HASL’s 2020

2020 has been a very difficult year, especially for people living in bad housing conditions such as overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation away from their home borough and other unsafe housing situations. But our group has still achieved so much together this year despite the difficult circumstances.

Even though we were not able to have our regular group meetings in person we have adapted to running our group meetings online by zoom on a weekly basis to make sure that we can see each other and support each other regularly. Throughout the pandemic, our regular zoom meetings, practical support and online campaigning has made sure that we have continued to protect our housing rights and fight together for the high quality, safe, secure 3, 4, 5, bed homes we all need. Every day across south London our members are supporting each other and taking collective action on housing issues we face.

We have achieved many victories together this year – victories for families who have finally been able to move into permanent council housing and also wider victories which will benefit many others as well – and we hope that next year we will be able to celebrate these together with a party in Burgess park when it is safe to do so. We wanted to share some of our highlights with you – sorry if we have missed anything!

We want to thank all our members and supporters for your amazing support for the group this year. Our group is run by our members and the group would not function without everyone’s participation. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way including, helping run and contribute to our zoom meetings, telling friends about the group, liking our social media posts, joining our online protests, helping to make videos and so much more! We’ve also loved working together with our friends Public Interest Law Centre and English for Action and many other groups and new friends we’ve made over the year.

We’re looking forward to seeing you (on zoom) in the new year and making plans together for 2021!

Campaign and legal victory against Southwark council’s cruel treatment of families in overcrowded housing

We had a really big victory earlier this month when Favio and Elba won their case in the Court of Appeal overturning Southwark council’s decision that their overcrowding was a ‘deliberate act’. We hope this Court of Appeal judgement will also help other families in severely overcrowded housing who are being unfairly blamed by Southwark council for causing overcrowding. This legal victory is part of a long-running campaign by HASL families in overcrowded housing.

Our campaign for the removal of the ‘deliberate act’ term and for the end of Southwark council’s culture of blame and refusal continues. You can still support our email protest to Kieron Williams here

The South London Press covered Favio and Elba’s case here and we wrote an article about it for Tribune here.

In June, we launched our postcard protest with over 200 HASL members and supporters joining in support of Milton and his family who are another family that Southwark council were blaming for causing overcrowding. Alongside legal action by Public Interest Law Centre, Southwark council finally backed down and awarded the family higher priority on the housing register.

In September, together with Public Interest Law Centre and 30+ community groups, we launched an open letter to Southwark council about the treatment of families in overcrowded housing and the culture of blame and refusal these families are subjected to. The unacceptable response from Southwark council, where the council still described overcrowding as a ‘choice’ by families, led to our email protest.

At the start of the first lockdown our members made video diaries highlighting the difficulties they face in severely overcrowded housing.

Over the year, with the help of good housing lawyers, we’ve helped to overturn many of Southwark’s bad decisions targeted at overcrowded families. With our campaign and legal challenge we want to make sure families do not have to receive bad decisions in the first place and that they can get the help they are entitled to!

Victory defending Lambeth homeless families’ rights

In June, HASL and Public Interest Law Centre won a campaign and legal victory defending homeless families’ rights who had been unfairly removed from the housing register under Lambeth council’s “homeless prevention” scheme called Temp to Settled. As a result of our victory, hundreds of Lambeth families had their housing register accounts re-instated so that they can bid again for permanent social housing. You can read more about it in the Brixton Blog here and  Inside Housing here. It was also reported on Nearly Legal here. We’ve made a leaflet explaining the new rights and future problems that may arise. 

We have been campaigning on this issue for years. In December 2018 Susana helped to make this video explaining her case and in March 2019 we held a protest inside Lambeth’s new Civic Centre with our banner ‘don’t kick us off the housing list’ where we met another family affected by this scheme.

One of our members who was part of this successful legal challenge against Lambeth council still faces eviction by her private landlord. She was served a section 21 notice during lockdown. She describes her experiences in this blog with her demands for more social housing and an end to section 21.

Too Long In Temporary

Lambeth homeless families in temporary accommodation in band C face years and years stuck in poor quality temporary accommodation when they urgently need safe, secure council housing. Lambeth’s housing allocations policy demotes homeless families into band C, below those who take the risky “homeless prevention” option. Homeless families are stuck Too Long in Temporary!

We’ve been supporting our member Janeth and her family’s case, who have been in temporary accommodation for over 6 years. Janeth made a video about her case which we launched in September and we’ve been campaigning on Janeth’s case and in support of all homeless families. The South West Londoner and the Brixton Blog covered Janeth’s case and the situation for families in temporary accommodation. Janeth is still waiting for a medical decision from Lambeth council in response to the review letter that her lawyers submitted in August.

Lewisham overcrowding challenge

One of our Lewisham members is living with her family in overcrowded private housing. Because they do not yet meet the 5 year residency criteria Lewisham council have refused the let the family join the housing waiting list. We think this is unfair and that it discriminates against migrant families who are less likely to have built up time in the borough and also face additional difficulties and discrimination in the private rented sector meaning they are more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. Our member is taking a legal challenge against Lewisham council and we will be campaigning for Lewisham council to support their overcrowded residents and review their decision to apply the 5 year residency criteria to people with a housing need.

Another Lewisham family in temporary accommodation was suddenly told by the council that she was being moved into temporary accommodation in a Harlow office block that has been in the national and local news for it’s terrible conditions. We supported her to challenge this decision and she was able to remain in her suitable temporary accommodation.

Other important victories

Just before lockdown, a Lewisham family who are long-term members of the group moved into a permanent council home. 2 other Lambeth members also moved into permanent council homes after they were finally awarded the correct medical priority with the help of HASL and PILC. These two women were both suffering serious medical problems which were made worse by their bad housing. After getting band B for welfare needs, they were both able to successfully bid for council housing which meant that during lockdown they at least had suitable housing. 

We have supported 3 families overturn wrong benefit decisions which saw them returned a total of almost £15,000. In one case, a single mum had her Universal Credit wrongly stopped in February and spent most of lockdown with no income. With the help of Osborne’s solicitors this decision was overturned and she was refunded £7,500. All of these families had been facing serious hardship and the threat of eviction due to these benefit issues but they are in a much more secure position now.

While we recently celebrated our win against Lambeth council’s Temp2Settled scheme, one of our members had been wrongly kept off this scheme, leaving her lower down on the housing waiting list. With the help of GT Stewart solicitors, she was able to fight for higher band B priority on the housing waiting list that she should have been entitled to from the start.    

With the help of Z2K a HASL family was able to overturn a negative PIP decision and get the benefits that they are entitled to.

With the help of housing lawyers, we helped to overturn 2 ‘intentionally homeless’ decisions that lead to evictions and have a devastating impact for families. These two families now have a full housing duty.

When bidding reopened around September, a number of HASL families have been able to successfully get permanent council homes after help from HASL making sure they have their correct position on the housing register. 2 families who were statutory overcrowded in 1 bedroom homes have both been able to move to the 3 bed council homes they need.

Our group has also helped families to make homeless applications and challenge unlawful gatekeeping, helped people get their correct banding on the housing register, helped people understand their rights, helped people to find lawyers for their housing cases, helped people to request suitability reviews which has seen them re-housed closer to their home borough, and provided emotional support as well. In our group zoom meetings our members have been incredible at providing support, sharing experiences and rights information.

Workshops and events

Our regular housing support group with  English for Action students has now been running for over 1 year. We’ve loved working together with EFA students and teachers working on the housing issues they face. EFA students have been amazing at supporting HASL campaigns as well.

We also ran housing rights workshops with our friends Mums Space and Espacio Mama over zoom. In June, we ran a housing rights and Covid 19 zoom webinar attended by over 60 people. We ran a workshop with our members explaining about the judicial review process.

We’ve enjoyed speaking at a number of events. In March, our member Ximena spoke at the Law Centres Network Latin American Rights conference about HASL and our organising on homelessess and housing rights. Pamela and Fowsiyo spoke at about how we organise together at a Brent Transformed event where we had the chance to meet up with housing campaigners in north London. We joined the Housing Law Practitioners’ Association for a zoom discussion on ‘access to justice’ and we also spoke on a panel at their annual conference. It was really lovely to speak and attend the HLPA annual conference listening to great speakers and learning the latest updates on housing law.

We joined New Economics Foundation for a zoom talk about what happens after the eviction ban ends speaking alongside the brilliant Magpie Project and we also spoke at the wonderful RebLaw event about our experiences and perspectives on the Homelessness Reduction Act. One of our members was involved with Greater Manchester Housing Action helping to organise a series talks about the housing crisis.

Social housing not scapegoating

We were proud to support this important solidarity statement organised by Shelter and Baobab Women’s Project calling for Social Housing Not Scapegoating in response to the far right targeting hotels where asylum seekers were being housed. We will always fight for migrants rights and housing rights. No one should be homeless, everyone deserves a safe, secure, good quality council home.

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