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.