After two full days at Lambeth’s Olive Morris house trying to get temporary accommodation, including a supportive gathering by HASL on Friday morning, ML, a HASL member and English for Action student was finally given temporary accommodation. On arrival at the temporary accommodation out in Lewisham, it turned out there were cockroaches in the property. After the appalling treatment and gatekeeping by the council, the cockroaches were not our biggest worry, but they are a depressing sign of the poor quality temporary accommodation that local councils and poverty profiteering agencies think they can get away issuing to hundreds of thousands of homeless people across the country.
As well as the cockcroaches, the accommodation is unsuitable for the family because it is far away from their local community in Lambeth. Lambeth do not appear to have done a needs assessment of the family when issuing this temporary accommodation. A needs assessment is important to make sure any accommodation takes into account the children’s education and welfare and ML’s access needs. We are calling on Lambeth council to provide ML and her family with suitable temporary accommodation and place the family in band A to make sure they can access secure social housing urgently. We believe that everyone has the right to secure, safe, quality, social housing.
On day one at the housing office, ML and her buddy from English for Action were told they must provide ‘evidence’ of her homelessness – this is contrary to homelessness law which says the council only need ‘reason to believe’ someone is homeless and in priority need in order to provide temporary accommodation. ML and her buddy stood their ground and challenged this gatekeeping only to be told that there were no staff there that day to open up a homelessness application and organise interim housing – despite the legal obligation that local councils provide this.
But sadly the aggressive gatekeeping by Lambeth council was not limited to those two full days at the housing office. ML had first approached Lambeth council for housing help in May 2015 because of severe overcrowding in her home but back then she had been unlawfully turned away on two occasions. Lambeth’s council’s gatekeeping meant that from May until December, the family have unnecessarily suffered the incredibly overcrowded conditions causing them a great deal of stress. In December, another person living in the shared accommodation physically assaulted ML. Again, this attack would not have happened had Lambeth taken action back in May when ML first visited them to raise the overcrowding. Here the deeply serious consequences of gatekeeping and unsuitable housing became incredibly apparent – yet when they visited the housing office this month because the situation had become even more urgent and unsafe for the family, Lambeth tried to turn them away again.
Back in May, ML also approached her local MP for support in challenging Lambeth council’s unlawful gatekeeping. Shamefully, instead of being concerned about the conduct of the local housing office and the appalling and exploitative conditions of the private rented sector in her constituency, Kate Hoey instead interrogated ML about where she was from and why she had come to the UK. Kate Hoey’s lack of support for her constituents housing situation can only be explained as blatant racism.
HASL are calling on Lambeth to place the family into band A so that they can access suitable social housing urgently. Had Lambeth given the housing help it should have back in May, the family would have been able to access social housing by now. The current unsuitable temporary accommodation and the aggressive gatekeeping and ordeal the family were subjected to by the housing office also mean that Lambeth must help them get the suitable social housing they urgently need.
ML was finally able to get temporary housing from Lambeth last Friday – but only with the support of a buddy and the presence of HASL members who turned up to show their support for ML and to collectively challenge Lambeth’s treatment and gatekeeping. Whilst we’re proud of our collective action – it shouldn’t take twenty people and two days for a homeless application to be started. How many others have Lambeth turned away and mistreated?
HASL often encounter unlawful gatekeeping, but this was particularly persistent and aggressive. This particular case of gatekeeping is reminiscent of the days spent at Southwark housing office earlier this year.