning together on our cases. We were able to do some action planning and provide support with Sisters Uncut on an urgent case.

Collective organising! A number of people helped to organise the lunch club, and on the day so many people took on roles and contributed in lots of different ways to make sure that it ran really well.

Thanks to all our members, friends and supporters who came to the lunch club and helped out and who have been involved over the last three years! It was so nice to see how big and awesome we have got! Here’s to more housing action, solidarity and support!
See you at the next action, meeting, lunch club or other events!

Demanding #AnswersAndAction at Olive Morris House

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Thanks to everyone who joined us and English for Action this afternoon outside Olive Morris House in support of Mary Luz and her family calling on Lambeth to give them the secure, local, social housing they desperately need. Mary Luz and her family have had an incredibly difficult time of appalling housing and it’s really inspiring that they have the energy to keep on fighting. And fighting is best done together of course!

Lambeth council and the housing office staff definitely saw and heard the HUGE support the family have! And we’ll keep on taking action and supporting the family until Lambeth take the action needed!

We tried to present this beautiful house (see photos below) with clear and simple messages to Lib Peck or any other housing managers, but we were quickly evicted by security.

Our pressure is having an impact. After our twitter storm on Monday, Mary Luz received letters saying the council are reviewing their decision of temporary housing and banding. But maybe they’re trying to save face. We won’t stop until we have the keys to local, social housing. You can still contact the council on twitter and by email to show your support for Mary Luz and her family with a template letter and tweets here.  Come along to meetings to meet and get involved in the group and get good homes for everyone!

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No more long journeys

 

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Demanding Answers from Lib Peck & Lambeth Council – Take Online Action

Yesterday, we shared the story of one of our members – Mary Luz and her family – have been facing to get social housing from Lambeth council that they should have provided them with back in May 2015, as well as some answers and accountability for the poor treatment and neglect Mary Luz has faced at the housing office. Housing staff and Lambeth council leader, Lib Peck, are refusing to support Mary Luz with either of these urgent actions. We are deeply concerned at Lambeth’s treatment of our member and will continue to act in support of Mary Luz and her family until they are given the suitable, local, social housing they desperately need. Please do read the full account of her situation here.

So, we’re asking for your help. Every attempt to make Lambeth Council accountable for their actions so far has been met with misdirection and an unwillingness to justify or explain their actions.  We’re hoping that if we can demonstrate just how many of us find this kind of treatment intolerable, we can convince Lambeth Council to take notice of this serious case, and hopefully the huge number of similar cases we know others are facing.

Join us this Monday 4th April in creating a Twitter and email storm between 10am-12pm (but feel free to start before and continue after!). We’re asking people to Tweet Lib Peck (@cllrpeck) and Lambeth Council (@lambeth_council). We’re using the hashtag #AnswersAndAction to help keep a track of them. We’ve included some sample tweets below which will easily allow you to register your frustration and anger:

#AnswersAndAction – Sample Tweet 1

#AnswersAndAction – Sample Tweet 2

#AnswersAndAction – Sample Tweet 3

We’d also like people to email Lib Peck and Chris Knaggs demanding answers. You can reach them at lpeck@lambeth.gov.uk and cknaggs@lambeth.gov.uk – we’d also invite people to cc us in to your emails using hasemail@gmail.com. We’ve drafted a template email at the end of this blogpost that you can send . Again, please feel free to amend or adjust as suits you, but if you wish to write your own email, please do make sure you check the link to the full account of Mary-Luz’s case first.

We hope that Lib Peck and Lambeth Council will respond. We will be showing our support for Mary Luz and her family with an action outside Olive Morris House this Thursday 7th April meeting there at 2pm. Bring things to make noise with! Children very welcome too – we’ll be planning some kids activities!

Sample Email

To: lpeck@lambeth.gov.uk, cknaggs@lambeth.gov.uk, haslemail@gmail.com

Subject: Why is Mary Luz and her family suffering from Lambeth’s neglect?

I’m writing to you today out of concern for Mary Luz and her family, who faced gatekeeping by Lambeth Council which had extremely serious consequences and then were housed out-of-borough in unsuitable temporary accommodation far away from school, local doctors and support networks.

It has been almost a year since Mary Luz first approached Lambeth Council for housing assistance and was unlawfully turned away. Her family were living in severely overcrowded and unsuitable housing. Mary Luz deserves answers for this treatment, and I believe she has a right to hear them. I would like answers to the following questions.

Why did Lib Peck / Lambeth Council not take seriously the neglect by her staff that Mary Luz experienced at the housing office, Why did she not feel the need to make enquiries into the complaints and issues we have raised, and why is she not acting to make sure the family have the suitable local housing they need?

Is Lib Peck / Lambeth Council satisfied with the actions of housing staff who unlawfully gatekept Mary Luz, and which resulted in Mary Luz facing actual physical harm in the unsuitable housing that Lambeth staff sent her to return to?

Is Lib Peck / Lambeth Council satisfied with the decision to house the family out of their home borough in unsuitable temporary accommodation (Mary Luz is registered as blind and has been sent to an area she does not know, and the welfare and schooling of her children has not been taken into consideration either) when they should have been given local social housing back in May last year?

Is Lib Peck / Lambeth Council satisfied with the housing office’s failure to properly open up a homeless application and to do a proper assessment regarding the suitability of temporary accommodation?

I look forward to hearing your response.

Some questions for Lib Peck and Lambeth council. Why is Mary Luz and her family suffering from Lambeth’s neglect?

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We have been supporting one of our members, Mary Luz and her family, to get social housing from Lambeth council that they should have provided them with back in May 2015, as well as some answers and accountability for the poor treatment and neglect Mary Luz has faced at the housing office. Housing staff and Lambeth council leader, Lib Peck, are refusing to support Mary Luz with either of these urgent actions. We are deeply concerned at Lambeth’s treatment of our member and will continue to act in support of Mary Luz and her family until they are given the suitable, local, social housing they desperately need. We invite you to join us so that we can’t be ignored.

Mary Luz explains the situation:

“It has been very hard for me because they haven’t helped like they should have. I have done everything I can, and my whole family have. It’s my daughters who have suffered most – it made me feel really bad. I have only asked for a house for my family to be safe and to have space. Lambeth keep denying us help.’

The family faced gatekeeping by Lambeth which had extremely serious consequences and then were housed out-of-borough in unsuitable temporary accommodation far away from school and support networks.

It is almost one year now since Mary Luz first approached Lambeth council for housing assistance and was unlawfully turned away. This means over one year of highly unsuitable housing that the family have endured and almost one year of Lambeth failing to provide the help and assistance it is supposed to.

Mary Luz first approached Lambeth housing office for help in May 2015 as her and her family were living in severely overcrowded and unsuitable housing. Taking advantage of Mary Luz not having English as her first language, housing staff sent her to make a homeless application at Westminster council.

The housing staff should have looked into Mary Luz’s options. One option they should have looked at is opening an investigation by the private sector housing environmental team where an overcrowding direction would have been made and the family put into band A where they would be able to get social housing. Other options would have seen the family prioritised on the housing waiting list due to their urgent housing need, meaning that they would have been in local, social housing by now.

 

But they have been denied this social housing by Lambeth, and they are still being denied this.

Why didn’t Lambeth do their job and deal with a slum landlord and provide its residents with secure, social housing?

Instead of being given the urgent housing help they needed, and that councils have a legal duty to provide (local councils have a legal duty to open a homelessness assessment for anyone presenting as homeless), the family were left in the unsuitable housing. The severe overcrowding the family were forced to put up with came to a head when someone from another family that was sharing the house physically attacked Mary Luz. This attack would never had happened if Lambeth had taken action when Mary Luz first approached the council for help. Lambeth’s inaction led to their resident being subjected to physical harm.

After the assault, Mary Luz reapproached the housing office for housing help but, again, she faced gatekeeping as the staff refused to open a homeless application. It took two full days at the housing office for a homeless application to finally be made (and yet they still failed to do an assessment regarding  the suitability of temporary accommodation). Finally, the family were given unsuitable temporary accommodation in Lewisham. This accommodation is far away from the children’s school and from Mary Luz’s support network, and it is in a completely unfamiliar area. This is particularly unsuitable as Mary Luz is registered as blind.

At this point, after all of this, and considering the highly unsuitable temporary accommodation, it seems even more urgent that the family are placed into band A. But the council are still refusing.

Lambeth council leader Lib Peck responded to our letter, in which we detailed our numerous concerns and requested urgent action on the situation, by saying that she was satisfied with the treatment Mary Luz had received.

We are appalled that Lib Peck has not taken seriously the neglect by her staff that Mary Luz experienced at the housing office, that Lib Peck does not feel the need to make enquiries into the complaints and issues we have raised, and that she is not acting to make sure the family have the suitable local housing they need.

Is Lib Peck satisfied with the actions of housing staff who unlawfully gatekept Mary Luz, and which resulted in Mary Luz facing actual physical harm in the unsuitable housing that Lambeth staff sent her to return to?

Is she satisfied with the decision to house the family out of their home borough in unsuitable temporary accommodation (Mary Luz is registered as blind and has been sent to an area she does not know, and the welfare and schooling of her children has not been taken into consideration either) when they should have been prioritised for local social housing back in May last year?

Is she satisfied with the housing office’s failure to properly open up a homeless application and to do a proper assessment regarding the suitability of temporary accommodation?

We know that Mary Luz’s case is not a one off and that hundreds of thousands of people in London are stuck in poor quality, unsuitable housing and denied help at the housing office. We know that by acting together and challenging these injustices, we can make sure we all get the secure, quality homes we deserve.

HASL events in March

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Here are some of our HASL March events – we hope you can get involved!

Updates from February

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.

We’re still fighting Lambeth council for ML and her family to be given secure, social housing in their home community after the council’s gatekeeping and neglect left the family in unsafe, severely overcrowded housing. Come to our meetings and look out on emails and our text network for further actions. We won’t give up until the family have the suitable social housing they need.

Coming up in March

Join us at our weekly Saturday stall with our friends Anti-Raids Network, 12pm-2pm on Peckham Rye Lane just in front of Peckham Plex (and if we’re not there, we’ll be just opposite Primark). Meet the two groups, and if you fancy it, hand out leaflets and talk with people about housing and immigration rights and action.

Our next meeting – Thursday 10th March, 12pm Papa’s cafe, 10-17 Pulross road, SW9 8AF. Come along to give and receive support, learn your rights and plan collective action on housing.

Join HASL at the National Housing March Against the Housing Bill – Sunday 13th March – meet 11am outside Brixton tube station to travel up together.

Our next free lunch club is Sunday 20th March from 12pm with lunch served hot at 1pm. Eat together, fight together – Lovely food, good company, and kids activities. The venue is Edmundsbury Court Estate Community Hall, 171 Ferndale Rd, London SW9 8AL.

HASL meeting Wednesday 30th March, 6.30pm at Renton Close Community Centre, Renton Close Estate, Brixton Hill, SW2 1EY.