Open letter from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to Southwark council – 3 things

We are a group of families and individuals struggling with homelessness and other poor housing conditions, such as severely overcrowded private rented housing. Our group is the biggest group of families in temporary accommodation and other poor housing conditions in Southwark. We have over 400 members who are actively involved in the group.

We support each other with housing problems including overcrowding, unsuitable temporary accommodation, high rents, dangerous conditions, gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. We learn our rights together, support each other and fight for good quality council homes for everyone.

The homeless process and accessing the housing register can be very difficult and stressful for our members and anyone in housing need. We are concerned that the council are making large changes to policies and practices which directly affect homeless and other poorly housed residents without engaging and notifying us.

This is causing many of our members yet more stress, confusion and feeling disempowered. We want the council to promise to engage meaningfully with our group and others before making any policy changes that affect homeless and overcrowded households.

In our group, there are a number of key issues that we would like the council to respond to.

(1) Huge reduction of homes on the housing register bidding account/ Southwark Homesearch

In the last year, there has been a significant drop in the number of homes appearing on Southwark Homesearch (our housing register account where we bid for social housing). The council has not given a satisfactory explanation for this huge decrease. Some weeks there have been no 3 bed homes available or only one 3 bed home available.

We believe it could be that the council have been increasing the number of direct offers that they are making to households in temporary accommodation. This then leaves fewer homes to be put on the Homesearch list. We would like the council to explain what is going on as this has a big effect on households in temporary accommodation and others on the housing waiting list, for example families living in severely overcrowded private rented housing.

We have submitted a Freedom Of Information request to ask for the council’s direct offer policy as we cannot find one.

Action required:

• An explanation for the reduction of homes on Southwark Homesearch and also public access to the direct offers policy.

• Letting HASL and other groups and others directly affected respond to the direct offers policy and any future housing allocations policies.

(2) Reducing and denying priority on the waiting list for overcrowded households

We wrote a letter to Councillor Kieron Williams about this issue, including the 5 cases of our members who are all overcrowded families living the private rented sector, on 1st October 2019 but we have not received a response. We also sent tweets with a number of questions which also went unanswered but Cllr Williams did reply to say that he supported the council’s decisions against our members. We have since helped to overturn 2 of these bad decisions that Cllr Williams was so confident in. This blame and punishment of overcrowded families must end. This treatment has been particularly targeted at overcrowded families in the private rented sector.

Action required:

• Stop targeting new housing register applications from overcrowded families in the private rented sector and reducing their priority to band 4 on the housing waiting list.

• Ensure that statutorily overcrowded families get the priority they are entitled to on the housing register.

• Remove the 5 year local connection criteria and return it to 6 months. The 5 year local connection means that overcrowded families are wrongly being refused access to the housing register.

(3) Out of borough, unsuitable temporary accommodation

We know a lot of members who have been housed far outside the borough across London in unsuitable temporary accommodation, such as this member and her toddler. A number of our members in this situation are single parents who are working or are disabled and we see the huge difficulties and disadvantages that these families are suffering away from their support networks in their home borough. The council must look to bring these families back to their home borough. There are empty homes available on the Aylesbury estate and we want confirmation that all these homes are being used for temporary accommodation.

We understand that the sourcing and allocation of home borough temporary accommodation is complicated but efforts should be dedicated to this task as it has such a significant impact on homeless households. Co-operation with other boroughs is one way to improve things as well as engaging with the households affected as well.

Although the council have promised that some families are on a waiting list to be brought back into their home borough, we are not clear about how this waiting list operates. We need an explanation of this waiting list so our members can understand when they are likely to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in their home borough. The council must ensure that those with additional vulnerabilities and needs are housed in their home borough as soon as possible. It feels as though some of our members housed across London have simply been forgotten.

Action required:

• Inform us and all homeless households in out of borough accommodation what the process for re-housing them back in their home borough will be.

• Ensuring that single parent families and others with vulnerabilities are prioritised for re-housing back in their home borough.

• Informing families who are housed out of borough what their position is on the waiting list for re-housing in temporary accommodation back in borough.

• Checking with families if they do want to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in borough before making the offer (some families might not want to move at that moment).

We need a clear explanation of the policies and practices that the council are enacting now that are affecting us all. We need answers urgently to understand what is going on and it is vital that our concerns and demands are listened to and acted on. We expect that the council can give clear responses to these 3 areas within 2 weeks seeing as we have already raised point 2 with councillor Kieron Williams on 1st October 2019.

We understand first hand that there is a huge shortage of good quality, secure council housing that is a root cause of all these problems, with cuts to local authorities making things worse as well. (But Southwark council have played their part in creating this housing crisis by demolishing thousands of good quality council homes in the borough starting with the Heygate estate and currently on the Aylesbury estate.) The shortage of council homes is not an excuse to deny vital housing support and assistance and respectful treatment to people now. We hope the council will respond to our concerns and engage with and act on our suggestions.

From Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

 

Supported by;

English for Action

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