Tag Archives: council housing

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

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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.

Lambeth council – don’t kick Susana and her son off the council housing waiting list!

Watch our member Susana explain Lambeth’s trick to homeless families when they approach the council for a homeless duty. We have written a more detailed blog post about this scheme here.

As Susana asks Lambeth council herself in the video, she wants Lambeth to let her remain on the social housing waiting list until she can bid successfully for a council home back in her home borough. We are supporting Susana’s demand to Lambeth council and we demand an end to this scheme which disadvantages homeless families, particularly migrant families.

This scheme does not help homeless families – it only helps Lambeth council to:

  1. Kick families out of Lambeth
  2. Reduce their homelessness statistics
  3. Kick families off the social housing waiting list

Lambeth council are exploiting vulnerable families’ desperation for secure council homes. They convince homeless families to give up their homeless duty (where they would be placed in band C and told they will never get council housing) and accept a private rented offer in return for being put into band B. But if the private rented offer is outside of Lambeth, then in 2 years time, the family are kicked off Lambeth’s housing waiting list. Lambeth council have lower homeless statistics and families are forced out of borough, in 2 years time, they are off Lambeth’s waiting list completely.

Homeless families need council housing – Lambeth council should not be turning access to council housing into a gamble. Instead of creating schemes like these targeted at vulnerable homeless people, Lambeth council should be doing everything they can to make sure there is enough council housing for everyone who needs it.

As well as supporting Susana’s case and other members in our group affected by this scheme, we will continue campaigning on this issue, and we are also looking at possible legal challenges.

Press release: SIGNIFICANT VICTORY against Southwark Council.

Cross posted from the Public Interest Law Unit. The original post can be found here.

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“Further to a successful legal challenge by the Public Interest Law Unit (PILU) and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), it has become apparent that Southwark Council have been incorrectly applying the ‘space standard’ test for statutory overcrowding as contained in s.326 of the Housing Act 1985.

Had Southwark applied the law correctly, it would have been recognised that the family in question were living in statutorily overcrowded conditions, and that in accordance with their allocation scheme they should have been placed in Band 1 and given an additional ‘Priority Star’ to reflect that status.

The evidence provided by HASL and as a result of a Freedom of Information Request suggests that the error in fact forms part of a wider unlawful practice.

Since December 2017, HASL have come across five cases where households have reported to Southwark that they are overcrowded according to the space standard for the number of people in the property and the number of rooms, that in each of these cases Southwark has proceeded to measure the size of the rooms and that in only one of the cases has the household been placed in Band 1 on Southwark’s allocation scheme.

The Council’s response to a Freedom of Information request showed that since February 2018, 46 banding decision had been made which had involved assessing whether a household was statutorily overcrowded, all of these cases had been assessed with reference to the space standard set out in s326 Housing Act 1985, and all had been assessed solely with reference to floor area as opposed to the number of rooms. 13 of those cases had been found not to be statutorily overcrowded.

Southwark Council have now admitted that the test for statutory overcrowding had been incorrectly applied the case in question, and while the Council have been reviewing previous decisions made on this basis, it is unclear whether everybody affected will notified and awarded the additional priority that they are entitled to.

Helen Mowatt, solicitor from PILU said:

Southwark Council has formally adopted the measure of overcrowding contained in Part 10 of the Housing Act 1985 within its allocation scheme and is required to properly apply this when allocating social housing. A failure to do so is a breach of the Housing Act and amounts to an unlawful failure to follow a published policy.

Southwark have been erroneously applying the space standard contained in s326(3) Housing Act 1985, by assessing overcrowding solely with reference to floor area and not also with reference to the number of rooms, as required.

The error in our client’s case is material. Had Southwark correctly applied the space standard, his household would have been deemed statutorily overcrowded months ago, they would have been placed in Band 1 of the allocation scheme and awarded an additional priority star.

This was also not an isolated error on the part of the Council. The evidence we have obtained from HASL and as a result of our Freedom of Information Request shows that Southwark have been consistently misapplying the law in every case. It is therefore likely that many households have wrongly been assessed as not being statutorily overcrowded and placed in the incorrect housing Band.

We know that there may have been as many as 13 cases since February 2018 which must now be reviewed, but we are unclear as to how many households may have been affected before this date. We will be seeking assurances from the Council that they will review all relevant cases, but if anyone thinks they may have been affected, please contact HASL and/or seek legal advice.

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL has said:

Overcrowded housing in the private rented sector, but also in Southwark’s own council housing, is one of the main problems we come across in our group and is one of the more invisible sides of the housing crisis. We know many families forced to live in single rooms, studio flats and one bed flats because of discrimination and extortionate rents in the private rented sector. We know first hand the devastating impact that overcrowded housing has on people’s lives particularly their mental and physical health. We have been raising the problem of overcrowding with Southwark council for years but the council have failed to engage and take meaningful action.

Southwark council should be supporting their residents to access their housing rights and the secure council homes they need, instead it took a legal challenge before the council would accept that it had been wrongly denying that our families were statutorily overcrowded. Together with PILU, we will be making sure that the council goes back to review all previous decisions and applies the law correctly for all future cases. 

Southwark residents and all Londoners desperately need good quality, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes in our communities. We welcome anyone struggling or worried about housing problems to get involved in our group to support each other and take collective action for good housing for everyone.” [ENDS]

For more information please contact Helen Mowatt at hmowatt@lambethlawcentre.org or Elizabeth Wyatt at elizabethwyatt1988@gmail.com

 

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Southwark Council – No more evictions from temporary accommodation

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Last Monday, we supported one of our members to stop the eviction of her and her daughter from temporary accommodation provided by Southwark council. By emailing and tweeting Southwark councillor Stephanie Cryan and the manager for housing, we were able to get Southwark to stop the eviction.

You can read our tweets here and thanks to everyone for the retweets and tweets in support as it makes such a difference (please keep on following our social media and sign up to our email alerts for future online support).

D and her daughter had only been given a weeks notice from the council that they would be evicted. Due to this short notice, they had not been able to get an appointment at the Citizens Advice Bureau. The eviction was due to rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit. D had been in touch previously with the council and they were aware that she had taken steps to deal with the arrears. D is a single parent who does not speak English as her first language. So why were the council being so quick to evict her?

This attempted eviction is not a one-off case. Threats of eviction from temporary accommodation due to rent arrears has become a familiar problem in our group. We have supported 5 other members with this problem this year. There must be many more people who our group has not met who are affected by this problem. One of these families was forced to leave her home but was re-housed the same day after we supported her at the housing office – during the move from one temporary accommodation to the other, her 3 year old daughter broke her leg. Homeless households are already a vulnerable group. Why are Southwark council being so quick to evict them?

Problems with universal credit, low paid and insecure work, and high temporary accommodation rents all mean that it is very easy to fall into rent arrears. Instead of evicting people, homeless households need support to deal with these problems. No one should be evicted from temporary accommodation.

As well as being wrong, we think that some of these eviction threats by Southwark council may be unlawful as the council have told families in temporary accommodation flats that they must leave, but the council have not got a court order which can be required for some types of temporary accommodation.

We are calling on Southwark council to stop all evictions from temporary accommodation and give support to homeless households who are in rent arrears. Homeless families need secure, quality, council homes not evictions!

Some first thoughts on the Homelessness Reduction Act

On 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force across England.

The Homelessness Reduction Act brings significant changes to the assistance that homeless people will receive from their local council. Under the old homelessness law, single homeless people were often not given any help. This new law is supposed to change that.

However, under the old law we know that many families and individuals who were entitled to assistance were turned away without any help – a practice called gatekeeping.

Will this new law change the culture of gatekeeping that we’ve faced (and challenged!) in the housing office? Will the Homelessness Reduction Act really reduce homelessness?

We know what will reduce homelessness – secure, quality council homes in our communities for everyone, higher wages, higher benefits and an end to racist rules and immigration controls (including Right to Rent, No Recourse to Public Funds, restrictions on EEA benefits being some we’re familiar with).

Unfortunately, the Homelessness Reduction Act doesn’t include any of these. There are really basic homeless law changes that could actually help reduce homelessness such as abolishing priority need which Scotland have done and phasing out intentional homelessness as Wales are doing but it doesn’t even include these good steps.

So what does the Homelessness Reduction Act mean and how does it work?

We’re still trying to understand it fully. There’s a flowchart here which is a useful starting point.

We certainly had strong criticisms of the old homelessness law and process. Many of us in the group have had very bad experiences of it. But trying to understand the HRA makes us miss the fairy simple old homeless law and process.

Our experiences so far of the HRA has included Southwark council’s trial of it over the last year, a homelessness assessment at Lambeth’s housing office and a workshop we attended by Doughty Street Chambers. All of these experiences have given us some deep concerns about the HRA.

There are a number of changes that we believe make things much worse for homeless people under the Homelessness Reduction Act and we are very worried about their impact:

More stress for homeless people – Personalised Housing Plans are patronising

The Personalised Housing Plan that every homeless person must follow is deeply patronising. It brings in the harmful conditionality that has been running out of job centres where the blame and responsibility is placed on the claimant/homeless person. During this severe housing crisis, homelessness law is placing responsibility on homeless people to solve homelessness themselves. Homeless people often visit the housing office as a last resort after exhausting all their other options. As if being homeless wasn’t difficult enough, as if people haven’t done everything to prevent their homelessness already, they are being given extra tasks under threat of sanction.

Under the old law homeless families could get interim/ temporary housing from the council – alongside this, if they wished, they could look for alternative housing completely voluntarily, so the PHP simply acts as a coercive and patronising tool.

Worse rights for homeless people – 6 month private tenancies create a cycle of homelessness and poverty

The new law allows the council to discharge their duty to a homeless household with a section 193A offer. This is a 6 month private tenancy. This offer is far worse than the previous private sector discharge offer that a council could force on a homeless household under the old law. Under the old law, a council could discharge their homeless duty by offering a 12 month private sector tenancy with 2 years protection if they became homeless again. This private sector tenancy had to meet a list of criteria to make sure it was decent quality. If the household became homeless within 2 years of the start of the tenancy, then they would have an automatic homeless duty with the council.

6 month private sector tenancies for homeless households is the exact opposite of what homeless households need – after enduring homelessness, you need security that you will not face this again. Secure council tenancies provide this. A 6 month private tenancy means that homeless households will face a cycle of homelessness, insecurity and poverty.

The new law is even more complicated than the old law

The new homelessness process and law is not easy to understand. Flow charts appear to be the favored way to explain it, it is much more complicated than the previous law. These flow charts show many routes and options – but getting to secure, quality council housing looks further away than ever before. Before, we were able to use our clear and simple leaflet with the 5 tests that a council would do to investigate for your case. Whilst the old law was still difficult to understand, it was simple enough that we could know and share our basic rights. We have certainly struggled to get our heads around the new law.

Slowing down and drawing out an already difficult process

Under the old law, the council had 33 working days to investigate a case and make a decision on whether the applicant was owed a full homeless duty. Now, if you are homeless, the council have 56 days under the relief duty to investigate your case and come to a decision. This increased wait will simply mean more stress and delays for the homeless household awaiting their decision.

Some positive developments?

Of course, ensuring that everyone who approaches the council as homeless or facing homelessness gets help is a welcome development. Although under the old law, the council did have a duty to provide ‘advice and assistance’ to anyone who approached as homeless. Most councils just regularly chose to gatekeep single homeless applicants instead from this duty.

The new law also possibly provides better support for those households who are in priority need and deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ as a duty under section 190(2) arise. Although again under the old law councils were supposed to give households a reasonable amount of time to find other accommodation. Nearly Legal confirms that the new law ‘potentially’ gives households more time than under the old law.

What’s been happening in Southwark who piloted the Homelessness Reduction Act?

Southwark council explain their pilot of the Homelessness Reduction Act

Southwark council were featured in a Guardian article on the Homelessness Reduction Act. They explain the ‘positive effects’ of the Homelessness Reduction Act in the borough:

  • Numbers of households being put up in temporary homes have halved in a year, and the use of unsuitable and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation has been eliminated.

The dramatic halving of households provided with temporary accommodation cannot be denied, but how exactly was this achieved? What has happened to those families now? (By the looks of it they have been housed out of borough in private rented housing – see next bullet point.)

Before the HRA the council had been able to avoid the use of B&B accommodation to house homeless families. It was only in June 2016 when the council first started using B&Bs. Before this they had not used B&B accommodation at all for homeless families. It is already unlawful to house families in B&B accommodation for over 6 weeks (and the law says that councils should do everything they can to avoid housing families in B&Bs at all) so homeless households already had protection against this and Southwark should not have been housing families in B&B accommodation.

  • People threatened with homelessness were helped to find homes in the private rental sector – though this was often many miles away in outer London boroughs.

Housing people outside of their communities in private rented accommodation cannot be seen as a positive effect. This is social cleansing. Being re-housed in outer boroughs also means that they will no longer be entitled to be on Southwark’s housing waiting list so that they will not stand a chance of moving back to their home borough in council housing. Southwark council says that 358 households were placed in private rented accommodation (although it does not say whether this was in or outside of the borough). These families will have missed out on the protections afforded to them that you do have in temporary accommodation with a homeless duty (for example, the ability to review suitability of temporary accommodation, immediate rehousing if the temporary accommodation private landlord wants you out, ‘reasonable preference’ on the housing register and certain standards in the quality of the private rented accommodation with private sector discharge).

  • The borough provided mediation to rehouse young people at home after they had been thrown out by their family following a row.

What was the quality of this mediation? Was it really effective or did young people just give up on pursuing a homeless duty? Young people cannot remain in their family home forever and often family tensions and rows arise from being forced to live together, something mediation cannot resolve.

  • In some cases it paid off tenants’ rent areas.

This is of course a positive thing.

  • In the first year Southwark topped up the £1m government grant it received to test the new system with £750,000 of its own cash.

Depending on the true outcomes for homeless households and those threatened with homelessness that will determine whether this was money spent in support for vulnerable families or gatekeeping and socially cleansing them.

Our experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act in Southwark

Same old gatekeeping – reducing homelessness by pretending it doesn’t exist?

Our member M approached the council as homeless. M and her family were living in M’s mother’s flat. The two families were very overcrowded living together in the small flat and M’s mother asked her to leave. M approached the council to make a homeless application, but they told her that they could not open a homeless application until after 56 days had passed.

J and his family faced a similar situation living at J’s mother in law flat which was two small to house both families. J, his wife and his two children all share a single room. The stress of the situation lead J’s mother in law to ask his family to leave. They made a homeless appointment with the council but again it seemed the housing officer was reluctant to open a homeless application. They were told that they could remain in their current housing situation while they looked for other places to live. The housing officer suggested that they have mediation between J and his mother in law so that J’s family could remain in the home. Since the first homelessness appointment, J heard nothing from the housing officer (despite making a complaint about this) and 3 months have passed.

Our member F made her homeless application in October last year when the council were trialling the Homelessness Reduction Act, yet she heard nothing from the council about her application for months. When she faced eviction from her hostel this April, it took a twitter storm before the council would confirm temporary accommodation for her.

We have been supporting all of these members with their cases.

Another HASL member met a young street homeless man on the street. He was a care leaver. He told her he had been to the housing office for help but was turned away.

What can we do?

We’ll be organising leafleting sessions to speak with people about their experiences of getting housing help from the council and we’re also organising a Homelessness Reduction Act workshop with Southwark Law Centre to learn our rights together.

Join your local housing action group to support each other with housing problems and fight together for the good quality, secure homes in our communities that we all need and deserve! The Homelessness Reduction Act won’t reduce homelessness, it’s up to us!

HASL protest in support of Ruben and all Lambeth families living in bad housing

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No more overcrowded housing – we need family council homes now!

Our member Ruben and his family have been living in overcrowded private rented housing for 5 years. Today marks the 5th anniversary of when he first joined the housing register hoping to access secure and spacious council housing in their local community. But 5 years on and they are still waiting for the council home they need and deserve while Lambeth ignore vital medical evidence about his son’s health.

Ruben has submitted medical evidence to the council about his son’s health condition. This evidence shows that the overcrowded living conditions are making his son’s health worse. But Lambeth are ignoring this important evidence. They have also failed to respond to his complaint at the handling of his case.

This morning we visited Lambeth’s new Civic Centre to show our support for Ruben and his family and to demand that the council recognise the medical evidence they have submitted. Many of the families who joined us are also suffering from poor housing conditions and our protest highlighted the need for secure council housing for everyone.

The presence of our large group, big banners and chanting meant that a senior housing officer came to speak with us about Ruben’s case. Ruben spoke very powerfully about the impact of the overcrowding on his son. The housing officer has promised to review their case so we are waiting on their response. We made our message clear:

Lambeth council must accept this vital medical evidence which should see the family placed in band B.

We shared cake marking the 5th anniversary of Ruben’s time on the housing register – as well as HASL’s 5th birthday! We also spoke with lots of interested and supportive passersby.

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We know many other families are facing long and unacceptable waits for the council homes they need. We know that overcrowded and poor quality housing has huge and damaging affects on our lives, our health and our communities.

Shamefully, Lambeth council have only built 17 new council homes in the last 4 years and at the same time they have been trying to knock down a number of council estates. This is a disastrous housing policy in the middle of a severe housing crisis.

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