End gatekeeping at councils! A domestic violence survivor’s experience of homelessness


I had heard so many people’s frightening stories about how they were treated by the council, so when I decided to make a homeless application I thought it first best to research the law and the homelessness process, specially on domestic violence, for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). On the day I tried to make the application, I was gatekept almost immediately. I was told that I had accommodation and that they were unsure if I could open an application at all. When speaking to a housing officer, for quite some time, I had to keep stressing the fact that I was fleeing domestic violence and that although I was not ‘street homeless’, I was still homeless because I was in a refuge.

After a lot of back and forth, debate and protest with the housing officer – and with input and support from a HASL member and a friend – over the fact that the council weren’t following their own homelessness procedures (according to their website and the law). The fact that I am applicant who had escaped domestic violence was not taken seriously by them, in fact, they seemed to think it was a reason to treat me differently, by claiming that my refuge accommodation meant that I was not homeless. I was finally told that a homelessness application could be opened but that I then needed a separate appointment. The appointment was for two days time, but we were unable to make this date, so another was arranged for the next day.

The day I went to open the application, I provided my allocated housing officer with a folder containing supportive evidence of my circumstances and my medical evidence. The process should have been to open a homelessness application, collect some cursory evidence, and explain the process to the applicant. Instead, I had to debate and justify why I was making an application to RBKC and why I couldn’t go back home. At this stage, I was also told that the application didn’t seem strong. I explained what the legislation says to the housing officer and that domestic violence survivors have an exception to the local connection test (for obvious reasons) when approaching a council with a homelessness application. Although the reason for the application to RBKC was made on the basis of my complex and specialist medical needs and being under the care of Chelsea and Westminster (C&W) hospital, it was extremely premature for the housing officer to make these inquiries at such an early stage – when simply opening an application.

Over the course of many weeks I then had to keep chasing the housing officer to find out what was going on. She eventually emailed me to say: ”I am unable to continuously provide updates on the situation.” They made me feel like I was an annoyance.

The housing officer did call me on few occasions, but only to request information I had already provided, such as my mother’s details – who she said she would contact, but didn’t. She chased my doctor several times too to ask for a report to be signed and submitted which was vague on details, but my GP wanted to speak with me first to get all the necessary information of my conditions. Social Services were also asked for a report; the council said that the decision would be based on this. In the end, the decision was made without key information and without proper investigation. I was made to feel intimated and pressurised throughout the process and I was met with really ill-mannered attitudes when asking for more information and updates as to what was happening.

Whilst waiting for the investigation to be completed so a decision could be made, I got a call from the housing officer asking me to choose between two councils (Lambeth or Barnet) for my homelessness application to be referred to. It seemed that a homelessness duty had been accepted, but when I asked the housing officer if the duty towards me was recognised she did not confirm this and insisted that I decide between the two councils then and there. She told me that a referral had been made on the basis of local connection. I was feeling pretty anxious but persevered by trying to explain that the local connection does not apply to domestic violence survivors – in response to which I was told that this means I am free to ‘approach any council’.

I continued to try to give reasons as to why I had approached RBKC – based on my medical needs and because the hospital support I am receiving is at C&W hospital, and that I was regularly being driven by paramedics from my refuge to the hospital – but the housing officer consistently brushed off what I was saying and told me that if I did not choose then she would be choosing Lambeth for me due to local connection. Bearing in mind that local connection is usually based on living or working in an area of ‘choice’ over a period of time, for me, moving into a refuge in this part of London was not a choice. The housing officer was boxing me in to agreeing to Lambeth with no opportunity for me to consider Barnet – even though that would still leave me miles away from C&W hospital and vulnerable.

I told her I was being forced and that I was documenting our conversation. I ensured that I kept asking her if she was saying that I must decide on a borough then and there and she said ‘Yes, I am or I will decide Lambeth for you’. I felt that it was a predetermined action when asking me to choose, knowing that I would have no real choice but to opt for Barnet rather than Lambeth (for reasons which I had already made clear to the housing officer). I was bullied into choosing a borough, and I was told that my medical needs were secondary to local connection.

I was later informed that I would get a decision letter in the post and that Barnet would be in contact with me as the referral would be made by the end of the day. I have not had any form of contact from Barnet. However, they have contacted my key worker asking for a copy of my documents.

A referral to another council under local connection after a homeless duty is recognised, is not an action that has to be done, especially if there are special circumstances. I am still at a loss as to why severe needs are discounted in favour of meeting a local connection test. This incident has left me especially shaken and feeling bullied, resonating the helplessness of the situation that I had escaped. The support of HASL really gave me the confidence to know that I am important and that I should not be bullied into compromising my health and rights.

For me, remaining in a domestic violence home continued due to the fear of how would I survive if I ever left – where would I go? How would I start over? How would I eat or sleep ? How would I rebuild my life? Domestic violence is a horrible situation to be in and come from, and unfortunately the victim (in turn, survivor) is the one that ends up losing their home and having their life up-rooted.

When I fled domestic violence, I used to be confident in our government, councils and support networks – they have policies and laws and are supposed to help and support people, right? They are supposed to help me get back to a better quality of life, help me find a suitable, safe and long-term secure home, and live free of domestic violence. By not being given the help and by making the experience of getting support horrible through bullying and intimidation, recovery becomes an unnecessary struggle. Councils are making the process so difficult through unpleasant and unnecessary gatekeeping that they are actively contributing to people not being able to leave abusive environments, or having to find themselves going back to these domestic violent situations.

I have now put the council’s decision to review, but had it not been for the skills in being able to research and communicate (which I am not always able to) and for HASL’s support and guidance, I dread to think what would have happened or where I would have ended up.

It is with this ordeal that I am reminded of a few words from Gladstone Women’s Health:

”A domestic violence victim can’t even start a plan to leave until they first believe that life outside of that relationship is better and possible.”

HASL print workshop!


October 15 @ 12:00 pm5:00 pm
DIY Space for London,
96-102 Ormside St
London, SE15 1TF



Join graphics collective Queen Mob and Casiopex for a lino, risograph and screenprinting workshop.
Get inspired by tales and graphics from Latin American resistances, and make some prints about local housing struggles.

Casiopex is a print maker and anarchist from the state of Mexico who, among other projects, is involved in community land struggles in Jalisco and a social centre in Guadalajara.
Queen Mob Collective is a printmaking collective with no geographical base who enjoy making rowdy visuals with autonomous community groups.

Come with ideas for visuals and slogans to fight the housing crisis together.
There will be a creche and crayonz for kidz and a Pot Luck Lunch! So bring a dish to share

Vengan a jugar con los dibujos, los linoleos y la serigrafia con QueenMob y Casiopex
Tomaremos las experiencias de la resistencia en latinoamerica y con la inspiracion de la grafica haremos algunas impresiones de la lucha por las viviendas locales.

Casiopex le gusta compartir grafica y recetas de cocina! Esta involucrado en algunas luchas de defensa de la tierra en jalisco y participa en una biblioteca autonoma en Guadalajara.
Colectivo QueenMob es un colectivo de grafica que no tiene un punto geografico establesido y que disfrutan de hacer imagenes ruidosas con comunidades autonomxs.

Vengan con sus ideas visuales y frases de la lucha para peliar juntxs contra la crisis inmobilaria.
Habrá una guardería y crayones para lxs ninxs y chamacxs. Es de trage.. Pues traigan un plato de comida para compartir!

HASL supports the East Street 3


On 21st June 2015, people from Walworth, south London, resisted an immigration raid by the UKBA in our neighbourhood. People blocked the UKBA van in a street just off East street in which a local shop worker was being detained. As the crowd grew in support, riot police officers suddenly violently attacked the crowd using dogs and helped the UKBA van to drive away with the person inside. This person was later deported – forcibly and violently removed from his neighbourhood and community.

3 people were arrested for their presence at this resistance. This month, these three people are on trial at Blackfriars Crown Court. Their charges could potentially see them receive 1-3 year prison sentences if found guilty.

HASL shows our support for those now on trial. A number of our members were also at that resistance of the immigration raid last year as many of us live in the area and call it our home. We know that the only violence on that day came from the riot police and the UKBA. We believe that we should all feel safe and secure in our homes and neighbourhoods and should be able to live free from the threat of detention and deportation. We know that fighting for good quality homes that we all need and deserve, means also fighting for our right to decide where we make our home.

In the days following the raid, people visited the shops and stalls on East street market handing out information on people’s rights if there are immigration checks and raids. As on the day itself, there was lots of vocal support from stallholders, other workers, and people passing through the market for the resistance that had occurred.

This immigration raid was not an isolated racist attack on our communities but one action amongst many orchestrated by local and national government and their developer friends to displace and impoverish working class people, particularly working class people of colour.

East Street lies in between the former Heygate estate and the Aylesbury estate. When they were both there, the Heygate and Aylesbury estates were homes for thousands of households – until Southwark council decided to sell them off and demolish them. The Heygate estate was once made up of 1,000 council homes but has been replaced with private, ‘luxury’ flats. The Aylesbury estate is still standing, but hundreds of households have been forced out and so many homes now stand empty. Following the Heygate, these quality homes will be demolished and private flats will replace them. These estate demolitions have caused the social and ethnic cleansing of their former residents on a large scale and the huge loss of what was good quality council housing in the area.

Whilst the council and developers are forcibly removing people from their homes and communities, others face the UKBA breaking into their homes and workplaces and being thrown into a van as we witnessed on East street last year. These events are happening side by side, on a daily basis, in the same neighbourhoods, targeting the same people.

In HASL, many of our members have experienced forced evictions from their homes, displacement from their communities and deep poverty as they attempt to remain in the area they call home. A lot of our members have also fled the poverty they faced in other countries, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Here, they face harassment from the Home Office, poor quality housing and homelessness, and restricted or no access to benefits and council housing. We support each other and take action collectively against the root causes of our exploitation and oppression. This is what happened on East street over a year ago, and this is why we support everyone who was acting in defence of their neighbourhood that day.

Read the East Street Solidarity Statement and blog

Find out more information on your rights during immigration checks and raids from Anti-Raids Network

Lambeth council – we need to talk about gatekeeping

HASL has highlighted two serious cases of unlawful gatekeeping by Lambeth council as well as other extremely poor treatment of these two homeless HASL members, but Lambeth council have so far failed to respond to address these issues and our wider concerns.

One of the cases of gatekeeping, where a family were turned away from help and returned to their severely overcrowded accommodation, resulted in a woman being physically assaulted by a member of another household in the shared accommodation they were living in.

The other case saw the housing officer pretend to open a homeless application for our member, and then a month later, when our member enquired what had happened to the application, it turned out he had been lying and had never started one in the first place.

These members have pursued reviews and complaints about their treatment with the council, but Lambeth’s internal processes are still not acknowledging the issues we have faced nor are they resolving them satisfactorily. HASL members and supporters have also collectively shown their concern and support for these HASL members using twitter and visiting the housing office as a group.

We are calling on Lambeth’s councillor for housing Matthew Bennett and the head of the housing office to meet with us to listen to these issues and finally work to resolve them. He must acknowledge the seriousness of what has happened in these cases.

As well as unlawful gatekeeping for many months, causing significant harm to our members and their families, both members have also faced other appalling treatment at the housing office. Some issues include:

  • Both members have medical needs that were ‘assessed’ by housing officers with no medical background. Similar to the infamous ATOS medical assessments for disability benefits, these ‘assessments’ were incredibly crude and used an out-dated understanding of vulnerabilities and disabilities. ‘Oh you can do this, can you? You’re fine and don’t require any assistance’ is essentially the conclusions drawn from these poorly conducted assessments. These inadequate assessments have serious consequences for our members who were left without suitable housing.
  • When allocating temporary accommodation to one of our members, a proper suitability assessment, which took into account her children’s needs and well-being, was not conducted.
  • After not receiving the council’s decision letter, our member has been denied her right to review the decision when she did finally got the letter, because she had missed the original deadline. This again goes against what the law says which says clearly that a review can happen within 21 days of receiving the letter (not the date the council sent the letter, especially if it didn’t arrive!)

Current homelessness law does not do enough to protect and support homeless people, but Lambeth council can’t even manage to follow the basic law that exists – from our experience they have regularly failed to meet their legal obligations, causing us significant harm and distress.

We know we are not the only Lambeth residents facing these problems at the housing office. We have spoken to others at the housing office who have spoken about gatekeeping and we have witnessed people in the housing office being unlawfully turned away without help. As well as dealing with these two cases, Lambeth council must change the practices in the housing office so that people are treated with respect and given the help they need.

One of the people affected by gatekeeping at Lambeth explains her situation:

At every single step of the homelessness process I have been denied help by Lambeth council. It has been such an impossible struggle to get even the most basic help that I’m legally entitled to. As well as dealing with homelessness, my medical needs, and trying to get on with my life, I have had to spend huge amounts of energy and time dealing with Lambeth council’s homelessness service. What should be a really simple procedure, where they can support homeless residents, has lasted many months and caused me significant distress and anxiety and further worsened my medical needs. The disrespect and poor treatment I have faced has felt so hurtful and demoralising. 

If I am struggling to get through the homelessness process, and I’ve had incredible support from HASL, then what chance do others doing this alone have?

Lambeth must address the issues we have raised.

How is she not vulnerable? How can she be homeless?


Thank you to everyone who has tweeted and retweeted our image to Southwark’s housing councillor @steviecryan and Southwark council in support of our member.

After not responding to the many tweets, Stephanie Cryan tweeted that she uses twitter for personal use but that we can contact her on her work email address which is: stephanie.cryan@southwark.gov.uk Although she has previously responded to ‘work’ issues on her twitter account before.

A number of supporters have already sent her an email expressing their concern that our member, who has suffered 33 years of domestic violence, is not considered vulnerable enough for a full homeless duty.

Please do send an email expressing your concern and support for our member and requesting that Southwark reverse their appalling decision and ensure that our member receives a full homeless duty and ultimately the secure council housing that she desperately needs. Let her know if you’re a Southwark resident, but please contact her even if you’re not. Remember to cc us in haslemail[at]gmail.com And do keep on tweeting too, because this makes this important issue public.

Our member is deeply demoralised by the degrading treatment she has received when accessing housing help from the council. We know this is not the only example of survivors of domestic violence, and other homeless people, being failed by the council. We have offered to meet with Stephanie Cryan to talk about how the homelessness process can be improved. But how can we meet with the council whilst our member faces homelessness and the council deem that this is acceptable?

We cannot let Southwark council get away with this poor treatment of a homeless survivor of domestic violence.

Southwark council, no more delays – safe housing now

Our member A and her family have been living in poor quality and severely overcrowded private rented accommodation. Like many other households in London and across the UK facing rising rents and low incomes, this is often the only accommodation they can afford. Overcrowding, particularly in the private rented sector, is an issue that many HASL members are faced with and we will be raising this issue, organising around it, and taking more action on this issue in future.

In A’s case, the overcrowding is so bad that it meets the legal definition of statutory overcrowding – a definition that is unhelpful because it fails to capture many overcrowded households and conditions as the threshold is so high. A’s household meeting this definition shows the serious nature of this overcrowding.

Southwark’s housing allocations policy rightly gives people in such housing need high priority on the housing waiting list so that they can access secure, social housing quickly.

Our member A attempted to inform the council of her housing condition to get her correct place on the housing waiting list back in May this year and was told she would hear back from Southwark council in 2 weeks time. Yet almost three months later she still hasn’t heard anything and their housing situation has got even worse. If they had responded to her request, the family could have secured the safe, social housing they desperately need.

The other week, the ceiling in the kitchen fell through. You can see from the photos that this was an incredibly dangerous incident. A’s young children are too scared to enter the kitchen for fear that more will fall in. The kitchen is largely unusable. The landlord isn’t interested in doing the vital repairs and threatened eviction when A called about the incident.

A reported the conditions to Southwark’s environmental health team who visited and said they would try to get the landlord to do the repairs. The landlord has made it clear that they are not interested in this.

Why are Southwark council not taking stronger action to protect these vulnerable tenants and take harsher action against this exploitative and neglectful landlord?

Southwark council must take urgent action to ensure that A and her family are given their correct place – band 1 – on the housing register, which should have been done back in May. Their delay and neglect has meant that the family have been forced to endure unacceptable and worsening conditions for longer.

Why not send the councillor for housing@steviecryan a tweet or two about this case demanding A be given her band 1 position and safe housing now?

Together, we’ll hold Southwark council to account for their inaction and neglect of vulnerable tenants and fight for the secure, social housing in our communities that we all need.



On Location – Unwelcome!

Tomorrow, New London Architecture (NLA) are hosting “On Location” – a day long event, with walking tours in and around Southwark throughout the afternoon. Attendance at the event costs a ridiculous £358.80 per ticket (unfortunately Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth couldn’t afford that!)

The aim of the walking tours is for Southwark and its eager property developing partners to point out ‘regeneration’ opportunities across the borough – in their own words, the tours will ‘look at the areas of major development opportunity in the borough of Southwark, looking at the Council’s forward strategy for Elephant and Castle, Old Kent Road, Peckham and Canada Water’ so that they can ‘discuss what these key strategic areas for London need to do to maximize their development potential’.

HASL and residents of Southwark are all too familiar with the effects of the social, economic and political forces at work and social cleansing in our communities. This event highlights the ongoing struggle against the housing crisis, where the council and its affiliates engineer to displace poor, working class people and disappear social housing altogether. “Regeneration” will not benefit us and it is a gross and violent attack on our communities. This has been a strategy of many councils long in the making, but we are seeing a more aggressive push in recent years with horrible consequences.

We have already seen what happened to the Heygate Estate, its communities destroyed rather than the council offering to do the cheaper option of a refurbishment (a chronology of the disgusting events by Southwark Council and its business opportunists can be found here). The Aylesbury Estate – on walking tour A – far larger than the Heygate Estate, has also seen residents decanted under the promise of securing housing that is affordable and decent, a promise which almost never materialises. Many people HASL have met find themselves placed on the estate in temporary accommodation, waiting precariously and full of unease until the site is eventually demolished for owner-occupied property which few can afford. Alongside the destruction of housing itself, the Labour-run Southwark Council have created increasing numbers of homeless people and families. They are complicit in creating a hostile culture, which demonstrates to many residents that they are no longer welcome to live in the area.

Speakers at tomorrow’s event include

– Leader of the council, Cllr Peter John, a real property barrister and member of GMB, who has yet to show any sign of putting an end to the abusive gatekeeping practices at Southwark’s housing office in Peckham;

– Steve Platts, director of regeneration, who is thirstily planning a huge amount of regeneration in the borough;

– Many senior directors from property developers such as Delancey and Berkeley Homes.

The event starts at 9am with a meet and greet and speeches at London South Bank University. The walking tours will happen in the afternoon. More about the event can be found on eventbrite here. If you happen to see a bunch of people in suits with clipboards on this tour, and you feel confident, be sure to let them know what you think. You can also join your local housing action group to take action!