Your right to have someone with you at the housing office – our letter to Southwark council

We’ve blogged about some of the appalling treatment our members have faced at Southwark housing office, as well as the recent High Court proceedings where Southwark council admitted they were unlawfully turning homeless people away. These experiences make it even more important that people making homeless applications and seeking help from Southwark housing office know that they are allowed to have a supporter with them throughout the process. We have supported many HASL members at the housing office in both Lambeth and Southwark, and without our support, they said they would not have got any help from the council.

But at Southwark housing office, we have had a particularly bad response when a homeless applicant has requested someone from HASL be with them. At Southwark recently, when we have tried to accompany a HASL member to a homelessness interview, we were stopped from doing so by one of the staff with no reason given other than “this is my interview and I’ll decide who comes to it”. This member was refused a supporter at other times during the homelessness application.

We want Southwark council and the housing department to confirm to us in writing that people visiting the housing office are allowed a supporter with them at any time they wish. We hope that they will relay this message to all of their staff in the housing office. HASL and Hansen Palomares have written a letter to councillor Peter John, leader of Southwark council, in support of this crucial right to accompany each other at the housing office.

HASL are also organising a ‘how to be a buddy’ skill share afternoon on Saturday 18th April to share experiences and tips so that we can support each other effectively when visiting the housing office and other appointments with authorities to get the help that we need. More details coming soon.

Open Letter

Cllr Peter John, Leader of the Council

London Borough of Southwark PO Box 64529 London, SE1P 5LX

24th March 2015

Dear Cllr John,

Homelessness – the right to be accompanied

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) and Hansen Palomares solicitors both support Southwark’s most vulnerable people through the very difficult process of making a homelessness application.

We are writing to ask you to confirm that homelessness applicants have the right to be accompanied to homelessness interviews and assessments. It is a crucial right that is protected in other areas, such as disciplinary hearings at work, Jobcentre Plus interviews and work capability assessments. Moral support, solidarity, and practical help such as note taking are even more important when a family applies as homeless. HASL, Hansen Palomares and Southwark Council all know from experience that it is legally complex and extremely difficult emotionally.

We note with regret the High Court’s findings of Southwark’s ‘gatekeeping’ tactics in A (anon.) v London Borough of Southwark (Claim No CO/2035/2014). We understand that Southwark has started a complete reform of the homelessness application procedure since the facts of that case took place. We hope that, in the spirit of that reform, you will make it clear that at interviews and assessments Southwark welcomes – or at the very least tolerates – supporters of people who have lost their homes. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely, Hansen Palomares solicitors, Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth

CC: Cllr Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for housing

Gerri Scott, strategic director of housing and community services

The editor, South London Press

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