Our cases – severely overcrowded housing

overcrowding blog image

Southwark council – stop blaming families for overcrowded housing! Urgent action now.

For years, we have been supporting our members in severely overcrowded housing and campaigning on this issue. We wrote this blog before the coronavirus. But the coroavirus has added another danger to those living in already unsafe housing conditions. In such tiny living spaces, these families cannot self-isolate from family members who are unwell. Now we are required to spend more time at home, these families are trapped in these tiny living spaces and the stresses and difficulties of living in overcrowded housing will be felt even more strongly. Overcrowding is often a housing issue that is overlooked. It’s vital that we don’t let this happen.

94% of private rented homes are too expensive for families on housing benefit.

A recent report shows that 3.6 million people living in overcrowded housing

Families who are living in overcrowded and statutory overcrowded housing often in the private rented sector is one of the biggest housing problems we come across in HASL.

Why is Southwark council’s answer to overcrowding to blame families and tell them to leave Southwark?

These are the cases of 2 long-term members where the council’s approach and treatment has been particularly bad.

In R’s family’s case, it will soon be the 2 year anniversary of when they first applied to join the housing register in April. They have faced long delays in processing it and were then placed into band 4 (the very bottom of the housing register) after the council decided that they had deliberately caused their overcrowding. As well as the daily difficulties and suffering that comes with living in such overcrowded housing, the family have worked tirelessly to prove to Southwark council what is obvious to everyone else – that they did not deliberately choose to be overcrowded.

In R and her family’s case, the council’s letter was highly judgemental declaring that the family had made a ‘choice’ to live in these conditions. It was patronising and offensive explaining how families have ‘settled’ across the country and registered with GP and schools as if this family had failed to do these things. The letter accused them of trying to queue jump the housing register when the family did not even know about the housing register before meeting our group. The council tell the family that they should live elsewhere in the country.

Is every overcrowded Southwark resident told to live in other parts of the country? Or is it because this family is from a migrant background?

R is a 17 year old living with her younger brother and parents in a studio flat. She explains the many difficulties of living in overcrowded housing:

It affects our studies because the flat is too small. Because we have the beds and the kitchen next to each other and we just have a small table where we eat and do our homework. Whilst my mum is doing the food, I am trying to do my homework and it is really distracting and really stressful. My brother is playing too so it is hard to focus.Because everything is together in one room, there is the smell of food when I’m trying to sleep this means that it affects my studies as well because I cannot sleep well.

It is so stressful, my head cannot focus. I have to just go outside the flat to get some air to deal with the stress because the flat is too small, I cannot think in there.I don’t have any privacy, to change my clothes I have to go to change in the toilet and it is really uncomfortable.

I can’t bring my friends home because it is too small – my parents are there and my brother is there. My friends could not fit inside. So I have to go to the park to meet with them which is dangerous because it is dark at the moment.

She explains how she feels Southwark council have treated her family’s case:

I feel really bad because it is like the treatment of us is racist, they are being really strict to us, they don’t care about the family. Sometimes it feels like really embarrassing for us to apply for housing. We are immigrants so applying for housing makes us feels embarrassed, every time they say no to us, you cannot apply for housing. But we feel like Southwark is our home. I have my friends here, my church, I go to the gym to relax and get away from the flat. I do volunteering which makes me feel good.

It feels like we’re treated like we have done a crime because of the way they have treated our case. They are asking us for so many documents about all our life.

The council need to know that it is important to think of the families of young people, they need to focus on young people, we see the problems of knife crime, because maybe these situations affect them. I have friends applying for housing and they feel bad and have bad influences, they are in a space where they don’t do well and that is related to their housing.

Southwark council boast about the new council homes they’re building but they can’t use this to hide the appalling treatment they’re targeting at some of the most vulnerable Southwark residents right now. There are no excuses for this kind of treatment of overcrowded families. Southwark council cannot shift the responsibility here either – they are the ones blaming and punishing overcrowded families. They must address their actions, urgently resolve this family’s case, and ensure that all overcrowded families are supported and treated respectfully.

Another HASL family living in statutory overcrowded wrote about their situation. Again, Southwark council have told them that they have deliberately caused their overcrowding. The family are now challenging this decision with lawyers and it is going to court. But Southwark council should not be wasting public money to blame families for overcrowding.

I am living in a flat studio. We are a family of four, consisting of two parents and two children aged 14 and 11 years.  It affects us in many things for example, when they get home my children do not have a place to do their homework, I have a small table, they both start to discuss, and I have to tell them one to do at the table and the other in bed, so the fight starts and my son says: I want a room and a place where I can do my homework. I understand their anger that they are 14 years old and they need their space … at night when they went to bed to sleep, they sleep together in a bed because there is no space at all sides. 

The room is very small.  My wife and I sleep in a living room combined with a kitchen room, we have a sofa bed that every morning we have to pick up.  We have a clothes closet for all four because we have no space.  We want to rent a two bedroom apartment but it is very expensive and the agencies ask you for many documents, and they ask us what you work for, how much you earn, how many hours you work.  If you have benefits we cannot rent you.  Why so much inequality?  That is, those with more money have more advantages. And those who do not earn much can not rent an apartment. Not only me there are many families that live in these situations and can not rent. And there are people who take advantage of us, there are private agents and they take 500 pound commissions. It’s not fair. Everyone has the right to have a normal life.  I am not asking for a luxury life, simply an apartment with two rooms for 4 people. I think people who have never seen or have never lived they do not know.  That’s why they make us difficult.  I hope one day we can all have a decent apartment to live in (for everyone).

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