Category Archives: Statement

Pledge to End Gatekeeping & Disrespect at Southwark Housing Office

Today we published a blog detailing the many examples of gatekeeping and abuse we’ve experienced at Southwark Council’s housing office on Bournemouth Road in the past few years – You can read it here. There is a clear and present problem at the housing office and it needs to stop. We’re determined that together we can put an end to the abuse and mistreatment faced by people and hold Southwark Council to account – something they’ve so refused to do. HASL has written a pledge to end gatekeeping and disrespect at Southwark Housing Office – which we intend to get Southwark Council to publicly commit to following – we hope to get groups we work alongside to sign it alongside us too.

We recognise that the housing crisis is larger than these problems, and we know that even if Southwark Council was to begin to treat people with respect, respect the law and properly established procedures, we’d still have a long way to go to fight for access to secure housing. But, hundreds, if not thousands, of people a year are denied access to the immediate support they have a right to, their requests for help often unrecorded creating a false statistical impression. We can reverse this process, and doing so will make a measurable difference. Southwark Council can do better, and we can make them do better.

Of course, gatekeeping is not an issue simply at Southwark’s housing offices. We know that it’s happening at boroughs across London (we’ve documented Lambeth council gatekeeping here and here) and the UK. Please feel free to use our pledge, perhaps making adaptations to fit the situation at your housing office, to present to your local council and let us know how it goes.

Pledge to End Gatekeeping at Southwark Housing Office

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a local community group made up of homeless and badly housed people who meet up to learn our rights, support each other, work on our housing issues together, and take action for good housing for everyone. Many of us have experienced serious problems at Southwark council’s Peckham housing office when we have tried to access the help and housing provision we are legally entitled to. The significant number of people in our group who have reported serious problems visiting Peckham housing office have led us to understand that there is a widespread culture of disrespect and gatekeeping (when people are denied access to services they have  a legal entitlement to). Some of us even feel the atmosphere and disrespect could be called a culture of hate directed at the homeless people visiting. These problems include regularly being denied a homeless assessment that they are legally obliged to open, being refused a buddy/supporter to accompany someone to the housing office for appointments and interviews, intimidation from staff including security guards, a general high level of disrespect from staff, and other poor treatment including the homeless assessment taking entire days of waiting in the housing office.

We want an end to this treatment of homeless people by the council. We have drawn up the following demands that would make our experiences at the housing office much more bearable and would help Southwark council comply with their legal duties towards homeless people. We hope that Southwark council will sign up to this pledge, that they will display a copy in the housing office, and also publicly detail how they plan to change the practices in the housing office to comply with the pledge. We invite other local community groups to show their support for our pledge by signing up as well.

Pledge of concrete steps Southwark council must take to combat gatekeeping and disrespect towards homeless people at the housing office:

  • Everyone has the right to have at least one person of their choosing to accompany them to the housing office.
  • All staff at the housing office treat people with respect and all reports of disrespect are fully investigated. Treating people with respect includes calm and clear verbal communication, and making the homelessness assessment process (or other housing assistance) as quick and simple as possible; waiting in the housing office for an entire day must end. Other time saving techniques should be implemented, for example, letting people book in for homeless assessments and other appointments online if they wish (whilst maintaining other provision for those without internet access).
  • To reduce the amount of security staff at the housing offices and have a process for full investigation of any mistreatment people have reported.
  • That homelessness rights and the process are clearly explained to people by staff. That basic homelessness rights information, including HASL leaflets, are displayed in the housing office, as well as this pledge.
  • Visitors to the housing office should be given receipts acknowledging their visit, stating what the visit was for, who they spoke to and what action, if any is being taken. If no action is being taken, a reason why should be stated.
  • When someone visits the housing office presenting as homeless, a homelessness application is opened immediately, as homelessness law states.
  • If people have been denied the simple rights on this pledge they should be moved immediately to Band 1 on the housing waiting list. This is to compensate for the increased stress Southwark will have caused homeless people by breaking this simple pledge.

We’re inviting community groups and other anti-poverty groups and organisations to sign up to the pledge to show Southwark council that it has wide public support. If your group would like to sign up to our pledge, please get in contact with us at We also invite you to use and adapt our gatekeeping pledge to present it to your local council.

This pledge is supported by:

North East London Migrant Action

London Campaign Against Police & State Violence

English for Action

Precarious Workers Brigade

People’s Republic of Southwark

South East London Sisters Uncut

Housing Action Greenwich and Lewisham

HASL Denied the Right to Accompany at Southwark

Southwark’s gatekeeping caught on video

Intimidation and policing of the homeless and vulnerably housed continues at Southwark’s housing offices, however this time we caught it on film.

Southwark have been under fire recently for the many ways in which they deny people making homelessness applications their right to housing. At the start of this year the High Court ordered Southwark to cease certain practices of gatekeeping “with immediate effect,” and in May the Supreme Court found Southwark was wrongly denying its duty of care. Have they changed their tune? Not a bit.

After experiencing bullying and harassment first hand at Southwark’s housing offices, last month HASL members and solicitors Hanson Palomares obtained written confirmation from the Council that homelessness applicants had a right to be accompanied to interviews. Cabinet Member for housing, Richard Livingstone, in a letter dated 14th May, stated that:

“I can therefore confirm that we think it is reasonable for customers to be accompanied to homelessness interviews by their representatives, family or friends”

On Friday the 5th of June HASL members were distributing flyers in front of the housing office (without reason we were denied permission to give out flyers in the office) when we met F, a single father of one who had been evicted from his accommodation by his landlord and had been forced to stay with a friend who was now also forcing the family to leave. Having spent the morning at the office, Southwark denied F a homelessness interview. Instead, Southwark turned F away stating, as shown in Southwark’s summary of the meeting with F, that the friend was required to give a period of 28 days for F to search for private accommodation. This false information shows the continued practices of gatekeeping by Southwark Council.


A HASL member agreed to accompany F and his son back to the office at F’s request. The video above shows what happened. This is not the first time that HASL members and homelessness applicants have experience arbitrary bullying and intimidation at these offices, it is however the first instance we have on film.

HASL members were called ‘trouble makers’, we were denied entry on the grounds that ‘we knew why,’ that ‘we were not professional’ and that ‘we wanted to cause chaos in the offices.’ Other applicants at the office that day joined our efforts to speak with the security guards who made no attempts to discuss the matter with us nor consult the letter from Southwark’s cabinet members. The manager in the office that day failed to speak with us or deescalate the situation and instead called the police who when they appeared affirmed the right of the security guards to use reasonable force to remove us from the premises should we attempt to enter.

Despite all this, as you may imagine, we had a great response from the leaflets and lots of support from people at the office that day. F, on returning to the office with our advice, was granted a homelessness interview, as is the law, and HASL gained a new member in the process.

HASL believe that the housing crisis is not caused by the most vulnerable, upon whom the blame and the effects of the crisis largely land. We refuse the intimidation and all gate-keeping practices of Southwark and fight for our members to be treated with respect. Another housing system is possible, and at this point it starts with the right to be accompanied to interviews!

You don’t have to attend a homelessness interview alone: join your local housing group!

Solidarity with the Aylesbury Estate Occupation!


Numerous Southwark housing campaigns and other local activists warmly welcome the ongoing occupation of a number of empty homes on the Aylesbury Estate. The current occupation of Chartridge block on the Aylesbury Estate has brought a much-needed spark of inspiration to local residents and housing campaigners.

Southwark Labour council has been publicly claiming how the Aylesbury was not going to be another Heygate, as ‘lessons have been learned’. The Heygate Estate decant programme has been widely denounced as an exercise in both the undignified displacement of locals and initiating the gentrification of the Elephant & Castle. However, exactly like on the Heygate, Southwark has been displacing the Aylesbury residents out of their immediate area and subjecting leaseholders, many of them elderly people who’d lived in the area their whole lives, to unnecessarily brutal Compulsory Purchase Orders. Abysmally low offers for their homes are forcing them to leave their neighbourhood and communities for good.

The right of tenants to return to a ‘regenerated’ Aylesbury would force them to take non-council tenancies in more expensive Housing Association flats, something many residents do not want. In 2001 a majority of Aylesbury residents voted ‘No’ in ballot on the Councils desire to transfer the estate out of council ownership. Not only is this ballot no longer being honoured, the Council has been unwilling to undertake a new ballot of residents on the question of refurbishment instead of a total demolition.

The Council attempts to dismiss the occupiers as ‘not representative’ of the Aylesbury residents while claiming Southwark is building ‘more affordable homes than any other London borough’. Council-backed developments such as the One The Elephant tower contain zero (0) ‘affordable’ homes, let alone any social-rented ones.

Local people know that council-rented homes are the most affordable and secure. Promises by the Council to build 11,000 new council homes in the next 30 years have been met with hesitant support, with no guarantees that this will not simply involve demolitions of estates without residents being balloted.

In a borough that has some 18,000 people on the waiting list for council (and not housing association, nor ‘affordable‘) homes, none of the above can be tolerated any longer.

Since they reclaimed the homes on the Chartridge block, the Aylesbury occupiers have been holding public meetings every day at 6.30pm, and each meeting has been packed with neighbours from the estate itself, other Southwark residents and campaigners from across London. The occupation clearly highlights the disasters of Southwark’s own and London housing and development policies in which profit gained from land speculation comes way before the people whose homes and lives are destroyed in the process. ‘Ordinary’ Londoners, be they the Aylesbury occupiers, FocusE15 mothers or the New Era Estate residents, are showing that alternatives exist and they work.

Our homes are not for sale.

Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group
Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First
Better Elephant
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
People’s Republic of Southwark
South London Revolutionary Communist Group
Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Southwark Defend Council Housing
Southwark Notes
Southwark Tenants

It’s Our 1st Birthday!


Struggling With High Rents, Poor or Overcrowded Housing? Angry at housing & welfare cuts? Sick of evictions threatening you & your community?

Join us to celebrate the 1st birthday of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth Help us make our second year even better than our first.

Wed 30th April


Renton Close Community Centre, Renton Close, Brixton Hill, London SW2 1EY

We’re Leaving the Park Street Occupation and Onto Other Projects!

This afternoon Southwark council summonsed us to court to regain possession of the £3 million council house that we have been occupying since 28th October in protest at Southwark council’s sell-off of council housing and the wider housing crisis.

We attended court to restate our protest: that Southwark council should not be selling off council housing, particularly when there is such high need for it, and that selling off council housing in expensive areas is social cleansing. We also hope that our protest shows that the law to criminalise squatting in residential buildings (section 144) should not apply to protest occupations such as ours and that empty residential buildings should still be used for such acts.

London and the entire country face a housing crisis. Selling off council housing, cutting housing benefit, and attempting to fully criminalise squatting is only making the crisis worse. We believe that our occupation is one kind of direct action that is necessary to assert our right to housing.

A massive thanks to all the support – including emails, letters, donations of food, visits to the occupation – that we received, it has been really inspiring.

Expect more action and projects in Lambeth and Southwark as well as London-wide co-ordinated actions. Come along to our meetings or email us to sign up to our announcements list to get involved.

HASL Response to Chuka Umunna, Tessa Jowell & Lib Peck

As residents of Southwark and Lambeth, we were disappointed (if not wholly surprised) to learn that the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, received a jointly signed letter earlier this week from the Head of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck; MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna; and MP for Dulwich & West Norwood, Tessa Jowell, calling for the criminalisation of squatting to be extended to commercial properties.

The further demonisation of squatting, in a climate of increasing desperation and homelessness, couldn’t come at a more unwelcome time. Many residents across Southwark and Lambeth are increasingly struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living and, in far too many cases, to keep a roof over their heads. The squatting community has traditionally been a key component in providing a lifeline to those with nowhere else to turn.

There are thousands of empty buildings across London, many of which have been deliberately left for long periods of time. It would be far more preferable for these to be put to use by people who have nowhere else to live, rather than creating an entirely new criminal class of Londoners who are guilty of nothing more than being forced into poverty. If politicians are serious about reducing levels of squatting and trying to solve the root causes of something they present as a problem, they would be demanding and implementing the construction of truly affordable social housing and regulating the amount of rent private landlords can charge instead of pushing tenants out of particular boroughs, without much in the way of support, in the hope of attracting more affluent residents.

We only need to look at developments across our two boroughs in recent times for evidence of the ongoing process which this letter was attempting to strengthen: Entire communities are being broken apart; we have seen Lambeth Council aggresively pursuing residents who have fallen into rent arrears due to the imposition of the Bedroom Tax; we have witnessed the total destruction of the community at the Heygate Estate, against the wishes of its residents (some of whom were rehoused miles away from the area); residents of Rushcroft Road, Brixton, were violently evicted from their homes so that Lambeth Council could make a quick buck on the sale of the land; and house prices and rents rise ever higher and higher.

What this letter really emphasised was the immense gulf between the people who live in Southwark and Lambeth, and those politicans who claim to represent them. It is clear that if our ‘respresentatives’ had any real understanding of the lives and struggles of the people who live in their constitutencies, and if they had any pretence of representing their wishes, the last thing on their minds would be attempting to drive yet more people from their homes.

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth is a relatively new group made up of residents of two boroughs who are working together to combat some of the problems that residents face; many of whom have been completely abandoned by the institutions which have a duty of care over them. We live the experience of Southwark and Lambeth residents. When we meet, we listen to each other’s concerns. We attempt to offer support, both moral and legal, to those who are finding themselves on the vicious end of an austerity climate that we did nothing to cause. We share in stories of the latest way in which housing offices have lied to us, misled us and threatened us. Everyone we meet is worried about where they will live when they can no longer afford to live in their current home. We are all struggling to make the next rent payment. The criminalisation of squatting does absolutely nothing to help with any of these conditions which rather begs the question: if our elected representative are seeking legislation against their constituents’ interests, exactly whose interests are they working for?