Lewisham council – don’t ban overcrowded families from the housing register

A judge has granted permission for a HASL member’s case to be heard in the High Court. Our member, whose family live in overcrowded housing, is challenging Lewisham council’s decision refusing them access to the housing register because they have not lived in the borough for 5 years.

We are a family of 5 people, I have 2 sons aged 14 and 16 and a 7 year old daughter. We live in a small 2 bedroom flat. My 2 sons sleep in one room and my husband and I occupy in the other room with our daughter. This situation is very uncomfortable because we have very little space. That is why we requested to join Lewisham’s housing waiting list but they rejected us 2 times for not living in the borough for 5 years. We feel very upset by this situation and we feel that it is very unfair and oppressive. We are challenging this decision and we hope it will also help other families as well. Thank you to HASL for your help and your guidance.

Overcrowding is one of the biggest housing problems our members face and an issue we have been supporting each other with and campaigning on together for years. High private rents, benefit cuts, widespread discrimination by private landlords and a desperate shortage of council homes mean that families are forced to rent smaller flats than they need. Even before Covid 19, these living conditions had serious impacts on families mental and physical health. With lockdowns confining people to their homes the situation for overcrowded families has been even more unbearable. Overcrowding itself is a serious public health issue.

The obvious solution to overcrowding is 3, 4, 5 bed high quality, safe, secure council homes. So why is Lewisham council’s response to overcrowding to increase the local connection criteria to make it more difficult for overcrowded families to join the housing register?

We believe that it is blatantly unfair to apply a strict residence criteria to families suffering with a housing need. They are forcing overcrowded families to endure these living conditions for 5 years before they can even join the housing register for the chance to access more spacious social housing. It’s not acceptable for children to spend over 5 years of their childhood in overcrowded housing and for this to be the council’s policy.

In HASL, we see the discriminatory impact this has particularly on migrant families who are less likely to have accumulated this time in the borough – many migrant families face additional difficulties and discrimination when trying to find housing in the private rented sector meaning that they are more likely to end up having to live in overcrowded conditions. Often, they may have had already moved homes several times trying to improve their housing conditions making it harder to build up time in a particular borough.

The consequences of the discrimination faced by migrant and BAME households accessing housing is shown in the disgraceful statistic that while only 2% of White British households are overcrowded, 30% of Bangladeshi households and 15% of Black African households are. Policies such as Lewisham’s only deepen these inequalities and injustice.

It should not take legal action for Lewisham council to support their residents living in overcrowded housing and we hope they will urgently review their decision to apply the 5 year residence criteria to people with a housing need. Alongside the legal challenge, we’ll continue our campaigning in support of overcrowded families and for the 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we all need and deserve.

How you can help!

Please share our blog and tweets to Lewisham council in support of overcrowded families and feel free to write your own tweets.

Lewisham council recently announced that they will be reviewing their housing allocations policy and will undertake a consultation exercise with local residents and stakeholders. If you’re a Lewisham resident, please think about engaging in this consultation – in HASL, we’ll be discussing how we want to respond to this consultation and we’ll be publishing our ideas and guidance about responding to this consultation soon.

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