Families living in overcrowded housing and their supporters have achieved a significant victory for overcrowded families living in Southwark. The council have responded positively to the community-led campaign and a successful legal challenge. The term ‘deliberate act’ has been removed in a new draft of the allocations scheme. The council has also promised to take a number of concrete steps that will benefit families in overcrowded housing including reviewing negative decisions. The council has also invited HASL and other local community groups to a meeting to discuss improvements to their allocations scheme.
This is a welcome change of approach from the council but it should not have taken years of campaigning and legal action for Southwark council to finally listen to our concerns. Families have for far too long had their priority on the waiting list significantly reduced simply because, as a result of high rents, benefit cuts and a shortage of council homes, they were unable to afford suitable accommodation. Most of the families affected are from migrant and BAME households, and therefore faced additional structural barriers when accessing housing.
In September, PILC and HASL together with 30+ local community groups wrote an open letter to Southwark council about the culture of blame and refusal faced by families in overcrowded housing, who were trying to access support from the council. We highlighted how the council’s actions are targeting low-income families from BAME and migrant backgrounds.
Southwark council’s initial response continued to blame families in overcrowded housing. The council argued that living in overcrowded housing was a ‘choice’, suggested other areas of the country where families could live, and accused them of trying to ‘exploit’ the housing register.
As our concerns were taken not taken seriously, we launched an email campaign against the council. Over 250 protest emails were sent to the leader of the council in support of the campaign, demanding a change to the council’s policies and practices on overcrowding.
Those emails highlighted the hardship that families were facing as a result of the council’s cruel policy – which described severely overcrowded families as having ‘deliberately’ caused their overcrowding, and then penalised them by reducing their priority on the waiting list. In other cases, housing officers were not interpreting the housing allocations scheme properly when deciding wrongly and with no evidence that families had ‘deliberately worsened their circumstances’ (and were living in overcrowded accommodation on purpose) so as to exploit the housing register.
In response to the campaign:
- The leader of the council, Keiron Williams, agreed to meeting with HASL and other local community groups to discuss improvements that could be made to the council’s housing allocations scheme;
- The council’s housing manager agreed to revise guidance to staff administering the housing allocations scheme, specifically in relation to the ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
- The council will be reviewing all cases issued with a decision that there has been a ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
- All officers within the housing department will be issued with updated guidance; and
- The council will be consulting on a new allocations scheme. The council requested our participation to ‘help shape the future of allocations in Southwark.’
We welcome the council’s response to our campaign, and will now fight to ensure that:
- The updated guidance to staff is clear so that decisions are now made fairly and lawfully.
- The council’s scheme is re-drafted clearly, fairly and operates in a way that supports rather than penalises families facing hardship. The scheme must make clear that no family should ever be penalised or blamed for living in overcrowded conditions.
Thank you to all the community groups and individuals who have supported our campaign! It’s not over until we all have the high quality, safe, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we all need and deserve!