Today we published a blog detailing the many examples of gatekeeping and abuse we’ve experienced at Southwark Council’s housing office on Bournemouth Road in the past few years – You can read it here. There is a clear and present problem at the housing office and it needs to stop. We’re determined that together we can put an end to the abuse and mistreatment faced by people and hold Southwark Council to account – something they’ve so refused to do. HASL has written a pledge to end gatekeeping and disrespect at Southwark Housing Office – which we intend to get Southwark Council to publicly commit to following – we hope to get groups we work alongside to sign it alongside us too.
We recognise that the housing crisis is larger than these problems, and we know that even if Southwark Council was to begin to treat people with respect, respect the law and properly established procedures, we’d still have a long way to go to fight for access to secure housing. But, hundreds, if not thousands, of people a year are denied access to the immediate support they have a right to, their requests for help often unrecorded creating a false statistical impression. We can reverse this process, and doing so will make a measurable difference. Southwark Council can do better, and we can make them do better.
Of course, gatekeeping is not an issue simply at Southwark’s housing offices. We know that it’s happening at boroughs across London (we’ve documented Lambeth council gatekeeping here and here) and the UK. Please feel free to use our pledge, perhaps making adaptations to fit the situation at your housing office, to present to your local council and let us know how it goes.
Pledge to End Gatekeeping at Southwark Housing Office
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a local community group made up of homeless and badly housed people who meet up to learn our rights, support each other, work on our housing issues together, and take action for good housing for everyone. Many of us have experienced serious problems at Southwark council’s Peckham housing office when we have tried to access the help and housing provision we are legally entitled to. The significant number of people in our group who have reported serious problems visiting Peckham housing office have led us to understand that there is a widespread culture of disrespect and gatekeeping (when people are denied access to services they have a legal entitlement to). Some of us even feel the atmosphere and disrespect could be called a culture of hate directed at the homeless people visiting. These problems include regularly being denied a homeless assessment that they are legally obliged to open, being refused a buddy/supporter to accompany someone to the housing office for appointments and interviews, intimidation from staff including security guards, a general high level of disrespect from staff, and other poor treatment including the homeless assessment taking entire days of waiting in the housing office.
We want an end to this treatment of homeless people by the council. We have drawn up the following demands that would make our experiences at the housing office much more bearable and would help Southwark council comply with their legal duties towards homeless people. We hope that Southwark council will sign up to this pledge, that they will display a copy in the housing office, and also publicly detail how they plan to change the practices in the housing office to comply with the pledge. We invite other local community groups to show their support for our pledge by signing up as well.
Pledge of concrete steps Southwark council must take to combat gatekeeping and disrespect towards homeless people at the housing office:
- Everyone has the right to have at least one person of their choosing to accompany them to the housing office.
- All staff at the housing office treat people with respect and all reports of disrespect are fully investigated. Treating people with respect includes calm and clear verbal communication, and making the homelessness assessment process (or other housing assistance) as quick and simple as possible; waiting in the housing office for an entire day must end. Other time saving techniques should be implemented, for example, letting people book in for homeless assessments and other appointments online if they wish (whilst maintaining other provision for those without internet access).
- To reduce the amount of security staff at the housing offices and have a process for full investigation of any mistreatment people have reported.
- That homelessness rights and the process are clearly explained to people by staff. That basic homelessness rights information, including HASL leaflets, are displayed in the housing office, as well as this pledge.
- Visitors to the housing office should be given receipts acknowledging their visit, stating what the visit was for, who they spoke to and what action, if any is being taken. If no action is being taken, a reason why should be stated.
- When someone visits the housing office presenting as homeless, a homelessness application is opened immediately, as homelessness law states.
- If people have been denied the simple rights on this pledge they should be moved immediately to Band 1 on the housing waiting list. This is to compensate for the increased stress Southwark will have caused homeless people by breaking this simple pledge.
We’re inviting community groups and other anti-poverty groups and organisations to sign up to the pledge to show Southwark council that it has wide public support. If your group would like to sign up to our pledge, please get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org We also invite you to use and adapt our gatekeeping pledge to present it to your local council.
This pledge is supported by:
Housing Action Greenwich and Lewisham