For many months, M was forced into an all too common situation where she had to rely on the kindness of a friend with children to let her sleep on her sofa. But because that wasn’t always guaranteed she also found herself sleeping in a church through one of the limited shelter schemes available in Lambeth, and sleeping rough. She has a history of poor health because of anaemia from multiple fibroids, back pain and painful osteoarthritis in her knees which has gotten worse in her 50s, and a history of depression, anxiety and PTSD. In summer 2017 her GP also discovered lumps in her neck, but because of the gatekeeping by the radiologist she was referred to she’s still waiting for a proper diagnosis and treatment for hypothyroidism.
M approached Lambeth council in November 2017 and again in December to apply as homeless, but the housing office refused to help her on both occasions and were rude and indifferent to her situation. She heard about HASL and came along to one of the group’s meetings for help. Together we began the inexcusably long and challenging process of supporting her get the social housing she’s entitled to as a disabled woman with complex health needs.
In February M went back to the council with supporting documentation and a letter from her social worker and mental health team. She was shuffled over from the reception waiting area to a desk where housing options officers ‘pre-screen’ homeless applicants before giving them a homelessness interview and was asked for more documentation going back several years.
In March the homelessness assessment interview finally took place. M was grilled on the documentation she had brought as if the housing officer was trying to catch her out. She was eventually given temporary accommodation that month and told that she would receive a written decision letter in 33-50 days about whether or not the council would decide to give her a homeless duty. M didn’t receive anything from the council and despite her best effort to contact someone she was ignored for months.
As her mental health deteriorated she continued to be seen by her community mental health team, was supervised by psychiatrist and was given a social worker who offered on-going therapeutic support.
Eventually she received a letter from the council, but it was a notice of eviction from her temporary accommodation. She still hadn’t received the homeless duty decision letter. She continued to ring, email and visit the housing office, but was turned away without explanation or help. Finally, she found a direct number for someone in the Temporary Accommodation team and called asking about her housing situation. After being told off for calling that number, a decision letter did magically appear but Lambeth denied her a homeless duty because she wasn’t in ‘priority need.’
The decision letter acknowledged that she suffered from various health conditions, but said that because the medication she was on was ‘common’ and that she was coping well in 2017 she wasn’t vulnerable. Lambeth’s outsourced medical practitioner at Now Medical formed the basis of this opinion, but he was unable to detail his reasons. HASL put her in touch with a solicitor and we worked to help her review the negative decision letter. Her GP also wrote a supporting letter stating that her mental health had deteriorated and that had Now Medical consulted with the primary caregiver, a different conclusion as to her vulnerability would have been reached.
Unfortunately, in October, Lambeth stuck to their negative decision, but M’s solicitor has confirmed that her case has grounds for an appeal. We are now waiting for the case to go to court in a few days and have requested that her temporary accommodation be extended pending appeal. Needless to say, it shouldn’t have taken nearly two years to get to this point, and refusing vulnerable single people on the basis of priority need without thorough explanation through Lambeth’s joint partnership with Now Medical is nothing but a testament to the council’s continued hostility and lack of interest in supporting vulnerable people and addressing the housing crisis in any meaningful way.
Get involved in Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to take action together for the good quality, secure, spacious council homes we all need!