Kids from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Akwaaba, and English for Action living in overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation have designed posters calling for 3, 4, 5 bed council homes. They have also written personal messages on their posters:
“You wouldn’t get enough sleep if your house was overcrowded”
“Sharing a room with parents or sleeping somewhere that is not the bedroom isn’t fun!”
Join us on twitter (and facebook and instagram) on Monday 22nd March from 9am to make sure Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick can’t miss them!
On the 1 year anniversary of the lockdown, we’re sending these posters to Housing Minister Robert Jenrick to remind the government of the urgent need for high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes and the need to abolish No Recourse to Public Funds so no one is refused good housing based on their immigration status. Children need space to play, rest and study!
Over the last year, families have found themselves trapped in unbearable, cramped living conditions 24/7, worsening their mental and physical health. Children have struggled with home-schooling in noisy cramped spaces. Overcrowded housing has been linked to the spread of Covid 19 and residents are more vulnerable to ill-health and death.
Yet, throughout the pandemic, the government have refused to give families any reason for hope. The government have not introduced a single housing policy to help families and individuals suffering in the worst housing conditions. No Recourse to Public Funds continues to push people into poverty and homelessness. The government have refused to talk about council housing even though this is the obvious solution to the housing crisis we face.
To solve the overcrowding and housing crisis, we need 3, 4, 5 bed council homes and an end to No Recourse to Public Funds so that everyone can have the good housing they need.
We’ll be tweeting Robert Jenrick with over 50 drawings by children from housing and migrant support groups from across London. Please retweet and quote tweet our posters so they can’t be ignored.
Recently we have been campaigning against the proposed changes to Lewisham Council’s housing waiting list rules. These changes will see severely overcrowded families pushed down the housing waiting list making it impossible to get social housing for some and making the wait even longer for others. Our members were featured in this South London press article about the proposed changes. HASL members also collectively created template answers for people to complete the consultation with.
The consultation closed on Sunday 14th March. Here is HASL’s full response, including our members’ stories, why we want Lewisham to drop the changes and our members’ proposals for making Lewisham’s waiting list fairer:
Lewisham residents – Use our template answers to fight for the rights of Lewisham families in temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing!
En español abajo
Lewisham council has launched its Lewisham Housing Allocation Scheme Policy Review which is in the form of an online survey which can be found by clicking here
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a community housing group made up of families and individuals who are homeless in temporary accommodation, living in overcrowded housing or face other housing problems.
HASL is very concerned about many of the new proposals contained in the survey that will have a hugely negative impact on families in overcrowded housing by reducing their banding. We also want to make sure families in temporary accommodation are not forced into the private sector through the council’s use of their private sector discharge policy.
It is really important that Lewisham households, especially households suffering at the worst end of the housing crisis, respond to the survey to challenge these bad proposals and share their views on how the council can make the fairest policy which supports everyone, especially those with high housing needs.
HASL is here to help you!
Together with our Lewisham group members, we have prepared template answers (please click on link below) which you can use to help complete the survey – and please feel free to include your own views as well.
At the end of the survey, you can add your email address so that you will be emailed a copy of your answers. If you are happy to for us have a copy of your answers so that we can keep a record of them, please forward this email to email@example.com.
You can email Lewisham council if you need the survey translated into another language, if you have any questions about the survey or if you want to submit more information or suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like extra support from HASL to complete the survey, if you have any questions or if you want to be involved and hear more about HASL’s activities on this important survey/consultation, send a message to to our group phone 07930 062282 or send us an email: email@example.com
The survey does not give any room to explain about your personal housing circumstances or to give your own suggestions and proposals. Email us your personal testimony/story explaining your current housing situation and how the new policy would impact you and we will collect these together to submit to the council. Send your testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org
The survey asks in question 21 what type of housing you live in – for example, private rented, temporary accommodation, social housing but the survey does not give space for you to say if you are currently overcrowded in your housing. If you are currently overcrowded, please let them know by adding this sentence to the end of the first answer:
My family lives in overcrowded housing in the private rented sector and this policy directly affects me.
The deadline for responding to the survey is Sunday 14th March
Residentes de Lewisham – Usen nuestro modelo de respuestas para luchar por los derechos de las familias de Lewisham en acomodación temporaria y vivienda superpoblada!
Housing Action Southwark y Lambeth es un grupo de alojamiento comunitario formado por familias e individuales sin techo en acomodación temporal, viviendo en una casa sobrepoblada o enfrentando otros problemas de alojamiento.
HASL está muy preocupada por las muchas propuestas contenidas en la encuesta las cuales tendrán un gran impacto negativo en las familias sobrepobladas reduciendo las posiciones de sus bandas. También queremos asegurarnos que las familias en acomodación temporal no están siendo forzadas en un sector privado a través del uso de la política de descarga del sector privado del ayuntamiento.
Es realmente importante que los hogares de Lewisham, especialmente los hogares sufriendo en las primeras situaciones de crisis, respondan a la encuesta para desafiar estas malas proposiciones y compartir nuestras visiones en cómo el ayuntamiento puede hacer la política más justa que apoye a todos, especialmente a aquellos con altas necesidades de alojamiento.
HASL está aquí para ayudarte!
● Juntos con nuestros miembros de Lewisham, hemos preparado un modelo con respuestas (haga clic en el enlace de abajo) las cuales pueden usar para completar el cuestionario – y por favor siéntanse libres de incluir sus propias opiniones.
● Al final de la encuesta, usted puede añadir su correo electrónico para que le envíen una copia de sus respuestas. Si están de acuerdo en enviarnos la copia de sus respuestas para mantener un registro, por favor envíelo a este email: email@example.com.
● Puede enviar un correo electrónico al ayuntamiento de Lewisham si necesita traducir la encuesta a otro idioma, si tiene alguna pregunta sobre la encuesta o si desea enviar más información o sugerencias: firstname.lastname@example.org
● Si desea apoyo adicional de HASL para completar la encuesta, si tiene alguna pregunta o si desea participar y escuchar más sobre las actividades de HASL en esta importante encuesta / consulta, envíe un mensaje a nuestro teléfono de grupo 07930 062282 o envíe envíenos un correo electrónico: email@example.com
● La encuesta no da espacio para explicar tus circunstancias personales de alojamiento y dar tus propias sugerencias y propuestas. Envíanos por correo tu testimonio personal explicando tu situación actual de alojamiento y como la nueva política te afectaría y estaremos recopilando estas para enviarlas al council. Envia tu testimonio a firstname.lastname@example.org.
● La encuesta pregunta en la pregunta 21 en qué tipo de acomodación vives – por ejemplo, renta privada, acomodación temporal, alojamiento social pero la encuesta no da oportunidad de decir si estas sobrepoblada en tu casa. SI estás actualmente sobrepoblado, por favor hazme saber añadiendo esta frase al final de la primera respuesta:
Mi familia vive en un alojamiento sobrepoblado en un sector de renta privada y esta política me afecta directamente
La fecha límite para responder a la encuesta es el Domingo 14 Marzo 2021
Families living in overcrowded housing and their supporters have achieved a significant victory for overcrowded families living in Southwark. The council have responded positively to the community-led campaign and a successful legal challenge. The term ‘deliberate act’ has been removed in a new draft of the allocations scheme. The council has also promised to take a number of concrete steps that will benefit families in overcrowded housing including reviewing negative decisions. The council has also invited HASL and other local community groups to a meeting to discuss improvements to their allocations scheme.
This is a welcome change of approach from the council but it should not have taken years of campaigning and legal action for Southwark council to finally listen to our concerns. Families have for far too long had their priority on the waiting list significantly reduced simply because, as a result of high rents, benefit cuts and a shortage of council homes, they were unable to afford suitable accommodation. Most of the families affected are from migrant and BAME households, and therefore faced additional structural barriers when accessing housing.
In September, PILC and HASL together with 30+ local community groups wrote an open letter to Southwark council about the culture of blame and refusal faced by families in overcrowded housing, who were trying to access support from the council. We highlighted how the council’s actions are targeting low-income families from BAME and migrant backgrounds.
Southwark council’s initial response continued to blame families in overcrowded housing. The council argued that living in overcrowded housing was a ‘choice’, suggested other areas of the country where families could live, and accused them of trying to ‘exploit’ the housing register.
As our concerns were taken not taken seriously, we launched an email campaign against the council. Over 250 protest emails were sent to the leader of the council in support of the campaign, demanding a change to the council’s policies and practices on overcrowding.
Those emails highlighted the hardship that families were facing as a result of the council’s cruel policy – which described severely overcrowded families as having ‘deliberately’ caused their overcrowding, and then penalised them by reducing their priority on the waiting list. In other cases, housing officers were not interpreting the housing allocations scheme properly when deciding wrongly and with no evidence that families had ‘deliberately worsened their circumstances’ (and were living in overcrowded accommodation on purpose) so as to exploit the housing register.
In response to the campaign:
The leader of the council, Keiron Williams, agreed to meeting with HASL and other local community groups to discuss improvements that could be made to the council’s housing allocations scheme;
The council’s housing manager agreed to revise guidance to staff administering the housing allocations scheme, specifically in relation to the ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
The council will be reviewing all cases issued with a decision that there has been a ‘deliberately worsening of circumstances’;
All officers within the housing department will be issued with updated guidance; and
The council will be consulting on a new allocations scheme. The council requested our participation to ‘help shape the future of allocations in Southwark.’
We welcome the council’s response to our campaign, and will now fight to ensure that:
The updated guidance to staff is clear so that decisions are now made fairly and lawfully.
The council’s scheme is re-drafted clearly, fairly and operates in a way that supports rather than penalises families facing hardship. The scheme must make clear that no family should ever be penalised or blamed for living in overcrowded conditions.
Thank you to all the community groups and individuals who have supported our campaign! It’s not over until we all have the high quality, safe, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we all need and deserve!
2020 has been a very difficult year, especially for people living in bad housing conditions such as overcrowded housing and temporary accommodation away from their home borough and other unsafe housing situations. But our group has still achieved so much together this year despite the difficult circumstances.
Even though we were not able to have our regular group meetings in person we have adapted to running our group meetings online by zoom on a weekly basis to make sure that we can see each other and support each other regularly. Throughout the pandemic, our regular zoom meetings, practical support and online campaigning has made sure that we have continued to protect our housing rights and fight together for the high quality, safe, secure 3, 4, 5, bed homes we all need. Every day across south London our members are supporting each other and taking collective action on housing issues we face.
We have achieved many victories together this year – victories for families who have finally been able to move into permanent council housing and also wider victories which will benefit many others as well – and we hope that next year we will be able to celebrate these together with a party in Burgess park when it is safe to do so. We wanted to share some of our highlights with you – sorry if we have missed anything!
We want to thank all our members and supporters for your amazing support for the group this year. Our group is run by our members and the group would not function without everyone’s participation. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way including, helping run and contribute to our zoom meetings, telling friends about the group, liking our social media posts, joining our online protests, helping to make videos and so much more! We’ve also loved working together with our friends Public Interest Law Centre and English for Action and many other groups and new friends we’ve made over the year.
We’re looking forward to seeing you (on zoom) in the new year and making plans together for 2021!
Campaign and legal victory against Southwark council’s cruel treatment of families in overcrowded housing
We had a really big victory earlier this month when Favio and Elba won their case in the Court of Appeal overturning Southwark council’s decision that their overcrowding was a ‘deliberate act’. We hope this Court of Appeal judgement will also help other families in severely overcrowded housing who are being unfairly blamed by Southwark council for causing overcrowding. This legal victory is part of a long-running campaign by HASL families in overcrowded housing.
Our campaign for the removal of the ‘deliberate act’ term and for the end of Southwark council’s culture of blame and refusal continues. You can still support our email protest to Kieron Williams here
The South London Press covered Favio and Elba’s case here and we wrote an article about it for Tribune here.
Over the year, with the help of good housing lawyers, we’ve helped to overturn many of Southwark’s bad decisions targeted at overcrowded families. With our campaign and legal challenge we want to make sure families do not have to receive bad decisions in the first place and that they can get the help they are entitled to!
Victory defending Lambeth homeless families’ rights
We have been campaigning on this issue for years. In December 2018 Susana helped to make this video explaining her case and in March 2019 we held a protest inside Lambeth’s new Civic Centre with our banner ‘don’t kick us off the housing list’ where we met another family affected by this scheme.
Lambeth homeless families in temporary accommodation in band C face years and years stuck in poor quality temporary accommodation when they urgently need safe, secure council housing. Lambeth’s housing allocations policy demotes homeless families into band C, below those who take the risky “homeless prevention” option. Homeless families are stuck Too Long in Temporary!
We’ve been supporting our member Janeth and her family’s case, who have been in temporary accommodation for over 6 years. Janeth made a video about her case which we launched in September and we’ve been campaigning on Janeth’s case and in support of all homeless families. The South West Londoner and the Brixton Blog covered Janeth’s case and the situation for families in temporary accommodation. Janeth is still waiting for a medical decision from Lambeth council in response to the review letter that her lawyers submitted in August.
Lewisham overcrowding challenge
One of our Lewisham members is living with her family in overcrowded private housing. Because they do not yet meet the 5 year residency criteria Lewisham council have refused the let the family join the housing waiting list. We think this is unfair and that it discriminates against migrant families who are less likely to have built up time in the borough and also face additional difficulties and discrimination in the private rented sector meaning they are more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. Our member is taking a legal challenge against Lewisham council and we will be campaigning for Lewisham council to support their overcrowded residents and review their decision to apply the 5 year residency criteria to people with a housing need.
Another Lewisham family in temporary accommodation was suddenly told by the council that she was being moved into temporary accommodation in a Harlow office block that has been in the national and local news for it’s terrible conditions. We supported her to challenge this decision and she was able to remain in her suitable temporary accommodation.
Other important victories
Just before lockdown, a Lewisham family who are long-term members of the group moved into a permanent council home. 2 other Lambeth members also moved into permanent council homes after they were finally awarded the correct medical priority with the help of HASL and PILC. These two women were both suffering serious medical problems which were made worse by their bad housing. After getting band B for welfare needs, they were both able to successfully bid for council housing which meant that during lockdown they at least had suitable housing.
We have supported 3 families overturn wrong benefit decisions which saw them returned a total of almost £15,000. In one case, a single mum had her Universal Credit wrongly stopped in February and spent most of lockdown with no income. With the help of Osborne’s solicitors this decision was overturned and she was refunded £7,500. All of these families had been facing serious hardship and the threat of eviction due to these benefit issues but they are in a much more secure position now.
With the help of Z2K a HASL family was able to overturn a negative PIP decision and get the benefits that they are entitled to.
With the help of housing lawyers, we helped to overturn 2 ‘intentionally homeless’ decisions that lead to evictions and have a devastating impact for families. These two families now have a full housing duty.
When bidding reopened around September, a number of HASL families have been able to successfully get permanent council homes after help from HASL making sure they have their correct position on the housing register. 2 families who were statutory overcrowded in 1 bedroom homes have both been able to move to the 3 bed council homes they need.
Our group has also helped families to make homeless applications and challenge unlawful gatekeeping, helped people get their correct banding on the housing register, helped people understand their rights, helped people to find lawyers for their housing cases, helped people to request suitability reviews which has seen them re-housed closer to their home borough, and provided emotional support as well. In our group zoom meetings our members have been incredible at providing support, sharing experiences and rights information.
Workshops and events
Our regular housing support group with English for Action students has now been running for over 1 year. We’ve loved working together with EFA students and teachers working on the housing issues they face. EFA students have been amazing at supporting HASL campaigns as well.
We also ran housing rights workshops with our friends Mums Space and Espacio Mama over zoom. In June, we ran a housing rights and Covid 19 zoom webinar attended by over 60 people. We ran a workshop with our members explaining about the judicial review process.
We’ve enjoyed speaking at a number of events. In March, our member Ximena spoke at the Law Centres Network Latin American Rights conference about HASL and our organising on homelessess and housing rights. Pamela and Fowsiyo spoke at about how we organise together at a Brent Transformed event where we had the chance to meet up with housing campaigners in north London. We joined the Housing Law Practitioners’ Association for a zoom discussion on ‘access to justice’ and we also spoke on a panel at their annual conference. It was really lovely to speak and attend the HLPA annual conference listening to great speakers and learning the latest updates on housing law.
We were proud to support this important solidarity statement organised by Shelter and Baobab Women’s Project calling for Social Housing Not Scapegoating in response to the far right targeting hotels where asylum seekers were being housed. We will always fight for migrants rights and housing rights. No one should be homeless, everyone deserves a safe, secure, good quality council home.
A judge has granted permission for a HASL member’s case to be heard in the High Court. Our member, whose family live in overcrowded housing, is challenging Lewisham council’s decision refusing them access to the housing register because they have not lived in the borough for 5 years.
We are a family of 5 people, I have 2 sons aged 14 and 16 and a 7 year old daughter. We live in a small 2 bedroom flat. My 2 sons sleep in one room and my husband and I occupy in the other room with our daughter. This situation is very uncomfortable because we have very little space. That is why we requested to join Lewisham’s housing waiting list but they rejected us 2 times for not living in the borough for 5 years. We feel very upset by this situation and we feel that it is very unfair and oppressive. We are challenging this decision and we hope it will also help other families as well. Thank you to HASL for your help and your guidance.
Overcrowding is one of the biggest housing problems our members face and an issue we have been supporting each other with and campaigning on together for years. High private rents, benefit cuts, widespread discrimination by private landlords and a desperate shortage of council homes mean that families are forced to rent smaller flats than they need. Even before Covid 19, these living conditions had serious impacts on families mental and physical health. With lockdowns confining people to their homes the situation for overcrowded families has been even more unbearable. Overcrowding itself is a serious public health issue.
The obvious solution to overcrowding is 3, 4, 5 bed high quality, safe, secure council homes. So why is Lewisham council’s response to overcrowding to increase the local connection criteria to make it more difficult for overcrowded families to join the housing register?
We believe that it is blatantly unfair to apply a strict residence criteria to families suffering with a housing need. They are forcing overcrowded families to endure these living conditions for 5 years before they can even join the housing register for the chance to access more spacious social housing. It’s not acceptable for children to spend over 5 years of their childhood in overcrowded housing and for this to be the council’s policy.
In HASL, we see the discriminatory impact this has particularly on migrant families who are less likely to have accumulated this time in the borough – many migrant families face additional difficulties and discrimination when trying to find housing in the private rented sector meaning that they are more likely to end up having to live in overcrowded conditions. Often, they may have had already moved homes several times trying to improve their housing conditions making it harder to build up time in a particular borough.
It should not take legal action for Lewisham council to support their residents living in overcrowded housing and we hope they will urgently review their decision to apply the 5 year residence criteria to people with a housing need. Alongside the legal challenge, we’ll continue our campaigning in support of overcrowded families and for the 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we all need and deserve.
How you can help!
Please share our blog and tweets to Lewisham council in support of overcrowded families and feel free to write your own tweets.
Lewisham council recently announced that they will be reviewing their housing allocations policy and will undertake a consultation exercise with local residents and stakeholders. If you’re a Lewisham resident, please think about engaging in this consultation – in HASL, we’ll be discussing how we want to respond to this consultation and we’ll be publishing our ideas and guidance about responding to this consultation soon.
Back in January, Lewisham council’s housing committee discussed including ‘statutory overcrowding’ in their housing allocations policy recognising the ‘public health impact’ that it has. Our member explains her case below and we outline why her family and many other Lewisham families in similar situations need their serious overcrowding recognised with band 2 on the housing register to allow them the urgent move they need to more spacious social housing.
We have been living in Lewisham for 8 years since 2012. We have 2 children, they were 2 years old and 4 when we started living here in this flat. Today they are 12 and 10 years old. We join the housing register in 2014 and were placed in band 3 for council housing.
The flat where where we live is small, with only one small bedroom and below us we have a fast food business and the smoke rises a lot to our house until our house fills with smoke, the ventilation is very bad. For 6 years we are fighting with the council asking them to pay attention to us, my children have grown up and they are not small, my young son has constant absences from school due to his asthma which has not improved. In 2015 he was admitted to hospital for breathing problems. He has even developed an allergy to the constant dust that comes from the street.
My eldest son has been medically presenting problems with concentration and anxiety, and many detentions at school, difficulty sleeping, constant fights between siblings due to lack of space. All this for us is hard to fight every day with the lockdown that we have. Since 2013 I have been presenting neck and back pain due to the much stress that I live day by day, my health has worsened year after year today I have Osteoarthritis with severe pain and I have been dealing with depression for several years, I have had migraines since 7 years ago, and I have insomnia. We ask the Lewisham council to pay full attention to our case, please.
Overcrowding is one of the biggest problems our members face. High private rents, benefit cuts, widespread discrimination by private landlords and a desperate shortage of council homes mean that families are forced to rent tiny studio or one bedroom flats. As well being severely overcrowded, these flats are often in very poor condition as well. Even before Covid 19, these living conditions had serious impacts on families mental and physical health. With lockdowns confining people to their homes the situation for overcrowded families has been even more unbearable. Overcrowding itself is a serious public health issue.
Our member describes her family’s situation above. The family of 4 live in a tiny one bedroom flat. They meet a legal definition of overcrowding called ‘statutory overcrowding‘ – an incredibly high level of overcrowding. She describes how the family’s health has been seriously affected by the overcrowded and poor living conditions. Her sons are growing up fast creating even greater overcrowding. As you can see from the photos, every inch of the home is used with a bed almost inside the small kitchen space positioned between the fridge and the boiler, and storage cupboards and shelves from the floor to the ceiling trying to use every bit of space there is.
Their position in band 3 on the housing register where they have been waiting for 6 years does not reflect the family’s very high housing need as ‘statutory overcrowded’ and their urgent need for a quick move due to the related serious medical problems. With the help of housing lawyers, the family applied for band 2 which would allow them the urgent move into permanent council housing that they desperately need. We are waiting for a decision from Lewisham council but Lewisham council have recently been discussing recognising ‘statutory overcrowding’ and the ‘impact on public health’ in their housing allocation policy.
Back in January, Lewisham council’s housing committee discussed a report by the housing manager on overcrowding. In the minutes, they noted: “the importance of having statutory overcrowding as an extra measure given the potential impact on public health”. In conclusion, they resolved to look into “adopting the statutory definition of overcrowding as an additional measure of overcrowding within its Housing Allocation Scheme“.
We hope they will follow up these discussions with the urgent action needed and award this family band 2 for the serious overcrowding and health conditions as well as updating their housing allocations policy by including statutory overcrowding. This would be a very welcome and urgently needed measure to recognize and support families living in severely overcrowded housing who have been stuck in these conditions for years. Lewisham acknowledged the public health impact of overcrowding before Covid 19. With Covid 19, the harmful impact of overcrowding housing has been even greater.
Read our open letter supported by 30 community groups to Southwark council on the treatment of overcrowded families here Thank you to all the groups who have signed and supported our letter and campaign.
Over 30 groups and individuals including grassroots housing and migrant support groups, anti-gentrification campaigns, legal aid law firms, unions, health workers and a local church have written to Southwark council concerning its treatment of severely overcrowded families.
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and Public Interest Law Centre drafted the letter to Southwark council after supporting a number of severely overcrowded families who were being blamed and penalised by the council for ‘deliberately’ causing their overcrowding. In some cases, Southwark council demoted families to band 4 at the very bottom of the housing register where they would never be able to access the permanent council housing they desperately need.
These decisions continued during the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic when the heightened vulnerabilities of those living in overcrowded housing were clear.
The letter highlights how the council’s policies on overcrowding are not properly or fairly defined with vague concepts such as ‘deliberate act’ and ‘deliberate worsening of circumstances’. This has led to a ‘culture of refusal’ that seems to have been adopted by housing officers towards some of the borough’s most severely overcrowded and vulnerable residents.
While overcrowded housing is caused by high rents, benefit cuts, discrimination in the private rented sector, and a shortage of family-sized council homes, the council has been using their policies to place the blame on individual families who had no other options but to rent overcrowded housing. In one case, the council deemed statutory overcrowding a ‘deliberate act’ when a father returned to his home after being unlawfully deported by the Home Office.
The letter highlights how the council’s policies and practices on overcrowding penalise households from low-income and BAME and migrant backgrounds who simply cannot afford or access less overcrowded housing and face additional barriers, reinforced by the government’s racist Right to Rent policy.
The groups and campaigners call on the council to end the use of ‘deliberate act’ so that overcrowded families are supported rather than penalised and in order to stop the culture of blame and refusal which it fuels. Other steps to ensure that severely overcrowded families are awarded the correct priority on the housing register are also requested.
Helen Mowatt from PILC says:
‘In this letter we highlight the Council’s failure to apply its housing allocations scheme and support overcrowded families, in a fair, open and transparent manner. We have now supported several families who have felt the harmful effects of the council’s policy and practice on overcrowding. We have found that cases with similar facts are being treated very differently under the scheme by council officers. This inconsistent approach to decision making supports our feeling that a culture of blame and refusal has developed, where some officers are unfairly reducing the priority of families, which encourages others to follow suit. These decisions are only overturned when either HASL or a lawyer intervenes – which is worrying as many families are unaware of their rights under the scheme, the existence of community groups like HASL, or their right to legal representation. Something must be done to ensure that the council’s policy on overcrowding is both fair and clear, that officers are correctly applying it, and that families facing hardship are properly supported moving forward.’
Elizabeth Wyatt from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth says:
‘The decisions we have seen blaming families for overcrowding are offensive, harmful and deeply distressing. It has only been through the extraordinary efforts of the families themselves in challenging the council’s decisions that has seen many of them be overturned. In some cases, this has taken years. But these decisions should never have been made in the first place. The council must immediately stop these policies and practices which punish overcrowded families and direct its time and resources to the real causes of the housing crisis – high private rents, benefit cuts and a shortage of family sized council homes.Even before Covid 19, overcrowded housing was a public health crisis. The Covid 19 pandemic saw these families trapped in cramped, unbearable living conditions during the lockdown and at higher risk of catching and spreading the virus and of becoming seriously ill. The need for high quality, safe, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes has never been more urgent.’
A 17 year old living in a studio flat with her brother and parents says:
‘It affects our studies because the flat is too small. Because we have the beds and the kitchen next to each other and we just have a small table where we eat and do our homework. Whilst my mum is doing the food, I am trying to do my homework and it is really distracting and really stressful. My brother is playing too so it is hard to focus. Because everything is together in one room, there is the smell of food when I’m trying to sleep this means that it affects my studies as well because I cannot sleep well.
It is so stressful, my head cannot focus. I have to just go outside the flat to get some air to deal with the stress because the flat is too small, I cannot think in there. I don’t have any privacy, to change my clothes I have to go to change in the toilet and it is really uncomfortable.
I can’t bring my friends home because it is too small – my parents are there and my brother is there. My friends could not fit inside.
I feel really bad because it is like the treatment of [by the council] us is racist, they are being really strict to us, they don’t care about the family. Sometimes it feels like really embarrassing for us to apply for housing. We are immigrants so applying for housing makes us feels embarrassed, every time they say no to us, you cannot apply for housing. But we feel like Southwark is our home. I have my friends here, my church, I go to the gym to relax and get away from the flat. I do volunteering which makes me feel good.
It feels like we’re treated like we have done a crime because of the way they have treated our case. They are asking us for so many documents about all our life.’
A mother and her young daughter were served with their 3rd section 21 in April during lockdown. The Covid 19 pandemic actually gave her a feeling of ‘temporary relief’ because she knew that the eviction ban in place they had more time in their home. Our HASL member has good form in taking on section 21s but having been homeless before, being repeatedly threatened with homelessness is taking it’s toll. To make things worse, the home they are fighting to stay in has had serious disrepair and is overcrowded – but as she points out, it’s still better than other private rented homes or going through the homeless process again.
Housing homeless families in private rented housing does not prevent homelessness as she experienced when her landlord served the first section 21. Over the last 2 and a half years, she has faced so many battles to make her home livable, to remain in her home, and to keep her rights to stay on Lambeth’s housing register. She explains how being part of HASL has helped her to get through all this. For her, secure social housing feels so far away that it would be like winning the lottery.
Our member describes her experiences including being served with a section 21 during lockdown and her feelings about the eviction ban ending.
Moving in – disrepair creating an environmental health hazard
When I viewed the property in December 2017, it was like a show room – what I didn’t realise is that all the white walls were painted in anti-mould paint. After 3 weeks of being there in winter time, mould started to come through very quickly and the worst places in the kitchen and the bathroom. So I spoke with the estate agent and he was really rude to me and he said, “we’ve rented this property out for 10 years and we’ve never had any complaints about the damp and mould, you’ve caused this and you need to pay for it”. It was a battle. And I said “how dare you, even if I washed and dried the whole street’s washing in this property, the amount of mould that has appeared so quickly could not have been accumulated from me”. The day I was moving in, the previous tenant warned me against renting the property, he said it’s not healthy and had given him asthma. 3 weeks later, I knew exactly what I he was talking about. I went straight to environmental health, they had a look around and served them a notice and said to the landlord you have a certain amount of time to do the work. So the landlord ended up paying £4,500 putting in insulation boards. When environmental health came to check the work, he noticed I didn’t have a smoke alarm or Co2 alarm and the landlord was directed to deal with this. Lambeth council gave the all clear for this property knowing there was not a smoke alarm or Co2 alarm. They don’t care. The work is basically putting a plaster on it because structural problems still remain.
Now the winter is coming again, it’s going to start getting damp, and I hope it doesn’t affect my daughter. She caught a cold and virus she was in hospital for 3 days on a nebuliser. She might be asthmatic but the doctors cannot test this until she is 5 years old.
I thought I was safe here and I never thought I would be asked to leave without a good reason. The quality of the property was poor and I was left feeling unhappy realising that the housing system just didn’t care how they treated us.
In April 2019 I got my first section 21 and it worried me and I knew what was to come after attending your meetings. It was a very stressful and worrying time for me as I did not know what would happen if I lost at court. Fortunately, I won that case but I knew it would be a matter of time before I was served another and I was on 9th December 2019. Then I was served another section 21 on 24th April. This was served at the beginning of the pandemic – I was slightly relieved because everything was put on hold and I knew it gave me a bit more time. But it was always at the back of my mind as I knew things eventually would start up again.
When I received the notice, my heart dropped, I was deflated, I thought “here we go again”. It is a horrible and scary feeling not being in control especially having a 3 year old daughter and not knowing what will happen to our future.
I was housed here and set my roots here in Croydon and I knew my daughter would need to go to nursery and I would need to make these important decisions, but these were made highly stressful for me not knowing what my future would hold.
This all happened at a hard time for me, although the pandemic gave me a feeling of temporary relief I knew it was not forever. Although I wanted the pandemic to end so we could all move on and go back to normal there was a part of me that was happy that it was affecting the housing situation, if that makes sense.
The end of the eviction ban
I feel very anxious and nervous about the eviction ban ending, it means that my hell will reopen again putting me in a helpless and worrying situation that I have no control over. It means this journey I do not want to be on will start up again causing me a lot of worry and stress especially as my daughter starts nursery in September, it’s making me depressed. I’m stuck just waiting, laying low, I’m waiting for my name and number to be called basically when my hell will be reopened, until then, I’m just here.
When my name is called, I’ll just have to handle it head on. I wouldn’t be sounding so confident and ready if it wasn’t for knowing that you guys will be there to help and support me along the way.
End section 21
I think the rules on section 21 being served without any good reason should be stopped – it’s not fair that landlords can serve these without a valid explanation which causes so much disruption to families being served them. This is allowing the councils and landlords to participate in a business rather than a service. [In HASL, we have come across a number of times where private landords who rent to homeless families through the council, threaten eviction in order to get another ‘incentive payment’ from the council]. The landlords can accept more tenants from the council and get another incentive which they keep and then the landlords can just get rid of the next family and do the same again. So it’s basically a business rather than a service. Until we stop section 21s, this won’t change. I believe that it should be compulsory that a valid reason should be given until you can serve one, because until then none of us have any security and until this changes, the housing pandemic will never end, it is a vicious cycle and has no sense in trying to help people like myself who go to the council for support.
It’s ridiculous how section 21s can be served. It’s not right at all. You can’t sack someone without an explanation because if you’re unfairly sacked you can go to a tribunal.
Trying to be settled
I’ve settled here, it’s not fair on my daughter, they think it has no effect, my daughter is young and I don’t know what effect this could have on her, we’re sowing our roots. I want to stay here because I’m settled, I’m starting a life here now, and my daughter is at a crucial educational start of her life and I’m doing the best I can. It’s not easy to up and go and start again. I’ve made the best out of a worst situation and you can’t expect people to just up and move. We need that security so that we can make future plans.
There is not enough council houses and they’re not making any more and it goes back to money – its renting, renting, renting. Myatts field estate which is now called the Oval Quarter, the whole estate was council and now 5% is council and the rest is private rented. And it is about £2,500 a month. And they’re like caravans, you can hear your neighbours, the quality of the places are poor. They just want to rush and take everyone’s money, they pop them up like it’s a ping up tent, it’s greed. If you want to resolve the situation and you’re going to get people social housing, you need to make social housing, because everything goes up except for the wages so how do you expect us to survive.
It would be like I’ve won the jackpot, it would be such a weight off and load off my mind. For my daughter not needing to worry. I do not know what the future holds. The rug could be pulled from my feet and I have to pack and go. To have that security it should be a basic necessity, but unfortunately we are being denied this, it would be a dream come true, I can’t explain. It’s so far away from it that it doesn’t even cross my mind. When that day comes, I’ll be so happy. But I’d also feel sad knowing there are people that are going through hell and I’ve had the opportunity. I never even thought about it, I’ve never thought about it that far down.
Joining a housing action group
If it wasn’t for me attending your meetings, I wouldn’t be where I am today because I definitely guarantee, I would have gone down the wrong avenue and I would have shot myself in the foot. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the support that you give for us to take action to tackle what they chuck at us, we are only able to do that with your support and knowledge and your determination because I tell you from now I’m not stupid, but I never would have thought to have done what you guys have, you’ve held my hand and taken me along and where I am today with my head still above water, I would drowned if it was not for you lot.
Following HASL and PILC’s important legal and campaign victory in June over Lambeth council, we have produced a new leaflet to explain what this means for families who were affected by the Temp to Settle scheme and who were removed from Lambeth’s housing register. Families affected by this scheme still could face problems in the future so please do get in contact with HASL so that we can support each other with our cases.
Many families who approached Lambeth council as homeless were not even aware that they were put on this Temp to Settle scheme – many only found out when their bidding accounts were closed. But if you were housed outside of Lambeth in private housing and were put into band B, it is likely that you were affected by this scheme.
If you are a Lambeth family (or if you used to live in Lambeth) who is concerned or confused about your situation, please do get in contact with us by email or SMS/ whatsapp (details in leaflet)and we will do our best to help.