HASL local elections guide – Southwark

HASL is a completely independent group, we do not support any political party. We believe that with mutual support and collective action we can win together and fight for the high-quality council homes we need and deserve.

In the run up to local elections, political parties and those running to be councillors can be found making all kinds of promises.

Housing and homelessness will be key issues in these local elections.

We wanted to share some of our experiences of our local councils over the last 4 years and highlight the changes and action that need to happen now on homelessness, housing, and poverty in our boroughs. We hope that our experiences might help you to think of questions and issues to raise with people asking for your vote!

If you do get any answers from prospective councillors on these issues, please let us know! Send us an email haslcases[at]gmail.com

As you’ll see, as Southwark residents at the worst end of the housing crisis our experiences of dealing with Southwark council have been overwhelmingly negative. But don’t lose hope! Over the last 4 years with the efforts and determination of our members, we’ve won countless victories which have seen our members move into beautiful council housing and win other vital housing rights.

Southwark is lucky to have many active local campaigns on housing and community struggles. Make sure to follow 35% campaign, Latin Elephant, Southwark Notes, Southwark Group of Tenant Organisations, Southwark Travellers’ Action Group and others for other news on the housing and anti-gentrification movement here in Southwark.

We welcome those running as councillors to take action now on the issues we’re raising. Your support is long overdue.

Blaming and punishing families in overcrowded housing for the housing crisis

Southwark families in some of the most overcrowded housing in the borough have been repeatedly blamed by the council for the overcrowding and penalised on the housing waiting list. Southwark council use the cruel ‘deliberate act’ term to refuse families in severely overcrowded housing the chance to urgently move to more suitable housing. We have repeatedly pointed out to the council and councillors how their use of ‘deliberate act’ targets families of colour and migrant families. Back in December 2020, a HASL family successfully challenged the council’s use of ‘deliberate act’ in the Court of Appeal but the council seem to be ignoring this judgement.

In October 2020 Council Leader Kieron Williams stated that people with no other options should not be penalised for living in overcrowded housing. In March 2021 Cllr Stephanie Cryan stated that ‘deliberate act’ would be removed from the housing allocations policy and promised last month in a Labour branch meeting that the policy would be stopped immediately.

But right now, Southwark council are going to the High Court again to defend their ‘deliberate act’ decision that they have been punishing Milton’s family with for years. Their hateful decision told Milton that he should not have re-united with his wife and children here in London and that he should have left them on another continent! It is shocking and shameful that Southwark council are using public money, time, and resources to go to court.

We’ve also seen Southwark council threaten to prosecute vulnerable private tenants living in severely overcrowded housing for their housing conditions instead of taking on the slum private landlords!

‘Thought About Going Back to Peru?’ – Council Asks Family in UK Since 2004

As covered in Vice in December last year, a HASL member seeking housing support from the council was asked if she had ‘thought about going back to Peru?’ to solve her overcrowded housing. Our HASL member has 3 children who were all born here and have lived in Southwark for almost 2 decades in a single room – the family have suffered some of the most severe overcrowding we have ever come across. After this interview, unsurprisingly, the council decided that the family’s overcrowding was a ‘deliberate act’.

This offensive and racist question was defended by Cllr Stephanie Cryan who said: “… our staff are meticulous in their questions to ensure fairness of outcome in the result.”

The family have not received an apology from the council and we have not had any reassurance that this will not happen again.

Trying to push through changes to the housing waiting list rules taking away housing rights

Last year during the severe lockdown, Southwark council pushed through a flawed consultation about major changes to the housing register waiting list rules affecting some of Southwark’s most vulnerable residents. At the time, ourselves and other organisations asked the council to ‘pause, amend and extend’ the consultation in order to allow people to have the time to fully engage and respond to changes that would seriously impact them for the next decade. But the council insisted that there was no time to amend and extend the consultation. In the end they only agreed to a 1 month extension. The consultation closed on 1st June 2021 but the council have not announced anything about the consultation since then. We recently heard that the new rules are likely to be announced after June 2022 over a year later. This date is conveniently after the May 2022 local election. Why were the council rushing through a consultation during lockdown and then abandoning it for a year? What are their plans that they can’t announce it before the May 2022 elections? It looks like they are playing politics with people’s lives.

Where is the social housing?

Council leader Kieron Williams stated in February 2021 “the truth is the number of council homes in Southwark is going up not down“. But the reality has been the opposite on Southwark Homesearch where households on the housing waiting list bid for social housing properties. Since Southwark Homesearch re-opened in September 2020 we have seen the fewest number of properties on Southwark Homesearch ever. We have repeatedly asked the council for an explanation for this dramatic reduction in the number of properties available on Southwark Homesearch but we have not received a response to this question. The reduction is also confusing when there are a number of new council and housing association developments across the borough which we would have expected would have resulted in an increase in the number of homes on Southwark Homesearch.   

One factor we think may be playing a part in the reduction is the council’s unaccountable use of direct offers to some homeless families in temporary accommodation. We wrote an open letter to the council in February 2021 about this asking about their use of direct offers and with three clear points we wanted to be addressed. While the council did reply to the letter, the response did not fully address our points or give us clear answers. Southwark residents on the housing waiting list still remain in the dark about the council’s use of direct offers.

Families stuck in temporary accommodation for longer due to unlawful housing waiting list queue jumping policy

From until July 2019 and December 2020, Southwark council were running an unlawful housing policy in the housing office pushing homeless families into private rented housing and families in temporary accommodation further down the housing waiting list. There was no public information about this policy and it was only uncovered by the efforts of HASL members. This policy was basically widescale queue jumping facilitated by the council where new homeless applicants were encouraged to take private housing in return for a higher position on the housing waiting list above people who have been in temporary accommodation for longer. The council only stopped this unlawful policy after 2 HASL members took judicial review proceedings against the council and the council settled the case by stopping the scheme.

The unlawful scheme is having devastating consequences for families in temporary accommodation who will have years added onto their time in temporary accommodation. It has also caused confusion, distress, and distrust for people on the housing waiting list as a result of the council’s behaviour.

Long journeys to school from unsuitable temporary accommodation

Many Southwark homeless households are being housed across London and as far as Essex, far from their communities, support, and schools here in Southwark. Being homeless is difficult enough, but being forced out of your neighbourhood adds to the distress and daily difficulties faced by homeless families. We’ve supported numerous families to successfully get temporary accommodation back in their home borough. But Southwark’s process re-housing families back in in-borough temporary accommodation is not clear at all adding more distress in an already difficult time.

We know that Southwark council faces pressures in sourcing suitable temporary accommodation that are often beyond their control but the council should still be doing everything they can to ensure people are housed in-borough and a clear system for families to understand when they can expect to get in-borough temporary accommodation.

No time for the biggest housing group in the borough?

Despite our efforts, there is not any meaningful engagement or dialogue between HASL and Southwark council on the serious housing issues we have raised. We have sent numerous emails to councillors that have gone unanswered, we have had meetings which result in nothing. Back in March 2021, HASL members went to great efforts organising and facilitating a zoom meeting with Council Leader Kieron Williams and Cllr Stephanie Cryan raising the key homelessness and housing issues affecting our group. We sent an email with minutes and action points and this went unanswered. Nothing we discussed was followed up on by the councillors.

HASL is a group of hundreds of families and individuals facing the worst end of the housing crisis. It’s shameful that Southwark council have repeatedly refused to engage with our group.

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