Author Archives: housingactionsl

Whose priority, Southwark council?

One of our HASL families has finally secured the priority they are entitled to under Southwark council’s housing allocations policy (well, mostly!)

Earlier this year, a family with two dependent children came to a HASL meeting to talk about the state of the private rented accommodation they’ve been forced to live in off the Old Kent Road – an area notorious for overcrowded housing and Houses of Multiple Occupation. The family have been in band 3 with no priority on the housing waiting list for years and were stuck not quite knowing how best to progress their case with the council and how they could better their living conditions.

In June, the family submitted an online ‘change of circumstance’ form on the council’s website in order to apply for higher priority on the council waiting list for social housing, in line with the council’s housing allocations policy – the full policy which can be found here.  *N.b. – judging from the council’s cabinet meeting documentation on their website, it looks like the council is currently consulting on its policy with cabinet decisions due in summer 2018. Our worry is that people who find themselves struggling with homelessness (for any reason, such as being overcrowded, in unsafe accommodation, fleeing domestic violence, being evicted with nowhere else to go etc) will be de-prioritised.

As part of a policy many local government institutions are following, doing things online was supposed to make things easy and quicker, but this turned out not to be the case because it doesn’t change the practice of gatekeeping councils use to deny support to marginalised groups of people.

After submitting another ‘change of circumstance form’ in August and visiting the council to provide further supporting evidence, the council still didn’t respond to discuss the family’s needs or the ‘priority stars’. (Although all council housing allocations schemes must provide  ‘reasonable preference’ for people falling into certain categories set out in the Housing Act 1996 e.g. homeless people, people who need to move on welfare grounds, not every council operates a ‘priority star system’ – Southwark does, but Lambeth doesn’t, for example.)

Over the next three months of having no support from the council, we decided to go directly to senior housing staff who we’ve encountered before in previous cases and actions in an effort to move things along. After several back and forths, the council were initially only happy to award a priority star to the family for being a ‘working household’ – itself a very questionable reinforcement of the ‘work ethic’ we hear politicians emphasis: ‘work for your benefits’, ‘work to be awarded better’, which simply punishes and disciplines already vulnerable people. The working household star applied to the family because they ‘met the criteria’ i.e. worked over 16 hours/week for at least 9 of the last 12 months and were over 18 years of age.

The family also qualified for the ‘community contribution star’ as well as having higher priority based on medical and welfare needs, and overcrowding, but the council initially refused to budge and kept delaying the awards by continuing to request information that had been submitted in person and online many times previously. Despite this we kept pushing, knowing that the council hopes people will just give up or disappear even though they could well be eligible, according to the policy’s own terms, to priority because of their needs and current housing situation.

One tactic which has helped move councils into action and stop them mucking around with excuses has been to submit formal complaints. We submitted two during October and November on how the council was treating the family and denying them the priority status they qualified for, and this seemed to help nudge the decisions in the right way – the family were later told that the council had moved them into band 2, with two priority star awards! This means that the family will have significantly better chance of bidding on suitable long-term social housing and that the process to get this should be quicker, which is great news for our members!

However, something Southwark remains very resistant on is the issue of overcrowding. In their housing allocations scheme, band 1 is given to people who are ‘statutorily overcrowded’ (defined by part X of the Housing Act 1985) and have not caused this statutory overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act.’ For anyone that follows us knows, many of our members spent and continue to spend, time challenging Southwark’s erroneous decisions on overcrowded households, but we’ve had a good deal of success as a group taking collective action on this issue.

And this family’s case is no different. After a senior housing officer was asked to properly assess the accommodations, he stated that the family were not statutorily overcrowded. This was the same response to the overcrowding point in our first complaint to the council. The line the council are taking is clearly wrong – the family is a couple with two children sleeping in a one-bedroom flat, with a small separate washroom/toilet and the rest comprising a small open plan kitchen.

The council says that the two children (one 16 years old and the youngest 4 years old) can sleep in the bedroom or in the kitchen, as it counts as a ‘living room’, but this honestly cannot be the case! Asking the parents or the children to sleep in the kitchen, seriously? The family have quite rightly stressed that this is not good for anyone, so they all sleep in the small bedroom, which is also very unsuitable. This living arrangement is having a huge effect on the family and their health and ability to function at school and work – it’s stressful, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

A review and second stage complaint has been submitted in an attempt to put pressure on the council and resolve this issue so that the family get the increased priority they should have in band 1, or at the very least a further priority star.

So, good news, but also some more action left to do, but hopefully the status the family has now will help them into better, secure and long-term housing, a lot sooner!

To help support each other, listen to our experiences, share knowledge and take action together, join your local grass roots direct action housing group – run collectively by the people affected!

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21st November – legal challenge to government deportation of EU nationals who are rough sleeping

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On Tuesday 21st November, a legal challenge launched by North East London Migrant Action and the Public Interest Law Unit will take on the government’s racist policy of detaining and deporting EU / EEA nationals who are rough sleeping.

Migrant and housing groups will holding a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice to show our support for those taking this legal challenge and everyone affected by this cruel and hateful policy. We need homes not borders! Let’s show the Home Office and the judge the widespread opposition to their inhumane ‘hostile environment’ policies.

Join North East London Migrant Action, SOAS Detainee Support, us, and others outside the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, 9am-12pm on Tuesday 21st November. Join and share the facebook event here.

Read more about the racist removals of EU nationals in Corporate Watch’s report from earlier this year.

Listen to people directly affected by this policy in this short video.

Support and action beyond the legal challenge 

North East London Migrant Action have been co-ordinating solidarity and resistance to these racist removals. Their are lots of ways to show practical support and challenge those implementing this policy.

Legal clinic – NELMA and Public Interest Law Unit run a regular legal clinic for those affected by this policy to get legal advice and help. Please let people who may be affected by this policy know about the clinic. Leaflets in different languages can be found here.

Know Your Rights fact sheetImportant information for those affected by this policy produced in different languages by NELMA. Can you help distribute this information to those who need it?

Challenging those implementing the policy – Homeless charities (St Mungos, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live) and local councils are collaborating with the Home Office to detain and deport EU nationals who are rough sleeping. There have been poster campaigns and twitter storms to highlight their complicity and call for them to cut the collaboration.

Want to get involved? Contact NELMA or your local housing/migrant support group.

Southwark Families Stuck in Unsuitable Temporary Accommodation – some of our stories

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This year, Southwark council hold top place for the local authority with the most number of homeless households in Bed & Breakfast/hostel accommodation over the 6 week limit. As you can see from the table, this increase in families being housed in B&B/ hostel accommodation is extreme.

Your rights: Local councils should avoid using B&B/hostel accommodation for families and pregnant women. If they do have to house homeless households in B&B, then it should be for no longer than 6 weeks. If you have been housed over this time in hostel accommodation, then get legal advice from Shelter, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or your local law centre and come along to our meetings for support and action.

Being housed by the council in unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very common problem in our group. In the last year, we have seen this problem get even worse. We have met many Southwark families who are being housed for many months in unsuitable hostel accommodation where they share bathroom and/ or kitchen facilities with other families. Some families have had three different temporary accommodations in one year. Our members talk about the impact of this bad housing on their families. The hostel accommodation and regular moves that people have faced are causing their families mental and physical health problems due to the stress. The unsuitable accommodation is also affecting children’s education significantly. Unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very serious issues that is affecting people’s daily lives, their health and their welfare.

We have been in contact with Southwark council in support of a number of families in our group who have been living in unsuitable hostel accommodation or have been housed out of the borough. We hope that the council will listen to these cases and take the urgent action needed for these families. We also demand that Southwark council take urgent action to find suitable temporary accommodation and permanent council housing for all homeless households in the borough. Southwark council should be deeply ashamed to have the highest number of families living in B&B accommodation over the 6 week limit.

Here are the cases of some of our members:

  • Our member E and her family have been living in hostel accommodation for the last 5 months. Her daughter is studying for her GCSEs and she has a young son as well. Before this, they were housed in another hostel accommodation for a month and a half. E is 7 months pregnant. The hostel rooms they currently live in have mice which have been causing the family enormous stress and sleepless nights. A mouse-infested room and shared facilities is not suitable for a pregnant woman and her family, especially since they have endured these conditions for over half a year already.
  • Our member J and her family have lived in three different hostels since September 2016. Although the current accommodation is not suitable for the family, she would rather not leave, as the stress of moving is so great. But sharing facilities with other households for over a year has been incredibly stressful for the family.
  • Another member H and her baby have lived in a hostel for over a year. She told us: “In the one room I live, I cook, I sleep…my baby is struggling to learn to walk because she does not have enough space.”
  • Our member L, describes her experience. Her family have lived in three different temporary accommodation placements – all of them out of borough and meaning long journeys to school and work:

“Soy  Madre Soltera y trabajo tiempo completo. Despues de una lucha de casi dos años continuos con mi  Lanlord Privado para que no me desalojase  De la casa que alquile finalmente  la ley esta a su favor y me desaloja…el council fue informado de esto desde que me dio la primera notificacion de la corte..aun asi no recibi una respuesta positiva lo unico que me decian era que espere a que me sacara con los bayflis…pedi ayuda a recuperar mi deposito para poder o intentar buscar algo…y tampoco…que solo me ayudaban cuando estuviese en la calle…porque aun tenia techo y no era hommeles…fue asi como llegue a esta situacion….y ahora estoy en una acomodacion en Croydon despues de vivir 4 años continuos en southwark y practicamente estar con todo casi controlado desde..Hora de levantarse hora de comida tiempo de salida de la escuela de mi hija a mi trabajo..y tener una estabilidad familiar ..ahora nos vemos desplazadas de un entorno que para nosotras era casi familiar….ah sido un tiempo realmente estresante porque aunque para el council es normal que mi hija se tarde 1.30 minutos en llegar a su escuela o hasta mas cuando hay demasiado trafico….para nosotras es estresante…porque yo debo estar en mi trabajo 8.30 am ubicado en pentonville road king croos .y mi hija 8.55 am en la escuela….ya se pueden imaginar…nuestro recorrido trenes ; buses…etc…en mi trabajo me siento agobiada por tan larga jornada de transporte…y realmente me preocupa mi hija su  dia a dia .. Mi hija Ama su escuela y por esto y por el tiempo que lleva en ella no la retiro…..aun asi intentando cumplir la jornada de su Escuela…ah llegado tarde porque en ocasiones me valgo de otras personas(abuela.amigas) para que me lleven a mi hija..porque no me alcanza el tiempo para llegar  a mi trabajo…La Escuela me ha llamado la atencion porque no tiene el porcentaje minimo que exige la Educacion…. en asistencia.   cada llegada tarde es un punto negativo para ella….lastimosamente ….veo solo una preocupacion por un numero % …..no por el niño…..fue lo que percibi…porque casi como ultimatum…que no debia llegar mas tarde ..para mi algo casi…imposible…aunque trato con la ayuda de mi madre cumplir……pero no es facil…solo es una parte de lo que nos ha afectado…porque para decir tendria mucho..mas…….Gracias..”

Of course, this problem is not limited to Southwark, last week a short film showed the appalling conditions of a converted warehouse where homeless household were living. A BBC article also looked at dangerous and cramped housing that people are forced to live in.

Solidarity with Ledbury estate tenants from HASL!

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth wish to express our support and solidarity with the tenants of the Ledbury Estate. (We’re sorry not to have done so sooner – as a group made up of homeless and poorly housed people, often just running our group means that we are at our maximum capacity.)

Shortly after the Grenfell tower tragedy, Ledbury residents were informed by their landlord, Southwark council, that their tower blocks were unsafe (although the tenants had been raising concerns about the disrepair of their homes before this). In fact, they were death traps. Since August this year, Ledbury residents have had their gas turned off and many residents have moved into temporary accommodation. Those that have remained in their homes are living without gas making daily living very difficult.

Many of HASL’s members are people who are dealing with homelessness and poor quality private housing. We often find ourselves challenging Southwark council over their poor treatment of us. The neglect, disrespect and contempt that the council shows towards homeless and poorly housed people also extends to their own tenants as the Ledbury tenants have highlighted themselves. The Ledbury tenants have raised poor communication by the council and the council’s failure to meet the simple and basic demands of people directly affected. We know this (mis)treatment very well.

As many of our members struggle for the secure council housing they need, the Ledbury tenants are having to deal with Southwark’s long term neglect of this vital housing stock. We support the Ledbury tenants campaign for their rights for safe and secure homes and to be treated with respect.

Why was Southwark council not taking action on fire safety in 2009?

But the current crisis on the Ledbury Estate should never have been left this long. It was only the fire safety inspections after Grenfell that the structural problems were discovered. However, there had already been a deadly fire at Lakanal Tower in Camberwell in 2009. Southwark council should have been leading the improvement in the safety of their council housing since then – their failure to do so left hundreds of families in danger.

Instead of inspecting and improving fire safety on their estates, Southwark council has been busy demolishing thousands of council homes. And it is this demolition of council homes by Southwark that is making the Ledbury crisis even worse for everyone involved. The Ledbury residents will be having to wait longer for re-housing into council stock and HASL members, and other homeless Southwark residents, will be pushed even further down an ever lengthening queue for council housing.

Unsuitable temporary accommodation

Ledbury residents have also highlighted the unsuitable temporary accommodation they are being provided with by Southwark council. Again, this is a huge issue that we face in our group and have also highlighted and taken action on. Southwark council is currently the worst council in the country for keeping families in B&Bs for over the 6 week legal limit and they have almost quadrupled the amount of homeless households they are housing outside the borough in the last 3 years. Southwark council need to drastically improve this appalling record – homeless households must be given suitable and local temporary accommodation.

Ledbury residents’ demands for basic amenities and respect

The Ledbury Action Group has organised a number of protests with a list of the problems still faced by the residents months after the council realised the seriousness of the housing conditions. We fully support the residents’ basic demands for decent living conditions and respect.

We have two further, simple suggestions for Southwark council:

  1. Stop decanting Aylesbury estate council tenants now! If estate clearance is stopped it will relieve pressure on the council waiting list immediately.
  2. Re-furbish all empty council stock. The Aylesbury Estate has hundreds of empty flats on it which they are currently pulling down. There are still hundreds of flats that have only had minor damage (done by Southwark council to make it uninhabitable for squatters) and they should be urgently made liveable again providing local housing for those on the council’s waiting list.

Housing in Southwark and London is in crisis with people stuck in in poor quality, expensive private housing or neglected council housing. It is important to hold Southwark council accountable for their role in this crisis. We all deserve answers about why Southwark council does not respond to the concerns of their residents (be they homeless people, private tenants, or council tenants), why fire safety checks were not done sooner, and why good quality council estates, like the Aylesbury, are being demolished, against their residents wishes.

Follow Ledbury Action Group’s website here for updates and actions

Good News Updates from HASL!


After being messed around by Lambeth council for several years despite having nowhere stable and safe to live, we are happy to share that one of our first(!) members, R, has finally got decent long-term council housing in the area!

We went to Lambeth housing office on many occasions trying to secure the housing this member with complex medical needs required, but were told to look in the private sector or approach other services – leaving R on the streets. Accommodation was finally found, though not through the council, and it was only for a six months fixed term. After further homelessness, a stay in a hospital in Lambeth and then in Southwark, R continued to try and engage with the council, but the council refused to offer support. We wrote letters, emails, made complaints about the shoddy treatment he received but the council refused to budge for months. R’s housing application was finally given the necessary level of priority he needs and he finally got keys to a council flat (which he showed off at the last HASL meeting!).

We are also happy to report that a long standing survivor of DV is also in the process of waiting to move into her council housing. With the support of the group, C has been fighting Southwark council over their gatekeeping for more than a year. The council said she wasn’t a priority. They said she could be street homeless because she was claiming benefits. After an onslaught of emails, blogposts, meetings (one of which was with deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, Cllr Stephanie Cryan, and strategic director for housing and community services, Gerri Scott) and twitter storms, the council made some empty promises of looking into her case, whilst also telling her to look for her own insecure and unaffordable private rented sector accommodation. After months of sustained pressure and with the support of South East London Sisters Uncut, the council finally made her a direct offer of a council flat!

Also, one of the families we have been supporting for over a year now whilst they were forced to live in terrible overcrowded housing, was recently put into band 1, after which the family viewed a property and accepted it! We are delighted by this news, especially after all the hard work put into challenging Southwark council’s gross treatment of migrant families who are living in really unsuitable and poor quality private rented housing. A couple of our members worked so tirelessly on writing letters, blogging, calling twitter storms, liaising with the council and lawyers, and communicating with the families hit hardest by the housing crisis – all this was with the help of translators too!

Finally, we are ecstatic to say that another of the overcrowded families has also secured council housing! After bidding on a nice flat, the family went to view it a couple of days ago and are very happy!

Unfortunately, three of the original five overcrowded cases remain a tough battle. The council continues to produce negative decisions which say that our overcrowded family members caused their overcrowding be a ‘deliberate act’. This is not only disgusting, but very much untrue – it seems like councils are only willing to talk about the housing crisis when it comes to them failing to deliver decent, affordable and secure housing, not when people are struggling to make ends meet and living in dangerous conditions at the hands of private landlords.

If you want to support each other, learn and share knowledge on what your rights are, and fight for housing justice, please join your local housing action group!

When local councils don’t listen to their most vulnerable residents

Like all Londoners, we are devastated by the Grenfell tower tragedy. Our thoughts and solidarity are with everyone affected.

A totally preventable and political tragedy happened because the local council did not listen to the concerns of some of their most vulnerable residents and the council did not bother to check that the housing they have a responsibility for met the highest safety standards.

Listening to the residents of Grenfell tower explain how the council had ignored and neglected them and treated them with disrespect and contempt resonated a lot with some of our experiences when trying to raise very serious housing concerns. Many concerns were raised by Grenfell residents who are migrants and people who do not have English as a first language but they felt the response to them was: “you are a guest in this borough, and a guest in this country, you have no right to complain”.

In HASL we have often had our concerns ignored by the council or have been treated as an annoyance when we raise serious issues we are facing related to homelessness and unsuitable, unsafe and overcrowded housing conditions. In light of what has happened at Grenfell, where people raised concerns and were ignored, we do feel an added urgency and fear of what might happen if we are not listened to and people’s rights and needs are respected. Local councils must engage and respond to their residents.

One case in particular has deeply affected our group because of the seriousness of the housing conditions, the impact we can see them having on our members and the council’s appalling response. In our group, 4 migrant families living in appalling, inhumane and overcrowded conditions have highlighted this to the council for over an entire year. Not only have we been ignored but the council has blamed the families for their housing conditions saying they caused the overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. One of the council’s reasons for this was that the families should have found suitable housing for themselves on zoopla.com.

The families have highlighted how their housing is impacting on their children’s wellbeing. Babies who are learning to walk do not have adequate space.  The families have explained that there was no way they would have caused these overcrowded conditions deliberately – an incredibly degrading thing to have to do. Overcrowded housing is unsafe housing. Victim blaming is not an acceptable response. It should not take a tragedy for local councils and government to listen to people affected by unsafe and bad housing.

We are calling on Southwark council and the councillor for housing Stephanie Cryan to engage meaningfully with these families, give them the help they are entitled to and talk with us about how we can support overcrowded families in the borough and other concerns that homeless and vulnerably housed people face. You can read and sign our petition here.

 

As a group of homeless and badly housed people in HASL and the London Coalition Against Poverty, we organise in solidarity with each other and fight together for housing justice. Supporting each other, we do make progress on our cases and situations that we know we could not have done alone, but the council still has a long way to go to provide adequate housing assistance and respect to their residents. If you are worried about unsafe, insecure, and bad housing in our communities, we invite you to get involved. We hope we can respond to calls from the Grenfell Tower community for support and solidarity.

Lambeth needs council housing

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The Patmos Lodge site as it currently stands. It used to be a care home until the council closed it down. It then became a home for 100 squatters for 2 years until the council had them violently evicted them to make this rubble heap.

Lambeth council have just started advertising their consultation on the future of the Patmos Lodge site on Cancell Rd, off Vassell Road on the north edge of Myatts Field North estate (N of Brixton/Loughborough Junction and SE of Oval tube):
The site is owned by the council and was a care home that was demolished around 5 years ago (planning decision here) – it’s been a pile of rubble since then. After the council closed the care home, the building was squatted and became the home of 100 people making use of Lambeth’s abandoned property for 2 years before the council violently evicted them. It’s vital to challenge a council that considers a rubble heap preferable to homeless people housing themselves.
We know that councils love to do ‘consultations’ with communities and then make up their own results. Let’s send them a strong message that can’t be distorted – this site should be 100% council housing.
With 21,000 families on the housing waiting list and a growing housing crisis (and the 1,000 new council homes that Lambeth’s Labour council have promised) the Patmos Rd site should be used for 100% council housing, seeing as it won’t have the cost of buying the land (which accounts for a big proportion of housing costs in London).
There’s a ‘drop-in consultation event’ on Thursday 25 May 2-8pm at Myatts Field North Centre, 24 Crawshay Road, Brixton, SW9 6FZ.
You can also complete a ‘feedback form’ here:
(There’s no deadline given, but presumably it won’t be around forever…)
Let them know Lambeth needs council housing – but we need to do more than just fill out forms and speak to them, we need to organise and take action together so that they can’t ignore our demands. Stay in touch and get involved in HASL!