Over 50 HASL members joined our noise protest outside Southwark town hall at the start of this month in support of Milton’s family and all families living in overcrowded housing. As well as families coming from Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, some of our members traveled from their temporary accommodation out in Croydon. Other members joined us from Haringey and Hackney. You can watch some videos on our twitter here.
Our noise protest lasted over 2 hours making sure that the council could not ignore us and resulting in the housing manager coming down to speak with the families.He promised Milton’s family that they would receive a decision on their case by the following week. Unfortunately, this deadline has not been met. We have been keeping the pressure up on twitter and we might have to return with even more people and even more noise.
Milton’s family has faced extreme bullying from the council over the last 3 years. The family of 4 have been living in a tiny studio flat for four and a half years after this was the only property they could find after facing discrimination by private landlords and unaffordable local rents. Due to the serious level of overcrowding, the family should qualify for band 1 which would allow them to be quickly re-housed into suitable social housing. Instead of supporting the family, the council wrongly accused the family of committing fraud over an innocent admin error, threatened them with criminal prosecution for causing overcrowding and have insisted that the family’s overcrowding is a ‘deliberate act’. The family have been repeatedly asked by the council why they need to live in Southwark.
Along with Public Interest Law Cetnre we are also supporting a number of other HASL members who live in severely overcrowded housing to be treated fairly and respectfully and to claim their rightful position on the housing waiting list.
Thank you to everyone who joined who helped make it such a strong and powerful protest! We all know that no one chooses to live in overcrowded housing, hopefully Southwark council will finally get the message!
Help Denby court homeless families demand better treatment from Lambeth council, call to stop the evictions, and demand a better development plan for Lambeth families – 100% council housing on council owned land!
Denby Court in Kennington is one of the many council estates that Lambeth Council have earmarked for “regeneration”/demolition. While the council were waiting to demolish the buildings they used the estate as temporary accommodation for homeless families. Even though no demolition work is expected until August 2021, and there is currently no planning permission for the new development, the council are already threatening to evict the homeless families on the estate.
Families from Denby court attended a recent HASL meeting and told us how they have already spent years living in properties in Denby court which are overcrowded and in disrepair. Now they are being told they will be moved to new accommodation soon with little information of when exactly they will be moved, or where they will end up. As Davida recently told the Guardian:
“None of us wants to stay in the poor conditions we are living in but we want to be treated like people who have rights, not just moved on again, during a pandemic, to more temporary accommodation miles away from our schools and support networks.”
None of the families who joined our meeting had been clearly told what was going to happen to them. Some of the families have been pressured by the Council to give up their homeless duties and accept private accommodation. Some have been told that they will be housed in temporary accommodation outside of their home borough of Lambeth. Neither of these options are acceptable and this situation is causing serious distress to the families.
Some of the families we spoke to have medical and care needs – the last thing the Council should be doing is moving them at little notice far away from their support networks and children’s schools. Another resident described how Denby Court was her third temporary accommodation, and now she and her children are facing being moved into a fourth.
Lambeth Council must immediately stop any eviction plans and reassure the residents that they will be able to remain in their homes until longer-term solutions can be found by listening to the needs and wishes of the residents. Some of these longer term solutions could include giving direct offers of permanent social housing, allowing the families enough time at Denby court to bid for permanent social housing through the housing waiting list or finding suitable temporary accommodation in the local area to minimise disruption.
As if trying to evict and displace vulnerable homeless families was not bad enough – the new proposed development is not even a good deal for Lambeth residents. Denby Court estate is on council owned land – the council should be using this to maximise the number of family-sized council homes to help address the severe housing crisis we face. However, only 49 of the 141 new properties will be at Council rent. Lambeth council must do better than this for their residents! All new homes built on council land should be council homes!
It is positive to see that there will be 4 bedroom council homes on the new estate – as there is desperate need for larger family sized council homes – but there are only 5 of these planned for the whole estate.
The demolition of the estate should not be considered until a fair solution is found for its current residents and a better plan is made which has more family-sized council homes for a development on council-owned land.
Show your support from Denby court homeless families!
If you’re a Lambeth resident, please use our template email below to email the Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness Jennifer Brathwaite: firstname.lastname@example.org
If your local MP is Florence Eshalomi please email her as well: email@example.com
I am writing to you in support of the homeless families at Denby Court estate.
I am really concerned at the treatment these families are facing by Lambeth council and I hope you can intervene to support these vulnerable homeless families.
As you are probably aware, Lambeth council has decanted the council tenants from the estate and has been using Denby court as temporary accommodation for homeless families. Now that Lambeth wants to push ahead with demolition of the estate, Lambeth is trying to evict the families in temporary accommodation. The options offered to the families seem to be private rented housing or temporary accommodation out of borough. This approach by the council is completely unacceptable. It is causing serious distress to the families.
I am asking that the council immediately stop any eviction plans and give reassurance to the residents that they will be able to remain in their homes until longer-term solutions can be found by listening to the needs and wishes of the residents. Some of these longer term solutions could include giving direct offers of permanent social housing, allowing them to bid for permanent social housing through the Choice Based Lettings or finding suitable temporary accommodation in the local area to minimise disruption.
Finally, the new proposed development on the site of Denby court does not seem to be a good deal for Lambeth residents. This is council land and the council should be maximising the number of family-sized council homes to help address the severe housing crisis we face. New developments on council land should be 100% council housing. However, under the current development plans, only 49 of the 141 new properties will be at Council rent.
If the council can justify demolition of the estate in the future, rather than refurbishment, then the proposed development needs to offer more family-sized council homes (3, 4, 5 bed council homes) for Lambeth residents so that homeless households and families living in overcrowded housing can be suitably housed. But demolition of the estate should not be considered until a fair solution is found for it’s current residents and a better plan is made which has more family-sized council homes for a development on council-owned land.
I really hope that you will support your constituents with their urgent housing cases and that they are given reassurance that they will not be forced to leave against their will. I hope long-term solutions can be found for all the families at Denby court.
Southwark residents – Use our template email to fight for the rights of Southwark families in temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing!
Texto en español a continuación
What is HASL? Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a community housing group made up of families and individuals who are homeless in temporary accommodation, living in overcrowded housing or face other housing problems.
What’s happening? Southwark council are looking to make lots of significant changes to the housing waiting list rules. These changes will affect us all! Before the council can introduce the new rules, they are conducting a public consultation to ask for the views of Southwark residents on the new rules. Southwark council have launched an online survey, however, we have noticed that lots of the new rules are not included in the online survey. Some of the new rules and questions on the survey are not explained clearly. Because of these problems with the online survey and other accessibility issues with the survey, we have made a template email that you can use to give your views (more on this below).
We are very concerned about how the consultation process is being conducted – during a lockdown – and with an online survey that does not explain all the major changes clearly.
We are also very concerned about many of the new rules which we believe will reduce the rights that households on the housing waiting list currently have.
We are particularly concerned about a major new policy that would divide homeless families by “rewarding” those who take private housing with band 2 and leaving other families stuck in temporary accommodation for even longer.
What can I do?
Use HASL’s template email to respond to the consultation. Over 80 HASL families, living in temporary accommodation or overcrowded housing, helped to write and agree these template email answers to ensure that these views are represented. We discussed the new rules and our answers over 2 zoom meetings. We believe these answers follow our principles that housing should be allocated according to housing need and in the fairest possible way.
Please use our template email to help you to respond to Southwark council’s consultation and feel free to edit and add your own words to the email as well. If you use this form, the email will be sent directly to Southwark council’s consultation email address. A copy will also be sent to our HASL email and we will delete all responses when the consultation process is over. The template email and questions do not have information that can identify you – the form does not ask for your full name, address, or date of birth. But we do ask for your email address to show the council that you are a real person.
If you would like extra support from HASL to use the template email, if you have any questions or if you want to be involved and hear more about HASL’s activities on this important consultation, send a message to our group phone 07930 062282 or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can email Southwark council if you need information about the consultation in another language, if you have any questions about the consultation or if you want to submit more information or suggestions: email@example.com
Residentes de Southwark – usa nuestra plantilla de correo electrónico en lucha para los derechos de las familias de Southwark en acomodación temporal, y vivienda superpoblada!
¿Qué es HASL? Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (acción por hogares en Southwark y Lambeth) es un grupo comunitario de familias e individuos que están desalojados, viviendo enacomodación temporal, viviendo en casas donde no hay suficiente espacio o enfrentándose a otras problemas de vivienda.
¿Qué está pasando? Southwark Council están en camino a hacer muchos cambios importantes al reglamento de la lista de espera para hogares sociales. Esto cambios nos afectarían a todos!
Para introducir nuevas reglas, el Council esta obligado a consultar las opiniones de residentes de Southwark sobre los cambios propuestos. Southwark han lanzado una encuesta en línea, pero hemos notado que muchas de las nuevas reglas no están incluidas en esta encuesta. Algunas de las nuevas reglas o las cuestiones posadas a residentes no se explican claramente en la encuesta. Por esto no recomendamos que se use esta encuesta en línea. Hemos preparado una plantilla de correo electrónico que pueden usar para enviar sus opiniones sobre este asunto (más sobre esto a continuación).
Estamos muy preocupados por la manera en que el proceso de consulta esta siendo manejado – durante lockdown – y con una encuesta en línea que no explica todos los grandes cambios claramente.
Estamos muy preocupados que muchas de las nuevas reglas que creemos causaran una reducción de derechos de la gente en la lista de espera para hogares sociales.
Especialmente estamos preocupados que este gran cambio de reglamento serviría para dividir familias desalojadas por el hecho de “premiar” aquellos que toman un arriendo privado con una priorización más alta en “Band 2” que dejaría otras familias atascados en alojamiento temporal por tiempos más largos.
¿Qué puedo hacer?
Usa la plantilla de correo electrónico de HASL para responder a la consulta. Esta plantilla fue escrita y acordada con más de 80 familias en nuestro grupo que están en acomodación temporal o en vivienda superpoblada para asegurar que nuestras opiniones sean representativas. Hemos discutido estas nuevas reglas y nuestras respuestas en 2 reuniones Zoom. Creemos que las respuestas siguen nuestros principios que los hogares sociales deben ser repartidas a aquellos con la mayor necesidad y de la manera más justa posible.
Por favor use nuestra plantilla de correo electrónico para responder a la consulta de Southwark Council y siéntase libre de editarlo o añadir tus propias palabras también. Si utiliza este formulario, el correo electrónico se enviará directamente a la dirección de correo electrónico de consulta del consejo de Southwark. También se enviará una copia a nuestro correo electrónico de HASL y eliminaremos todas las respuestas cuando finalice el proceso de consulta. El correo electrónico y las preguntas de la plantilla no tienen información que pueda identificarlo; el formulario no solicita su nombre completo, dirección o fecha de nacimiento. Pero le pedimos su dirección de correo electrónico para demostrarle al consejo que es una persona real.
Puedes leer el documento de 88 paginas (!!) del reglamento de asignación de hogares sociales nuevo que ha sido propuesto aquí
El reglamento actual de asignación de hogares sociales esta aquí
Si quisiera más apoyo de HASL para usar la plantilla de correo electrónico, si tiene cualquier pregunta o si quisiera saber más de las actividades de HASL alrededor de esta consulta muy importante, envíenos un mensaje a nuestro teléfono de grupo 07930 062282 o envíenos un correo a firstname.lastname@example.org
Puedes enviar un correo a Southwark Council si necesitas información sobre la consulta en otro idioma.
Kids from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Akwaaba, and English for Action living in overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation have designed posters calling for 3, 4, 5 bed council homes. They have also written personal messages on their posters:
“You wouldn’t get enough sleep if your house was overcrowded”
“Sharing a room with parents or sleeping somewhere that is not the bedroom isn’t fun!”
Join us on twitter (and facebook and instagram) on Monday 22nd March from 9am to make sure Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick can’t miss them!
On the 1 year anniversary of the lockdown, we’re sending these posters to Housing Minister Robert Jenrick to remind the government of the urgent need for high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes and the need to abolish No Recourse to Public Funds so no one is refused good housing based on their immigration status. Children need space to play, rest and study!
Over the last year, families have found themselves trapped in unbearable, cramped living conditions 24/7, worsening their mental and physical health. Children have struggled with home-schooling in noisy cramped spaces. Overcrowded housing has been linked to the spread of Covid 19 and residents are more vulnerable to ill-health and death.
Yet, throughout the pandemic, the government have refused to give families any reason for hope. The government have not introduced a single housing policy to help families and individuals suffering in the worst housing conditions. No Recourse to Public Funds continues to push people into poverty and homelessness. The government have refused to talk about council housing even though this is the obvious solution to the housing crisis we face.
To solve the overcrowding and housing crisis, we need 3, 4, 5 bed council homes and an end to No Recourse to Public Funds so that everyone can have the good housing they need.
We’ll be tweeting Robert Jenrick with over 50 drawings by children from housing and migrant support groups from across London. Please retweet and quote tweet our posters so they can’t be ignored.
Recently we have been campaigning against the proposed changes to Lewisham Council’s housing waiting list rules. These changes will see severely overcrowded families pushed down the housing waiting list making it impossible to get social housing for some and making the wait even longer for others. Our members were featured in this South London press article about the proposed changes. HASL members also collectively created template answers for people to complete the consultation with.
The consultation closed on Sunday 14th March. Here is HASL’s full response, including our members’ stories, why we want Lewisham to drop the changes and our members’ proposals for making Lewisham’s waiting list fairer:
Lewisham residents – Use our template answers to fight for the rights of Lewisham families in temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing!
En español abajo
Lewisham council has launched its Lewisham Housing Allocation Scheme Policy Review which is in the form of an online survey which can be found by clicking here
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a community housing group made up of families and individuals who are homeless in temporary accommodation, living in overcrowded housing or face other housing problems.
HASL is very concerned about many of the new proposals contained in the survey that will have a hugely negative impact on families in overcrowded housing by reducing their banding. We also want to make sure families in temporary accommodation are not forced into the private sector through the council’s use of their private sector discharge policy.
It is really important that Lewisham households, especially households suffering at the worst end of the housing crisis, respond to the survey to challenge these bad proposals and share their views on how the council can make the fairest policy which supports everyone, especially those with high housing needs.
HASL is here to help you!
Together with our Lewisham group members, we have prepared template answers (please click on link below) which you can use to help complete the survey – and please feel free to include your own views as well.
At the end of the survey, you can add your email address so that you will be emailed a copy of your answers. If you are happy to for us have a copy of your answers so that we can keep a record of them, please forward this email to email@example.com.
You can email Lewisham council if you need the survey translated into another language, if you have any questions about the survey or if you want to submit more information or suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like extra support from HASL to complete the survey, if you have any questions or if you want to be involved and hear more about HASL’s activities on this important survey/consultation, send a message to to our group phone 07930 062282 or send us an email: email@example.com
The survey does not give any room to explain about your personal housing circumstances or to give your own suggestions and proposals. Email us your personal testimony/story explaining your current housing situation and how the new policy would impact you and we will collect these together to submit to the council. Send your testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org
The survey asks in question 21 what type of housing you live in – for example, private rented, temporary accommodation, social housing but the survey does not give space for you to say if you are currently overcrowded in your housing. If you are currently overcrowded, please let them know by adding this sentence to the end of the first answer:
My family lives in overcrowded housing in the private rented sector and this policy directly affects me.
The deadline for responding to the survey is Sunday 14th March
Residentes de Lewisham – Usen nuestro modelo de respuestas para luchar por los derechos de las familias de Lewisham en acomodación temporaria y vivienda superpoblada!
Housing Action Southwark y Lambeth es un grupo de alojamiento comunitario formado por familias e individuales sin techo en acomodación temporal, viviendo en una casa sobrepoblada o enfrentando otros problemas de alojamiento.
HASL está muy preocupada por las muchas propuestas contenidas en la encuesta las cuales tendrán un gran impacto negativo en las familias sobrepobladas reduciendo las posiciones de sus bandas. También queremos asegurarnos que las familias en acomodación temporal no están siendo forzadas en un sector privado a través del uso de la política de descarga del sector privado del ayuntamiento.
Es realmente importante que los hogares de Lewisham, especialmente los hogares sufriendo en las primeras situaciones de crisis, respondan a la encuesta para desafiar estas malas proposiciones y compartir nuestras visiones en cómo el ayuntamiento puede hacer la política más justa que apoye a todos, especialmente a aquellos con altas necesidades de alojamiento.
HASL está aquí para ayudarte!
● Juntos con nuestros miembros de Lewisham, hemos preparado un modelo con respuestas (haga clic en el enlace de abajo) las cuales pueden usar para completar el cuestionario – y por favor siéntanse libres de incluir sus propias opiniones.
● Al final de la encuesta, usted puede añadir su correo electrónico para que le envíen una copia de sus respuestas. Si están de acuerdo en enviarnos la copia de sus respuestas para mantener un registro, por favor envíelo a este email: email@example.com.
● Puede enviar un correo electrónico al ayuntamiento de Lewisham si necesita traducir la encuesta a otro idioma, si tiene alguna pregunta sobre la encuesta o si desea enviar más información o sugerencias: firstname.lastname@example.org
● Si desea apoyo adicional de HASL para completar la encuesta, si tiene alguna pregunta o si desea participar y escuchar más sobre las actividades de HASL en esta importante encuesta / consulta, envíe un mensaje a nuestro teléfono de grupo 07930 062282 o envíe envíenos un correo electrónico: email@example.com
● La encuesta no da espacio para explicar tus circunstancias personales de alojamiento y dar tus propias sugerencias y propuestas. Envíanos por correo tu testimonio personal explicando tu situación actual de alojamiento y como la nueva política te afectaría y estaremos recopilando estas para enviarlas al council. Envia tu testimonio a firstname.lastname@example.org.
● La encuesta pregunta en la pregunta 21 en qué tipo de acomodación vives – por ejemplo, renta privada, acomodación temporal, alojamiento social pero la encuesta no da oportunidad de decir si estas sobrepoblada en tu casa. SI estás actualmente sobrepoblado, por favor hazme saber añadiendo esta frase al final de la primera respuesta:
Mi familia vive en un alojamiento sobrepoblado en un sector de renta privada y esta política me afecta directamente
La fecha límite para responder a la encuesta es el Domingo 14 Marzo 2021
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
Join HASL and PILC’s email protest here calling on Southwark council to stop penalising families living in overcrowded housing.
Southwark council have been telling families in some of the most severely overcrowded housing in the borough that their overcrowding was a ‘deliberate act’ by the families. These cruel decisions deny these families band 1 on the housing register which would allow them the urgent move into the permanent, more spacious council housing they need.
As well as punishing these families by refusing them the urgent re-housing they need, due to their apparent ‘deliberate act’, these decisions are also offensive, harmful and deeply distressing.
On Thursday 10th December, a HASL family’s case against Southwark council’s decision that they deliberately caused their overcrowding will be heard in the Court of Appeal. A summary by the family’s barrister Ed Fitzpatrick on the original High Court case in May this year can be heard on the HLPA podcast at 9 minutes 50 seconds and there is a blog post here.
This is an important case for many severely overcrowded families in Southwark, as it challenges the council’s widespread use of the phrase “deliberate act” to blame families for their overcrowding and which leaves families stuck in completely inadequate housing for years. A positive outcome in the Court of Appeal could mean that other severely overcrowded families would also benefit if Southwark council’s use of “deliberate act” is more limited. This is just the most recent action in an almost five year campaign by HASL families protesting against the ‘deliberate act’ policy where we have occupied the Town Hall, spoken out at a cabinet meeting, canvassed canvassing councillors, submitted an open letter with over 30 community groups and provided practical support and help with challenging these decisions.
What happened in Favio and Elba’s case?
Over 6 years ago, Favio and Elba and their two young sons moved into a 1 bedroom private flat in Southwark. They had been looking for a suitable flat and this was the only landlord who would rent to them and where the rent was affordable with housing benefit. As everyone knows, finding suitable housing in the private rented sector is extremely difficult – if you have children, claim benefits and do not speak English as your first language, like in Favio’s case, it can be an impossible task.
Local authorities with paid staff, time and resources, including ludicrous landlord ‘incentives’, often struggle to find suitable housing with more and more families being housed in temporary accommodation that is overcrowded or far away from their community. It’s not surprising that families searching by themselves have no choice but to rent housing that is overcrowded and often has other problems of damp and disrepair.
When the boys were younger, the level of overcrowding was uncomfortable but just about manageable. But as their sons grew up, the cramped living conditions have become more and more difficult. When their oldest son turned 10 years old, the family met the high threshold of ‘statutory’ overcrowding. With the help of HASL, they were able to join the housing waiting list but Southwark council decided that the overcrowding was a ‘deliberate act’ and refused to award the family band 1 for their statutory overcrowding.
Instead of awarding band 1 for being statutory overcrowded, the family were given band 3 which is for households who are ‘overcrowded’ which also includes families living in mild, non-statutorily overcrowded housing. Here the waiting times for social housing is longer and this banding does not reflect the severely overcrowded circumstances that the family are living in.
Southwark council’s reason for refusing band 1 was that the family’s overcrowded housing was a ‘deliberate act’ by the family, because the overcrowding was not caused by a “natural increase”.
This may seem confusing, because surely overcrowding being caused by children getting older is exactly what “natural increase” is. What Southwark meant was: the overcrowding was the family’s own fault, because the one-bedroom flat would eventually have become statutorily overcrowded and that Favio and Elba must have known that it would eventually become statutorily overcrowded (even though Favio and Elba did not even know about the social housing waiting list, let alone the details of all the rules or what ‘statutory overcrowding’ means).
The legal challenge
Favio and Elba’s lawyers took Southwark to the High Court in May. This type of case is called ‘judicial review’ and these types of cases are very difficult. You cannot simply say that you don’t like the council’s decision, or that you think that the decision is wrong. Instead, you have to show that the council has acted unlawfully.
Judges are generally very reluctant to find that councils have acted unlawfully in council housing allocations cases even if most people would think the council are wrong. Court judgments in earlier legal challenges have established that judges are required to give councils a lot of freedom in deciding and applying their housing waiting list rules.
In order to work out who should win the case, the High Court judge had to decide what the word “deliberate” meant in Southwark’s policy.
The judge in May this year ruled in the council’s favour and agreed with the Council’s argument. He decided that the word “deliberate” could include cases like Favio’s, even though Favio’s family had not done anything wrong, and even though they did not even know that the council housing waiting list existed when the “deliberate act” took place.
The decision also has supported a bizarre and worryingly broad definition of the phrase “deliberate act” that Southwark have come up with, which means statutorily overcrowded families have to wait very different times for social housing depending on if they happen to meet very arbitrary criteria. Strangely, the High Court decision said that “deliberate act” does not require any intent by the family to actually cause their overcrowding in a deliberate attempt to get higher priority. And actually the only way to obtain band 1 overcrowding priority is to become statutorily overcrowded by giving birth to more children while living at the property. This created a strange distinction which means having more children is not “deliberate”, but renting accommodation that will become statutorily overcrowded in the future through children growing up is “deliberate”.
In Favio and Elba’s case, the council’s decision that their severe overcrowding is a ‘deliberate act’ by the family is insulting, cruel, and simply and obviously wrong – we hope that it will also be found unlawful and that this could help other families in similar situations. We have seen many similar decisions and the devastating impacts that these decisions have on some of the most overcrowded families in our borough.
Getting to this stage has not been easy for the family. They have worked tirelessly on their case trying to prove to Southwark council that they did not choose to live in overcrowded housing and they have been navigating what is a complicated legal process.
It is disappointing that Southwark council are willing to go to such extreme lengths, using public money and resources to deny severely overcrowded families the help that they need. Southwark council claim that they are committed to helping people to fight against the housing crisis. But they have very publicly shown their commitment to these punitive rules.
Favio explains: “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?…And there are people who take advantage of us, there are private agents and they take £500 commissions. It’s not fair. Everyone has the right to have a normal life.
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 he is 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.
We are very anxious, nervous and very worried about the decision [The Court of Appeal] they will make. We are only waiting for a flat with 2 bedrooms so that my family is stable. When the children grow up it is more complicated, they need more space.”
His partner Elba explains: “The council have treated us a bit badly, all the decisions they have sent us have been negative. Since Covid 19, the situation for families in overcrowded housing has been very bad.
During the lockdown, the children have been studying at home online, we have been doing our best, we have made a small space for each son to study. It has been very difficult for children to study. I hope there will be a change because coronavirus has made things very bad. Now we are waiting for what we hope will be a positive outcome for us and that it will help and support other families as well.”
Their eldest son aged 14 explained: “With the small flat we would try to be outside more but with virus, we are in 2 little rooms. My brother is always cheeky every time when I do my homework. Especially when I had virtual lessons, there’s not enough space for me to concentrate, my brother is playing with toys and it disrupts me when I’m doing my lessons.
I have allergies which give me watery eyes, my nose gets itchy, and I’m asthmatic mostly when I’m at home, when I’m outside, it calms down. We’ve mostly been at home because of the virus and my allergies have got worse for me especially.
We hoped we would have a house for Christmas last year, then I hoped maybe for my birthday, so many times we have had our hopes up but it never happened.
I feel like it’s too long for us to be living in one room, we never had experience of having 2 or 3 rooms, of having my own room.
[What would he say to Southwark council?] Most of them live in their own rooms, so try to think about others, how do they feel.”
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.
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.