Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have been supporting one of our members who is currently homeless to get emergency accommodation from Lambeth Council. His personal situation means that he should have placed into emergency accommodation immediately, and supported in finding longer term accommodation, however staff at the housing office have on numerous occasions failed to ensure that this occurs. He is now sleeping rough on the streets whilst the housing office continue to fob him and HASL off. We are deeply concerned about our friend and also about the conduct of some of the staff in the housing office and their inability to follow basic procedures and fulfil their duty to house people.
Below we outline the multiple occasions on which Lambeth housing office staff have not followed the correct procedure for supporting a vulnerable homeless person.
As a housing action and support group we are learning about our housing rights together as we go along. This has meant that on this occasion, as we are still learning, the housing office has got away with a lot. However, we are learning fast. We have learnt that the housing office will lie to your face, treat you with disrespect, and do everything they can not to house you. This will probably come as no surprise to those who have had to deal with them before. The support HASL has provided for our friend has meant that through these interactions, there has often been another HASL person to watch his back.
Visit to housing office number 1:
Visit to register for priority homelessness. Told that he is not in priority need and therefore is not given emergency accommodation. Told that they will pass on his medical information (which strongly makes the case for priority need) to be reviewed by someone else. Sent away without anything.
What should have happened
He should have been accepted immediately as priority need homeless and provided with emergency accommodation. The Shelter emergency housing rights checker confirms this as did a Shelter case worker.
Not having done this, they should have given him emergency accommodation whilst they are reviewing the case. Civil Law Advice are interested in pursuing a judicial review against Lambeth’s decision not to do this.
They should also have informed him that if they do not deem him in priority need, they will issue him with a section 184 notification which he can give to a housing association he is in contact with to prove that he is homeless.
Visit number 2:
Having learnt from Shelter that he does indeed fulfil the criteria for priority need homelessness, he returned with someone else from HASL to see if they could query this and get the emergency accommodation needed. After waiting for over two hours in the housing office we spoke with someone we were told was a manager. She dismissed Shelter’s assessment – “they’re a lobby group, of course they say you’re priority, they say everyone is…we’re the council, we’re professionals, we act on the facts” – and then said very rudely and bluntly “in my opinion you are not priority need”. She said threatening that we were lucky enough that someone from their office was reviewing the medical evidence. It seemed if we pushed it much more she would just drop it altogether. We asked what he was to do tonight as he had nowhere to go. She told us that if he is on the streets, he can call the Lambeth Safe Street Team and they will come and check on him. He was told to call up to find out about the decision which would be made within the next two days.
What should have happened
Well, of course she should have looked into his case and come to the same conclusion as Shelter and arranged for emergency accommodation. She should have listened to what we were trying to say to her and spoken to us with respect.
Or, she should have acknowledged that whilst the case was being reviewed, he should be in emergency housing.
Failing this, instead of suggesting the streets and the Safe Street Team as appropriate support, she should have suggested some kind accommodation that has a roof.
Visit number 3:
Our friend returned to the housing office in person on the deadline they had given for the decision. He was told that a decision was yet to be finalised and was told to phone the following day. He called up the next day to find out what the decision was only to be told that the decision could take up to six weeks.
What should have happened
He should have received the decision as he was promised and not been given false deadlines which it now seems the manager had made up to get us out of there on our second visit.
Lambeth housing office have knowingly left a vulnerable homeless person to find somewhere on the streets whilst they make a decision on whether he is in priority need (which the manager hinted would be a negative one), denying him emergency accommodation they should provide in the interim and continually misinforming him (not informing him about the section 184 notification, “call in tomorrow and the decision will be made”).
Homeless services in London
We are also appalled by the homeless services and support that are (un)available to homeless people that we have learnt about from our friend.
There is often strict criteria on accessing homeless shelters and services meaning that our friend has been turned away from a shelter which did not accept those who had access to public funds and denied support from one organisation because he has mental health issues.
He has been encouraged by his social worker to sleep rough in order to access rough sleeper support services such as Lambeth Safe Street Team, Southwark Spot Homeless Team, Streetlink, and No Second Night Out. However, for the last two nights, the people who are supposed to locate and support him have failed to do so. He has been told by No Second Night Out that he can sleep on the streets for a maximum of 10 days but after that if the team turn up and do not recognise him, he will no longer receive help.
We are a housing support and action group. We believe in decent homes for all. This sort of service, where the housing office fails to live up to its name and fails on so many other levels as well (basic respect), is not acceptable. We welcome people to get involved in the group to provide support for each other and take action together.