A recent report showed that there are people 3.6 million people living in overcrowded housing.
Another report shows that 94% of private rented homes are too expensive for families on housing benefit.
Almost everyone accepts there is a housing crisis and that the root causes are the unregulated private rented sector, benefit cuts, low wages, and lack of social housing. There is huge support for social housing as one of the main solutions.
But Southwark council have taken a new approach to the housing crisis. They are blaming overcrowding on families themselves.
Recently, 5 families, living in overcrowded housing in the private rented sector, have received decisions telling them that they have deliberately caused their overcrowding. They have been put in band 4 at the bottom of the housing list where they have no chance of social housing. This is a big change in policy for Southwark council. Previously overcrowded families would be placed into band 3 and depending on the level of overcrowding, they may qualify for a priority star for statutory overcrowding. Some families may qualify for band 1. Now these families are being denied any priority for overcrowding and statutory overcrowding, a serious and severe level of overcrowding.
So what is going on?
These decisions are wrong, immoral and, we think, unlawful. They are hurtful and devastating for our members who receive them. How can Southwark council justify making these decisions against their own residents? Why are they blaming and targeting the victims of the housing crisis?
Many of these families are migrant families who already face significant discrimination and barriers to accessing decent housing. Why are Southwark council introducing new anti-migrant, discriminatory policies into their housing register?
We have written to Southwark’s councillor for housing Kieron Williams asking him for answers and to advocate on behalf of our members and all overcrowded families.
The council must immediately change these decisions and give our members the priority they are entitled to.
We also feel our members are being targeted. We made a Freedom of Information request asking how many households had been placed into band 4 for ‘worsening circumstances’. In the last 12 months, there have been ‘less than 10’. However, in the last few months, 4 of our members have been put into band 4.
Our members are stuck in appalling conditions in overcrowded private rented housing because they have no other option, they could not rent anywhere else. They have been discriminated against by private landlords who won’t rent to them because they are claim benefits, because they do not speak English, and for having children.
Now they are discriminated against by Southwark council who tell them the overcrowding is their own fault.
Meanwhile, we know that Southwark council are housing homeless families in temporary accommodation that is overcrowded, including temporary accommodation that is statutory overcrowded. When our members challenge the council on these overcrowded conditions, the council are happy to use the housing crisis as their excuse.
We will be campaigning in support of our HASL families and all overcrowded families to make Southwark treat them properly!