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Open letter from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to Southwark council – 3 things

We are a group of families and individuals struggling with homelessness and other poor housing conditions, such as severely overcrowded private rented housing. Our group is the biggest group of families in temporary accommodation and other poor housing conditions in Southwark. We have over 400 members who are actively involved in the group.

We support each other with housing problems including overcrowding, unsuitable temporary accommodation, high rents, dangerous conditions, gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. We learn our rights together, support each other and fight for good quality council homes for everyone.

The homeless process and accessing the housing register can be very difficult and stressful for our members and anyone in housing need. We are concerned that the council are making large changes to policies and practices which directly affect homeless and other poorly housed residents without engaging and notifying us.

This is causing many of our members yet more stress, confusion and feeling disempowered. We want the council to promise to engage meaningfully with our group and others before making any policy changes that affect homeless and overcrowded households.

In our group, there are a number of key issues that we would like the council to respond to.

(1) Huge reduction of homes on the housing register bidding account/ Southwark Homesearch

In the last year, there has been a significant drop in the number of homes appearing on Southwark Homesearch (our housing register account where we bid for social housing). The council has not given a satisfactory explanation for this huge decrease. Some weeks there have been no 3 bed homes available or only one 3 bed home available.

We believe it could be that the council have been increasing the number of direct offers that they are making to households in temporary accommodation. This then leaves fewer homes to be put on the Homesearch list. We would like the council to explain what is going on as this has a big effect on households in temporary accommodation and others on the housing waiting list, for example families living in severely overcrowded private rented housing.

We have submitted a Freedom Of Information request to ask for the council’s direct offer policy as we cannot find one.

Action required:

• An explanation for the reduction of homes on Southwark Homesearch and also public access to the direct offers policy.

• Letting HASL and other groups and others directly affected respond to the direct offers policy and any future housing allocations policies.

(2) Reducing and denying priority on the waiting list for overcrowded households

We wrote a letter to Councillor Kieron Williams about this issue, including the 5 cases of our members who are all overcrowded families living the private rented sector, on 1st October 2019 but we have not received a response. We also sent tweets with a number of questions which also went unanswered but Cllr Williams did reply to say that he supported the council’s decisions against our members. We have since helped to overturn 2 of these bad decisions that Cllr Williams was so confident in. This blame and punishment of overcrowded families must end. This treatment has been particularly targeted at overcrowded families in the private rented sector.

Action required:

• Stop targeting new housing register applications from overcrowded families in the private rented sector and reducing their priority to band 4 on the housing waiting list.

• Ensure that statutorily overcrowded families get the priority they are entitled to on the housing register.

• Remove the 5 year local connection criteria and return it to 6 months. The 5 year local connection means that overcrowded families are wrongly being refused access to the housing register.

(3) Out of borough, unsuitable temporary accommodation

We know a lot of members who have been housed far outside the borough across London in unsuitable temporary accommodation, such as this member and her toddler. A number of our members in this situation are single parents who are working or are disabled and we see the huge difficulties and disadvantages that these families are suffering away from their support networks in their home borough. The council must look to bring these families back to their home borough. There are empty homes available on the Aylesbury estate and we want confirmation that all these homes are being used for temporary accommodation.

We understand that the sourcing and allocation of home borough temporary accommodation is complicated but efforts should be dedicated to this task as it has such a significant impact on homeless households. Co-operation with other boroughs is one way to improve things as well as engaging with the households affected as well.

Although the council have promised that some families are on a waiting list to be brought back into their home borough, we are not clear about how this waiting list operates. We need an explanation of this waiting list so our members can understand when they are likely to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in their home borough. The council must ensure that those with additional vulnerabilities and needs are housed in their home borough as soon as possible. It feels as though some of our members housed across London have simply been forgotten.

Action required:

• Inform us and all homeless households in out of borough accommodation what the process for re-housing them back in their home borough will be.

• Ensuring that single parent families and others with vulnerabilities are prioritised for re-housing back in their home borough.

• Informing families who are housed out of borough what their position is on the waiting list for re-housing in temporary accommodation back in borough.

• Checking with families if they do want to be re-housed in temporary accommodation back in borough before making the offer (some families might not want to move at that moment).

We need a clear explanation of the policies and practices that the council are enacting now that are affecting us all. We need answers urgently to understand what is going on and it is vital that our concerns and demands are listened to and acted on. We expect that the council can give clear responses to these 3 areas within 2 weeks seeing as we have already raised point 2 with councillor Kieron Williams on 1st October 2019.

We understand first hand that there is a huge shortage of good quality, secure council housing that is a root cause of all these problems, with cuts to local authorities making things worse as well. (But Southwark council have played their part in creating this housing crisis by demolishing thousands of good quality council homes in the borough starting with the Heygate estate and currently on the Aylesbury estate.) The shortage of council homes is not an excuse to deny vital housing support and assistance and respectful treatment to people now. We hope the council will respond to our concerns and engage with and act on our suggestions.

From Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

 

Supported by;

English for Action

HASL’s 2019

 

It’s been another busy year of housing support and action in south London! Together we have won better housing, including council housing with our members, we have helped each other to enforce our housing rights, we have provided vital moral and practical support for each other, we have helped our group to grow and meet more people, and campaigned for the good quality, safe, secure council homes we all need and deserve!

 

As well as our 2 regular meetings each month attended by 50-100 plus people, we’ve also organised protests, run workshops, helped to start a new housing support group, started a film project, and helped to put together legal challenges against unjust council policies.

 

Thank you to all our members and supporters for all your time, effort, determination and commitment. We couldn’t have achieved these things without you! You have helped us to build a strong solidarity network across south London where we learn our rights, support each other, and win together.

 

We know that in 2020 fighting for housing and migrant rights and against poverty and other injustices will be more challenging than ever, but we know that together we are stronger!

 

We’ve already got lots of plans for 2020! We look forward to seeing you in the new year!

 

Here are just some of the things we got up this year (we haven’t included all successes and our day to day activities, such as buddying to the housing office, the referrals to lawyers, small group planning meetings, etc, as it would be too long!)

January

We protested at Southwark council town hall about their poor treatment of homeless survivors of domestic violence. We are continuing to support our members with their cases and we will be writing a more detailed blog on Southwark council’s treatment and failures of survivors of domestic violence in the new year.

 

February 

 

We organised a HASL group training and banner painting session. The group training session was to reflect on how the group works and share ideas, plans and skills for running the group so that more people can be actively involved. One of our long-term members explained “We do everything from the heart and it is very beautiful” We also organised protests and painted banners. One of our members brought cake to celebrate her new council home.

 

Over 50 of our members joined our A Home Close to School protest at Southwark council town hall in support of 4 of our members who had been housed in temporary accommodation far away from Southwark. This was our strongest and loudest protest to date and it resulted in the manager of housing coming to speak directly to us and guaranteeing he would look into the cases we were raising. Southwark News article here and another article here In May, the families were finally moved back to their home borough!

 

We joined Aylesbury residents protesting about their broken heating system and the council’s purposeful disrepair of the estate. There is a video of the protest here.

 

We helped 2 members to stop their evictions from temporary accommodation for rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit.

 

 

March

 

Don’t kick us off the waiting list! After our Southwark protests the previous months, we organised a protest against Lambeth council’s cruel and discriminatory policy of kicking homeless families out of the borough and then removing them from the housing waiting list. At our protest in Lambeth Civic Centre we met other people in the waiting room who had been removed from the waiting list and they joined our protest.

 

One of our members was awarded £2,700 in compensation from the Local Government Ombudsman for Southwark council’s mishandling of her housing case.

 

We organised a small workshop for our members who had recently moved into new council homes to talk about their new rights as council tenants. One of our members said: “I wouldn’t have this home if it wasn’t for you. We would be in the same situation as before, nothing would have changed.”

 

April 

 

We visited Liz Atkinson’s children’s centre in Brixton to talk with the women who attend the centre about housing rights.

 

We helped our member, a survivor of domestic violence, to challenge the gatekeeping she faced by Southwark council and get temporary accommodation for her and her family.

 

May

 

We ran a housing rights workshop with Surrey Square primary school and spoke with the parents about the housing issues they are facing and what their legal rights are, and of course, how we support each other and campaign together.

 

June

 

We ran a housing rights workshop with our friends English for Action and this resulted in the start of a new housing support group in Southwark with English for Action students!

 

We ran a workshop on organising collective support and action at Mayday rooms as part of the Anarchist Festival. A number of people who attended the workshop have since become involved with HASL.

 

July

 

Our member V is a survivor of domestic violence who also suffers from a number of serious medical issues that her tiny studio flat was making worse. With help from our friends Public Interest Law Centre, we helped her to challenge Lambeth council’s decision that she did not qualify for band B for medical reasons.In October our member signed a tenancy for her new council home.

 

One of our members received an accelerated possession order. Due to the tight deadline, we helped to fill in the defense and find lawyers to take on her case. She was able to successfully stop the eviction attempt by her private landlord.

 

August
Our HASL summer picnic in Burgess Park

 

We helped to stop another eviction from temporary accommodation.

 

Our regular Saturday meeting had a lot of victories! Including 3 people who had achieved their correct banding on the housing register (after being wrongly refused by their councils) and another family who had moved from B&B housing into self-contained temporary accommodation back in their home borough. Another family had recently successfully bid on a housing association home.

 

September

 

 

Surprise birthday celebrations!

 

October

 

We sent an open letter to Southwark councillor Kieron Williams about Southwark councils treatment of overcrowded families. We’re still waiting for an answer. We’ve also written a blog post here and we are working on legal routes and planning more campaigning on this important issue.

 

HASL members spoke at the Haldane Society talk ‘Abolish section 21: restructuring renting or technocratic tinkering’ on our experiences of private renting and section 21.

 

We organised an EU Settlement Scheme workshop with Public Interest Law Centre to support people making the application and we organised a follow up workshop the following week.

 

November

Inside Housing published an article on Lambeth council legal challenge

We attended the brilliant Reb Law conference and spoke on a panel: (Un)intentionally homeless: challenging bad housing decisions with housing lawyers and a housing barrister.

 

One of our Southwark overcrowding legal challenges that Public Interest Law Centre took on was successful.
 
December
 
Our member Nelcy on strike for better conditions at her workplace with her union IWGB. HASL members joined Nelcy and IWGB on the strike and protest march through University College London.
 
With the help of GT Stewart solicitors, our member successfully challenges Southwark council over her unsuitable temporary accommodation. We hope our member will be re-housed back in her home borough of Southwark very soon. 
 
Our end of year party! Thanks so much to everyone who attended and helped us to celebrate all our achievements this year. It was a much needed event after the General Election result and the HASL kids made some amazing banners about housing and migrant rights so that we are well prepared for 2020! 

Protest for a Home Close to School

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a home close to school

All this situation is affecting us physically and psychologically. It impacts on our education, work, welfare and health. We have asked to the Council to move back to Southwark, but instead of helping us to move back, they offer us a house at Birmingham.

I am the main carer for my parents, who are in their late seventies, they do not speak English and live in Southwark. My mum has high blood pressure and mild dementia. My dad cannot walk too much as he has problems on his knees. They have been in trouble many times because my mum at middle of the night feels bad and needs to go to hospital, they have to wait for me at least one hour.

Taking to our daughters to school is a big deal, we take the bus because we do not have enough money to take the train. They have to wake up early and leave the house early. Usually, there are not seats available in the bus. This is a long journey and they want a seat because they want to sleep. They arrive tired to school. Many times they want to go to the toilet, we have to get off from the bus in any place. Sometimes, there is traffic. We frequently arrive late at school, at least 2 or 3 times per week.

Last Thursday, over 50 HASL members occupied Southwark HQ for two hours calling for homeless families to be given: a home close to school.

Homeless families in Southwark and across London are being housed in temporary accommodation further and further away from their schools, communities, and work places. This is having a hugely negative impact on our daily lives. Children are sick on the long bus journeys to and from school. They fall asleep in school because they are so tired from the journey. Their education and welfare is suffering. GCSEs are stressful enough without adding 4 hour+ bus travel each day. Parents are tired from the school run and from long commutes to work. They don’t have as much time and energy to spend with their family. Parents have had to reduce their work or change work. Parents’ immigration status can be affected if they cannot work enough hours. Temporary accommodation a long way from our home boroughs can impact every aspect of our lives.

Whilst our members are forced to endure these long journeys to school, homes on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth lie empty. We were at the town hall in support of 4 HASL families who are housed on the outskirts of London and whose children are currently studying for their GCSEs. The families also have other urgent circumstances which mean they need to be housed close to their former homes and communities. They are asking to be housed in temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury estate which is close to their secondary schools. This was the demand we made to Southwark and that the families made directly to Michael Scorer, the Strategic Director for Housing and Modernisation, when he came to speak to us.

Southwark council’s own temporary accommodation policy says that families with children studying for crucial exams like GCSEs should be given priority for re-housing in the borough. So we wanted to know why they have not been following their own policy.

It was our biggest and loudest protest to date and the energy and determination of the group was inspiring! For the whole time, we made noise and chanted so that Southwark council could not ignore us. Our members made a line across the hall forming a blockade. Eventually, Michael Scorer, came down to speak to us. Our members made him give them his word that he would support their cases. He promised to look into the cases and give a response as soon as he could the following week. The families are anxiously waiting to hear from him about their cases.

Everyone in our protest had direct experience of living in temporary accommodation or living in overcrowded private rented housing. Everyone understood and felt the very real suffering of bad housing. They came out to support other members of the group and show such strong solidarity.

HASL children and young people played a strong and vital role in the protest speaking about the stress and exhaustion they face studying for GCSEs and spending so much time travelling to and from school. One child made her own placard about the eviction attempt her family had faced and the long journey she has every day to school.

Our demand to the council to be housed in empty flats on the Aylesbury estate, close to school, is fair and practical – we are after all just asking them to follow their own policy as well as homelessness law. Why force people to travel miles where there are empty flats available?

The situation for homeless families in temporary accommodation is getting worse. Due to a lack of council housing, (as a result of disastrous national policies as well as in part due to Southwark council’s sell-off and demolition of council homes), there are not enough 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes on the housing waiting list so our members are stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation for years. This cannot continue! Southwark council must house families in their home borough such as on the empty homes on the Aylesbury estate. We need 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes now!

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Lambeth council – stop failing homeless people!

For many months, M was forced into an all too common situation where she had to rely on the kindness of a friend with children to let her sleep on her sofa. But because that wasn’t always guaranteed she also found herself sleeping in a church through one of the limited shelter schemes available in Lambeth, and sleeping rough. She has a history of poor health because of anaemia from multiple fibroids, back pain and painful osteoarthritis in her knees which has gotten worse in her 50s, and a history of depression, anxiety and PTSD.  In summer 2017 her GP also discovered lumps in her neck, but because of the gatekeeping by the radiologist she was referred to she’s still waiting for a proper diagnosis and treatment for hypothyroidism.

M approached Lambeth council in November 2017 and again in December to apply as homeless, but the housing office refused to help her on both occasions and were rude and indifferent to her situation. She heard about HASL and came along to one of the group’s meetings for help. Together we began the inexcusably long and challenging process of supporting her get the social housing she’s entitled to as a disabled woman with complex health needs.

In February M went back to the council with supporting documentation and a letter from her social worker and mental health team.  She was shuffled over from the reception waiting area to a desk where housing options officers ‘pre-screen’ homeless applicants before giving them a homelessness interview and was asked for more documentation going back several years.

In March the homelessness assessment interview finally took place. M was grilled on the documentation she had brought as if the housing officer was trying to catch her out. She was eventually given temporary accommodation that month and told that she would receive a written decision letter in 33-50 days about whether or not the council would decide to give her a homeless duty. M didn’t receive anything from the council and despite her best effort to contact someone she was ignored for months.

As her mental health deteriorated she continued to be seen by her community mental health team, was supervised by psychiatrist and was given a social worker who offered on-going therapeutic support.

Eventually she received a letter from the council, but it was a notice of eviction from her temporary accommodation. She still hadn’t received the homeless duty decision letter. She continued to ring, email and visit the housing office, but was turned away without explanation or help. Finally, she found a direct number for someone in the Temporary Accommodation team and called asking about her housing situation. After being told off for calling that number, a decision letter did magically appear but Lambeth denied her a homeless duty because she wasn’t in ‘priority need.’

The decision letter acknowledged that she suffered from various health conditions, but said that because the medication she was on was ‘common’ and that she was coping well in 2017 she wasn’t vulnerable. Lambeth’s outsourced medical practitioner at Now Medical formed the basis of this opinion, but he was unable to detail his reasons. HASL put her in touch with a solicitor and we worked to help her review the negative decision letter. Her GP also wrote a supporting letter stating that her mental health had deteriorated and that had Now Medical consulted with the primary caregiver, a different conclusion as to her vulnerability would have been reached.

Unfortunately, in October, Lambeth stuck to their negative decision, but M’s solicitor has confirmed that her case has grounds for an appeal. We are now waiting for the case to go to court in a few days and have requested that her temporary accommodation be extended pending appeal. Needless to say, it shouldn’t have taken nearly two years to get to this point, and refusing vulnerable single people on the basis of priority need without thorough explanation through Lambeth’s joint partnership with Now Medical is nothing but a testament to the council’s continued hostility and lack of interest in supporting vulnerable people and addressing the housing crisis in any meaningful way.

#supportsurvivors

#whenwillneedbeenough

Get involved in Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth to take action together for the good quality, secure, spacious council homes we all need!

Southwark council – support L & F and all DV survivors

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Last week, we occupied Southwark council’s HQ on Tooley street in support of our members F & L to demand that they get the full homeless duties they desperately need and to stop L’s imminent eviction. We also wanted to highlight the poor treatment that survivors of domestic violence face when trying to get safe, secure housing.

F & L are two long-term HASL members who are both homeless survivors of domestic violence. They also both suffer from significant medical problems which affect them on a daily basis. However, despite submitting strong medical evidence and other supporting evidence, the council have deemed them not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty.

Of course, all survivors of domestic violence should be considered vulnerable and qualify for a homeless duty. Homelessness law needs to be much better, it does not do enough to protect and house vulnerable homeless people. In our group, we constantly try to highlight, organise and campaign on this. No one should be put through a degrading vulnerability test. Everyone needs and deserve good quality, safe, secure housing.

But Southwark council cannot shift the blame here. Their actions and treatment of our members within the current inadequate homelessness law cannot be justified either.

  • In the face of so much evidence, how can Southwark council deem our members not vulnerable?
  • Why have our members faced repeated eviction attempts by the council which has made their health even worse?
  • How can Southwark council justify the appalling statements and misinformation in their decision letters about the women? As well as the entire homelessness process being traumatising for the women?

When we visited the town hall in support of F & L this poor treatment continued as we faced deeply rude treatment from senior male housing staff. Our member L was left ‘reeling’ by their behaviour and attitude to our group of women, some of whom are survivors of domestic violence. We are women dealing with housing problems, doing child-care, dealing with medical problems, doing paid-work and supporting our members.

The housing manager told a supporter that L must accept private accommodation (an area was written on a scrap of paper – an area which is away from L’s support networks). We explained this would end her homelessness appeal which will be heard in court. He replied that it would not.

Either he does not understand homelessness law, or he was lying to us. Both are worrying.

Despite our best efforts and determined efforts from L’s solicitors who repeatedly requested accommodation as their client was at ‘high-risk’ if made street homeless – the council went ahead with the eviction the following morning.

We will continue to support our members with their cases to get the safe, secure, quality council housing in their local communities that they need. We will continue to fight to get better treatment for all survivors.

Thank you to everyone on twitter who showed their support, the response was great and boosted us all.

Thank you to South East London Sisters Uncut for their support.

And thanks to South West Londoner for a good write up here

Why the fight for the Aylesbury estate is important for everyone

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A home on the Aylesbury estate – how could Southwark council want to demolish this?!

Don’t demolish the Aylesbury estate! Use empty flats for temporary accommodation.

Residents of the Aylesbury estate (next to Burgess park) in Walworth have been fighting against the demolition of their estate by Southwark council for years. The Aylesbury estate is a large council estate which is home to council tenants, homeless households in temporary accommodation, leaseholders and private tenants (renting from leaseholders) and occasionally squatters. The majority of the residents are council tenants and, like the Walworth and Elephant and Castle neighourhood, the tenants are from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Before the demolition of parts of the estate there were 2,402 council homes. A further 356 homes had been sold under right to buy and were in private ownership.

The council’s plans for the Aylesbury are similar to those of the Heygate estate which was just a few minutes walk away – the demolition of good quality council homes and the destruction and displacement of local communities to be replaced with private homes which no one on Southwark’s housing waiting list can afford to live in. The Heygate demolition is accepted by the majority of people as being a terrible deal for everyone – including Southwark council – with only property developers Lendlease benefiting. Yet the council do not seem to have learned lessons from this and are still taking huge financial risks. 

 

Heygate: A Natural History

The Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle. Photo credit: Matthew Coleman http://cargocollective.com/matbcoleman/Heygate-A-Natural-History

 

Southwark council celebrate the Compulsory Purchase Order but ALAG fight back

Last month, councillors celebrated the granting of a Compulsory Purchase Order for the ‘first development site’. However, the Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group responded to this with a strong public statement about their fight for their homes. We’ve copied the statement below and we look forward to supporting them.

On the Aylesbury estate a number of blocks have been demolished already, but there is still a lot of the estate left standing and residents and supporters still fighting for it.

No more long journeys to school while flats lie empty on the Aylesbury!

In HASL, many of our members are homeless families and individuals, and families living in severely overcrowded private rented housing. Many homeless families are being housed in temporary accommodation far outside the borough on the edges of London, in places they have never heard of. The long distance from their schools, work and community has huge impacts on their lives. Our member R has to travel 2 hours each way to school and back with her son and her 2 year old baby. Her baby cries on the bus and her son is sometimes sick on the bus. Other families are enduring appalling conditions in severely overcrowded private rented housing. Yet an entire Aylesbury block of good quality, spacious council homes stands empty next to Burgess park which our members would be desperate to live in.

Good quality homes that need refurbishment not demolition!

The homes on the estate are good quality and spacious. Due to a lack of investment from the council, there are problems with disrepair and the heating system, but these are problems that can resolved without demolishing the estate (however, it is convenient for the council to use this disrepair as an argument for the demolition). As the Ledbury Action Group have pointed out, if the council can repair Ledbury estate, there’s no reason they can’t do the repairs and refurbishment needed on the Aylesbury.

The Aylesbury estate has a really good mix of different sized council homes, with many of the homes being 3, 4, and 5 bedroom council homes – exactly the family-sized council homes that many Southwark households on the housing waiting list are desperately in need of. This makes it even more painful to see these homes next to Burgess park stand empty and then turned into rubble.

A few years ago, one of our members was housed on the estate in temporary accommodation. When she was offered a permanent council house, she was sad to leave her Aylesbury home which was more spacious than her new council home.

Supporting our members to be housed back in borough on the Aylesbury estate

We have at least 5 families in our group who have been housed in temporary accommodation out of borough and are having to travel long distances each day back into Southwark. They are all desperate to be housed back in their home borough and would happily accept temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury estate (or even a secure council tenancy there!). We have submitted suitability reviews and requested that the council house them in temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury and we will continue to support them with their cases to return home to Southwark.

Making the housing waiting list even longer

As well as good quality homes standing empty whilst homeless families suffer, the Aylesbury estate also impacts on our members and other homeless families because as the council demolishes the estate it must re-house all of the council tenants that live there. The Aylesbury tenants are put into band 1 on the housing register so that they can bid for a new council home. This means that council tenants who already have a home are put on the housing register ahead of households with a high housing need such as homelessness or overcrowding. It’s not fair on the Aylesbury tenants being forced from their homes and estate and it’s not fair on others on the housing list desperately waiting for a council home.

By ‘de-canting’ (removing) all of the council tenants on the Aylesbury estate and into new council homes, the council will have added years in waiting time for families in temporary accommodation and overcrowded households.

How can Southwark council justify making families in temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing wait years longer to get the secure council homes they desperately need?

What has happened to all the 3, 4, 5 bed council homes?

Recently, on Southwark council’s Homesearch (housing register), the number of 3 bed council homes has been 1 or 2 a week. When previously there were 5-10 each week – still not enough for the high need for 3 bed homes but better than 1 or 2 each week. At our meetings, there are at least 10 families there who all need 3 bedroom council homes. We sit together and know that no one there will get the one home advertised that week. We suspect that the massive decrease in 3 bedroom council homes on the Homesearch this year is due to the de-canting of the Aylesbury estate. Urgent action is needed from the council to ensure that there are more 3, 4, 5 bed council homes available on Homesearch for families in housing need. One simple way to do this is to stop the demolition of the Aylesbury estate and work with tenants and residents on refurbishment.

Fight together!

This is a fight for secure, quality council homes for both current tenants and those in housing need. Council tenants and other residents on the Aylesbury are fighting for their homes, communities and estate and for it’s refurbishment. As HASL, a group of homeless, overcrowded and poorly housed families and individuals, we support them and we fight for the good council homes we need too!

Public statement from the Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group

Follow them on twitter here.

A CPO is a failure for everyone, and it should never be celebrated.

We, members of ALAG (Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group) are disappointed at the negative outcome of the first development site CPO (compulsory purchase order). The ruling affects one remaining ALAG resident leaseholder directly, but it also affects all of us living through estate regenerations on the Aylesbury and beyond.

We are also not greatly surprised by this ruling. The last leaseholder in phase 1 kept fighting against the CPO after other objectors reached a last minute confidential agreement with Southwark Council and after they withdrew the bulk of the evidence from the case, against the wishes of most ALAG members. Without legal representation and without most of the evidence and witnesses at her disposal, the remaining leaseholder’s chances were stacked against her. London Borough of Southwark had the advantage of large resources, a full legal team, two powerful barristers on their side, all paid for by our taxes. Our friend only had her own limited time and resources on her side. This inequality of arms did however not stop her from putting her case forward, and it did not stop ALAG from supporting her.

The deal struck by the other leaseholders is based on a Shared Equity Policy – a policy that was sold to them as a ‘new’ option for leaseholders, although we know it was on the table as far back as 2006; as we’ve pointed out before, ALAG does not consider this policy satisfactory because of the negative conditions it imposes on inheritance, rental and stair-casing, which would mean leaseholders will be losing out in a major way: we have always said that the regeneration of our estate should not mean that the council can take our homes and leave us in a worse situation than before. The estate should either be refurbished for its current residents, or we should be offered a like-for-like replacement home: NOT a shared ownership that will put us back into debt, NOT a shared equity with less rights, NOT a flat outside of London away from our families, jobs, communities and networks. None of these options are acceptable for us.

We have lived and contributed to this community for years and decades; with a lot of effort and work we have bought our flats. Many of us will never be able to get another mortgage: many of us are on low incomes, many are getting on, many are from migrant backgrounds and have struggled hard to make a life in this country for us and our kids. We do not deserve to pay the price of this regeneration!

Inspector Whitehead and the Secretary of State agreed that the human rights of the remaining leaseholders are being interfered with. They agreed that their ruling will have a disproportionately large effect on elderly and BAME residents. However, this is not enough to stop the scheme for them. They also consider the refurbishment option ‘not viable’ – as the demolition of buildings on the first development site has been under way since mid-2015, we are not too surprised that at this stage, refurbishing a mountain of rubble cannot be considered a viable option. In their opinion, all the negative outcomes of the scheme are either mitigated or are a ‘fait accompli’ that cannot be undone. However, we see no mitigation in the options we are being offered.

Our local leaders stubbornly continue to refuse to respond to our demands, and they continue to fail to treat us with dignity; we strongly condemn the celebratory tweets that council leader Peter John and ward councillor Jack Buck wrote after the CPO ruling was made public, in which they celebrate the outcome of the CPO: these messages are a further proof of their complete lack of empathy and understanding of our situation, and a slap in the face to each of us. A CPO is a failure for everyone, and it should never be celebrated.

Despite and because of the treatment we are receiving, we will continue to fight for our rights and those of our fellow residents, council tenants, temporary tenants and others. We believe LBS will use this CPO ruling to steamroll through the removal of the remaining leaseholders on the rest of the estate. However, there’s 200 of us left, and we will continue our fight: we will now open a case with the Lands Tribunal to contest the low valuations on the estate and to contest the low blight factor. After years of neglect, lack of maintenance and general running down of the estate, the blight factor affecting us is certainly more than 10%. We ask the Secretary of State and LBS if they are able to find a new home for us on the open market with the valuations they are offering us at the moment – and we bet they will not be able to.
We will also contest the imminent CPOs to residents on Plot 18: a 15 floor tower block is planned on the site, entirely for private sale, which, by the council’s own admission, will completely overshadow the neighbouring homes and streets. We will not allow leaseholders to be CPOed for such a scheme.

We will continue to share information, network and fight together – and we welcome any resident on the estate to join us in our struggle. Only by sticking together we can face this injustice.

ALAG press statement – 19 November 2018

in response to FDS CPO ruling 14/11/2018

End of year blog!

It’s been our busiest year yet! Our regular meetings have had 50-90 members attending all facing immediate housing problems. We’re still learning how to organise ourselves in such large numbers and we’re really thankful to all our members for their patience, co-operation, support and commitment to helping run these meetings as smoothly as possible. We couldn’t do it without you! It’s at our fortnightly group meetings where so much of our group support, information sharing, organising, action planning, and socialising happens as this means we can draw on all of our experience and knowledge.

 

It has been the involvement and support of our members that have helped us to achieve so much this year. It’s really inspiring seeing our members learn their housing rights, sharing this information with others and supporting each other’s cases and the work of the group as we grow. We’re building a really strong network of people across our boroughs where we support each other with housing and other poverty problems and work on them together.

 

We’ve seen so many of our housing situations improve with the support of the group, our group meetings are running really well, we’ve had some amazing parties, we’re building local campaigns in our boroughs, our kids activities and co-ordination is improving, and we’re making good links with other organisations (such as the Public Interest Law Centre) to support each others work. We know that the housing crisis in London means so many people are suffering every day from homelessness, overcrowding and other housing problems, but we know that by sticking together, we can fight for the good quality, safe, secure homes in our communities that we all need. We’re already got lots of plans and ideas for 2019!

 

Here are just some of the things we’ve been up to this year. HASL members, let us know if we’ve missed your highlight!

 

January

Our first meeting of the year was a busy one with 50 people attending!

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Our member H, a single mother who is a refugee, was facing eviction from Southwark council temporary accommodation. Through twitter pressure from the group and help from Southwark Law Centre, the council confirmed that they would not be evicting her and that she had a full homeless duty. After a year and a half living in hostel accommodation, the council also provided her with good temporary accommodation in a self-contained flat in the local area.

We joined two protests at Southwark Council’s Tooley street HQ against the demolition of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre – we need our community spaces and leisure facilities, cafes, and bingo!

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February

 

We organised a small group training session for some of our members in Spanish to talk about how to help run the group – we’re hoping to run more of these skill share sessions so that we can share ideas of how we can help the group run more effectively.

 

We showed our support for the women in Yarls Wood who were on hunger strike demanding freedom and dignity. Many of our members’ lives are affected by harmful immigration controls and rules that seek to exclude us from vital services (including housing) and push us into poverty.

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Our youngest member yet attended our meeting, a 5 day old baby!

 

 

March

 

Council housing celebration meet up – a number of our members recently got keys and their council tenancy so we met up to celebrate as well as talk about the practicalities of moving home, problems with Universal Credit, and some of their new and important rights as council tenants.

 

A very busy HASL kids club with a workshop for adults explaining about bidding for council housing.

 

One of our long term members secured a council home after a long struggle. She is a survivor of domestic violence and had been homeless for almost 2 years. It was a really long struggle and it should never be this way, but it was wonderful news.

We were able to achieve this together by buddying, group support and finding good lawyers, our friends at the Public Interest Law Centre and an incredible amount of determination from our member.

 

April

 

Our member F, a homeless survivor of domestic violence, was being denied temporary accommodation by Southwark council. Thanks to twitter pressure we were able to help her secure the temporary accommodation she desperately needed.

Our meetings kept on growing and so have people’s contributions – plates of food arrived at our meeting, we had fresh luxury bread and brownies, and our kids care team were wonderful.

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May

 

We protested at Lambeth council in support of our member Ruben and all overcrowded families. A month later, Ruben heard from Lambeth that he had been placed higher up on the housing register where he would be able to bid successfully for council housing.

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We ran a small group workshop for our members about hostel accommodation and what their rights are. Lots of our members, especially Southwark members, have been being housed in hostel accommodation over the 6 week limit (which applies to B&B hostel accommodation that is privately run).

 

Our blog on the Homelessness Reduction Act (which came into force on 3rd April)

 

June

 

At our meeting we spoke about the Grenfell tragedy, the need for justice and how we must demand secure, safe good quality council homes for everyone.

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We had a stall at the London Radical Bookfair in Lewisham where we talked with people about housing rights and the group.

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We organised a small group meet up for families in overcrowded housing to learn their rights and make plans on their cases.

 

Southwark council were trying to evict our member L from temporary accommodation. We buddied her at the housing office and with a combination of twitter pressure and determination at the housing office, we were able to ensure that the council provided new temporary accommodation for her.

A private landlord stolen our member’s son’s bike and was threatening to destroy it! We contacted him in support of our member and got him to agree to return the bike undamaged. This is why we fight together for good quality council homes.

 

We supported our member at court who was challenging a possession order from their private landlord.

 

July

 

We joined another protest to support Elephant and Castle shopping centre against developer Delancy and Southwark council’s disastrous plans for it.

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We went to the Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair where we joined a workshop on housing campaigns and organising.

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Our member F was facing eviction from temporary accommodation. With the support of lawyers and a twitter storm, we were able to secure her temporary accommodation.

 

August

 

Summer picnic in Burgess park

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Really big summer bank holiday meeting! We started the meeting sharing lots of recent successes which is a great way to start!

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September

 

HASL goes global! An interview with us was translated into Japanese!

 

We ran another council tenancy rights workshop and celebration with our members who recently got their keys and contracts.

 

HASL surprise birthday party for one of our members!

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October

 

Our member D was facing eviction from Southwark council temporary accommodation due to rent arrears caused by Universal Credit. A public twitter storm helped to stop it and we’ve been working with our member with the support of Southwark Law Centre to resolve the Universal Credit issues.

 

Southwark council – stop evicting people from temporary accommodation! Our blog post and demand.

 

Southwark council have been trying to evict homeless families from temporary accommodation for rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit. We’re demanding that the council stop all evictions from temporary accommodation. Homeless families need support and council homes – not evictions!

We’ve supported 6 families this year who were threatened with eviction by Southwark council for rent arrears. The eviction threats caused the families great distress.

 

Southwark council overcrowding victory with our friends Public Interest Law Centre!

 

Read this great article featuring our member Maryuri talking about her and her family’s experience of overcrowded housing and her successful legal challenge against Southwark council with us and Public Interest Law Unit.

We’re so proud of all of our members who have been campaigning on overcrowding and other housing issues and we’re seeing some good results!

 

Another HASL-PILC success as our member V and his family are given band 2 on Southwark’s housing register after we supported them to review the council’s original negative decision.

 

November

 

We attended the Rebel Law Conference and the SolFed conference talking about our housing organising and campaigning.

 

We supported our member in court. She is a Lambeth resident facing a section 21 no-fault eviction from her private landlord. We provided practical and moral support for our member. Going to court with the fear of losing your home is a very stressful experience. Don’t struggle alone, join your local housing action group!

Due to a factual dispute, the judge was unable to make a decision on the case and there will be another hearing in the new year. We will continue to support our member with her case and we will be back then to support our member to keep her home!

 

We attended an incredibly helpful and clear Homelessness Reduction Act training with LCAP supporter Lou, from Miles and Partners solicitors.

 

December

 

Our end of year celebration was a massive success. It was wonderful to see so many old and new faces and celebrate everything we’ve achieved this year. We had so much delicious food and cake and the children painted an awesome banner with one of our main demands ‘We need 3, 4, 5 bed council homes’. Our last meeting of the year was also really special thanks to our members’ efforts and surprises!

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Our member L is a survivor of domestic violence who has been battling Southwark council for a full homeless duty. We’ve been supporting her with her case and when Southwark council threatened to evict her from temporary accommodation, our twitter pressure helped to extend her temporary accommodation.

 

We’re supporting our member Susana to stop Lambeth from kicking her off the housing register as part of our wider campaign against Lambeth’s unfair treatment of homeless families. Our members Susana and Flavia made this brilliant video explaining Lambeth’s trick that they target homeless families with.