A few nights ago, at a meeting in Camberwell, Cllr Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Housing at Southwark Council, waxed lyrical about the council’s grand plans to build 11,000 new council homes, adding, at one point, it was ‘important for the council to keep the people in their homes’.
Southwark Council’s Richard Livingstone, a crusading force against evictions? Not quite.
Housing practices around ‘regeneration’ are well documented and not exclusive to Southwark alone. Here’s how it works in practice: First council tenants are en masse rehoused (‘decanted’) from council estates and leaseholders are pressured into leaving. Next councils use the empty homes to generate income and prevent squatting etc often by allocating them to some of the people from housing waiting lists, these persons and families are given deeply insecure/shorthold/temporary tenancies. The net effect for the council can be fewer people on housing waiting list and a continued income stream before regeneration goes ahead. However for the new ‘temporary’ tenant with few rights the horizon can simply be homelessness.
D got in touch with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth last week after being evicted from temporary accommodation she held for seven years on the Aylesbury Esate due to rent arrears. The rent for her ‘temporary’ and cramped family home was £205 per week, paid to Southwark Council. Initially, D was able to afford the rent until she became ill forcing her to take a lower paid but more manageable full time job. Her weekly income was marginally higher than the weekly rent. Seeking support a Southwark Council worker misinformed D on two occasions; as is the general culture of gate keeping in all benefit offices she was turned away from making an application for the housing benefits she was in fact entitled to. With these benefits affordability of the flat would remain in question however without them D soon fell behind with the rent payments.
Even more outrageous behavior from Southwark came when on the day of the eviction the council asked D to come into the housing office. D sat there from 9am believing she was going to resolve the issue. While waiting D received a phone call from her kids in the afternoon: bailiffs were breaking in the door finding D’s frightened children inside. In the office D appealed, only to be made to leave. “We thought your kids would be at school” council workers told D. We want to know if this disgusting tactic is a regular practice of Southwark Council to aid the work of bailiffs?
Now evicted the council also issued a letter stating they had discharged their duty to rehouse D on the grounds of D making herself ‘intentionally homeless’ due to the rent arrears. HASL accompanied D to the council’s homelessness office, to make a fresh application, but the council officers refused this point blank.
Appalled by the council’s treatment of D HASL has been advised to seek a review of Southwark’s decision not to house her. Southwark should exercise its discretion to provide appropriate temporary accommodation under s.188 (3) of the Housing Act. Further, Southwark have withheld D’s belongings and shown only contempt and disregard for D’s circumstances. This must be resolved.
This is what regeneration in Southwark looks like. Get involved with HASL to fight for secure housing and empowered communities. Text 07741910527 to join our anti-eviction phone network and be informed of upcoming events and actions.