Tag Archives: homelessness

Southwark council – support L & F and all DV survivors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the fight for the Aylesbury estate is important for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

 

Heygate: A Natural History

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

 

Southwark council celebrate the Compulsory Purchase Order but ALAG fight back

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

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

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

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

Good quality homes that need refurbishment not demolition!

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

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

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

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

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

Making the housing waiting list even longer

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

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

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

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

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

Fight together!

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

Public statement from the Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group

Follow them on twitter here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALAG press statement – 19 November 2018

in response to FDS CPO ruling 14/11/2018

End of year blog!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

January

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

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

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

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February

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

March

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

April

 

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

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

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May

 

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

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

 

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

 

June

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

July

 

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

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

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

 

August

 

Summer picnic in Burgess park

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

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September

 

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

 

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

 

HASL surprise birthday party for one of our members!

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October

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

November

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

December

 

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

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

 

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

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.

Southwark council, don’t evict our member F, a survivor of domestic violence

support survivors
Southwark council pledged to improve their treatment and provision for vulnerable survivors of domestic violence, yet one of our members F is facing street homelessness again after Southwark council have refused her a full homeless duty and are ending her temporary accommodation next week.
Our member F suffered domestic abuse for 5 years, she then faced months of sofa surfing and a year and a half in 5 different unsuitable hostels. She does not speak English and she suffers from a number of medical problems which she has struggled to get treatment for due to language and cultural barriers. Yet the council have deemed her not to be vulnerable enough for a full homeless duty.
Southwark’s approach to domestic violence survivors is made clear in this statement in the decision letter:
I have considered that you have previously been a victim of domestic abuse; I do not however consider this would render you vulnerable.
A number of other similar broad and unsubstantiated statements are made about how F is not vulnerable, despite us submitting detailed information about the many vulnerabilities she faces and deals with every day.
If a survivor of domestic violence is not considered to be vulnerable, there is something very wrong with the test that Southwark council are using.
Why is Southwark council not taking domestic violence seriously? Why are they still failing to support survivors? How can they justify making our member street homeless?
F must be given the full homeless duty that she needs so that she has some stability and security. She must be able to access the safe, secure council housing that she needs and deserves.
Southwark must support all survivors of domestic violence and support them to get the safe, secure housing they need.
no 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!

Southwark must support survivors – house F now

gatekeeping letter

When F went to Southwark housing office in September 2017 for the second time to ask for a homeless assessment, she was given this instead. Unlawful gatekeeping.

UPDATA 30th ARPIL 2018: Our member F was housed in temporary accommodation by Southwark council. She is very happy in her temporary accommodation because the location is close to her community and she has use of her own bathroom for the first time in almost 2 years. But the council have still not confirmed a full homeless duty for her. They must  give F the peace of mind and security of a full homeless duty where she can then bid for secure council housing. Southwark council must support survivors.

Original post:

Our member F was made homeless by domestic violence. When she visited Southwark housing office for help she was gatekept on two occasions – turned away without any housing assistance. With our help, she was finally able to open a homeless application, but 6 months later the council have failed to give a decision letter or temporary accommodation, leaving her threatened with street homelessness this month.

Southwark council’s treatment of our member, a vulnerable survivor of domestic violence, is unacceptable. F does not have English as a first language, a factor that is often used by housing officers when refusing help and which makes her more vulnerable in general as it harder for her to access basic support services. She suffers from a number of health issues and is experiencing severe stress and anxiety caused by homelessness. The council’s unlawful gatekeeping and delays has meant that she has been forced to live in unsuitable hostel accommodation for the last year and a half. During this time, one hostel she was staying in evicted everyone with days notice and she was forced to move to another.

If the council had acted when she first approached for help in October 2016, she might have been in secure council housing by now, instead, she is fearing street homelessness yet again.

The council must accept a full homeless duty and provide her with suitable temporary accommodation.

The council must also seriously reflect and investigate how F came to be so seriously mistreated in this way over this last year and a half. This gatekeeping and mistreatment has had a devastating impact on F’s life for the last year and a half.

We know that F is not the only person to face gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. Southwark council must take urgent action to end unlawful gatekeeping of vulnerable homeless people and ensure they are treated respectfully so that a situation like this does not occur again.