Tag Archives: housing

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.

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Disrepair and Disrespect – Struggling with Southwark Council

We’ve been documenting the unacceptable, and often unlawful, ways in which Southwark Council treats those it has a duty of care to for some time now. This pattern of behaviour becomes increasingly and unsettlingly familiar with each new case we encounter.

Recently, L approached HASL. She has been living with her family in social housing provided by Southwark for 22 years. L has been battling with Southwark Council for the entire time – to try and get essential repair work done on the property and to be treated with respect. In attempting to make Southwark realise the severity of the problems, L has received backing from solicitors and a number of experts regarding the problems within the property. The family have been repeatedly moved out of the property for “repairs to be made” only to return to the same problems and the same poor attitude from Southwark. Attempts to make the property safe have been met with inadequate offers of alternative accommodation and coercion from Southwark.

L sought the advice and support of a new solicitor who progressed to presenting court proceedings to get the disrepair addressed. In the end, L made a successful bid for another property nearby. On moving into her new property, unfortunately a few snagging repairs requirements are outstanding – an issue we’re now working together to try and solve.

L believes, as do we, that no-one should have to face this kind of treatment. Everyone deserves access to secure and safe housing, and it should be the absolute minimum requirement that housing providers should treat their tenants with a sense of basic decency and respect. Instead, L who already faces the stress and complication of long term chronic health conditions has been met with intimidation, racist and classist prejudice and an irrevocable, irreparable and unfair service. We will be working together to make sure Southwark Council are held accountable for their behaviour in dealing with L’s housing situation.

Many of the problems we’ve encountered with Southwark Council are not isolated to individuals. Are you a Southwark council tenant facing similar issues of disrepair or mistreatment? These are conditions no-one should be expected to face, and they definitely shouldn’t have to be faced alone.

Get in touch – Come along to one of our meetings, or come share some food with us on Sunday at our lunch club. Over the last 2 years, we’ve demonstrated that we can win better housing, when we do it together. Join your local housing action group! 

HASL Response to Chuka Umunna, Tessa Jowell & Lib Peck

As residents of Southwark and Lambeth, we were disappointed (if not wholly surprised) to learn that the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, received a jointly signed letter earlier this week from the Head of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck; MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna; and MP for Dulwich & West Norwood, Tessa Jowell, calling for the criminalisation of squatting to be extended to commercial properties.

The further demonisation of squatting, in a climate of increasing desperation and homelessness, couldn’t come at a more unwelcome time. Many residents across Southwark and Lambeth are increasingly struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living and, in far too many cases, to keep a roof over their heads. The squatting community has traditionally been a key component in providing a lifeline to those with nowhere else to turn.

There are thousands of empty buildings across London, many of which have been deliberately left for long periods of time. It would be far more preferable for these to be put to use by people who have nowhere else to live, rather than creating an entirely new criminal class of Londoners who are guilty of nothing more than being forced into poverty. If politicians are serious about reducing levels of squatting and trying to solve the root causes of something they present as a problem, they would be demanding and implementing the construction of truly affordable social housing and regulating the amount of rent private landlords can charge instead of pushing tenants out of particular boroughs, without much in the way of support, in the hope of attracting more affluent residents.

We only need to look at developments across our two boroughs in recent times for evidence of the ongoing process which this letter was attempting to strengthen: Entire communities are being broken apart; we have seen Lambeth Council aggresively pursuing residents who have fallen into rent arrears due to the imposition of the Bedroom Tax; we have witnessed the total destruction of the community at the Heygate Estate, against the wishes of its residents (some of whom were rehoused miles away from the area); residents of Rushcroft Road, Brixton, were violently evicted from their homes so that Lambeth Council could make a quick buck on the sale of the land; and house prices and rents rise ever higher and higher.

What this letter really emphasised was the immense gulf between the people who live in Southwark and Lambeth, and those politicans who claim to represent them. It is clear that if our ‘respresentatives’ had any real understanding of the lives and struggles of the people who live in their constitutencies, and if they had any pretence of representing their wishes, the last thing on their minds would be attempting to drive yet more people from their homes.

Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth is a relatively new group made up of residents of two boroughs who are working together to combat some of the problems that residents face; many of whom have been completely abandoned by the institutions which have a duty of care over them. We live the experience of Southwark and Lambeth residents. When we meet, we listen to each other’s concerns. We attempt to offer support, both moral and legal, to those who are finding themselves on the vicious end of an austerity climate that we did nothing to cause. We share in stories of the latest way in which housing offices have lied to us, misled us and threatened us. Everyone we meet is worried about where they will live when they can no longer afford to live in their current home. We are all struggling to make the next rent payment. The criminalisation of squatting does absolutely nothing to help with any of these conditions which rather begs the question: if our elected representative are seeking legislation against their constituents’ interests, exactly whose interests are they working for?

Lambeth Housing Office’s Multiple Failures Leaves HASL Member on the Streets

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have been supporting one of our members who is currently homeless to get emergency accommodation from Lambeth Council. His personal situation means that he should have placed into emergency accommodation immediately, and supported in finding longer term accommodation, however staff at the housing office have on numerous occasions failed to ensure that this occurs. He is now sleeping rough on the streets whilst the housing office continue to fob him and HASL off. We are deeply concerned about our friend and also about the conduct of some of the staff in the housing office and their inability to follow basic procedures and fulfil their duty to house people.

Below we outline the multiple occasions on which Lambeth housing office staff have not followed the correct procedure for supporting a vulnerable homeless person.

As a housing action and support group we are learning about our housing rights together as we go along. This has meant that on this occasion, as we are still learning, the housing office has got away with a lot. However, we are learning fast. We have learnt that the housing office will lie to your face, treat you with disrespect, and do everything they can not to house you. This will probably come as no surprise to those who have had to deal with them before. The support HASL has provided for our friend has meant that through these interactions, there has often been another HASL person to watch his back.

Visit to housing office number 1:

Visit to register for priority homelessness. Told that he is not in priority need and therefore is not given emergency accommodation. Told that they will pass on his medical information (which strongly makes the case for priority need) to be reviewed by someone else. Sent away without anything.

What should have happened

He should have been accepted immediately as priority need homeless and provided with emergency accommodation. The Shelter emergency housing rights checker confirms this as did a Shelter case worker.

Not having done this, they should have given him emergency accommodation whilst they are reviewing the case. Civil Law Advice are interested in pursuing a judicial review against Lambeth’s decision not to do this.

They should also have informed him that if they do not deem him in priority need, they will issue him with a section 184 notification which he can give to a housing association he is in contact with to prove that he is homeless.

Visit number 2:

Having learnt from Shelter that he does indeed fulfil the criteria for priority need homelessness, he returned with someone else from HASL to see if they could query this and get the emergency accommodation needed. After waiting for over two hours in the housing office we spoke with someone we were told was a manager. She dismissed Shelter’s assessment – “they’re a lobby group, of course they say you’re priority, they say everyone is…we’re the council, we’re professionals, we act on the facts” – and then said very rudely and bluntly “in my opinion you are not priority need”. She said threatening that we were lucky enough that someone from their office was reviewing the medical evidence. It seemed if we pushed it much more she would just drop it altogether. We asked what he was to do tonight as he had nowhere to go. She told us that if he is on the streets, he can call the Lambeth Safe Street Team and they will come and check on him. He was told to call up to find out about the decision which would be made within the next two days.

What should have happened

Well, of course she should have looked into his case and come to the same conclusion as Shelter and arranged for emergency accommodation. She should have listened to what we were trying to say to her and spoken to us with respect.

Or, she should have acknowledged that whilst the case was being reviewed, he should be in emergency housing.

Failing this, instead of suggesting the streets and the Safe Street Team as appropriate support, she should have suggested some kind accommodation that has a roof.

Visit number 3:

Our friend returned to the housing office in person on the deadline they had given for the decision. He was told that a decision was yet to be finalised and was told to phone the following day. He called up the next day to find out what the decision was only to be told that the decision could take up to six weeks.

What should have happened

He should have received the decision as he was promised and not been given false deadlines which it now seems the manager had made up to get us out of there on our second visit.

Lambeth housing office have knowingly left a vulnerable homeless person to find somewhere on the streets whilst they make a decision on whether he is in priority need (which the manager hinted would be a negative one), denying him emergency accommodation they should provide in the interim and continually misinforming him (not informing him about the section 184 notification, “call in tomorrow and the decision will be made”).

Homeless services in London 

We are also appalled by the homeless services and support that are (un)available to homeless people that we have learnt about from our friend.

There is often strict criteria on accessing homeless shelters and services meaning that our friend has been turned away from a shelter which did not accept those who had access to public funds and denied support from one organisation because he has mental health issues.

He has been encouraged by his social worker to sleep rough in order to access rough sleeper support services such as Lambeth Safe Street Team, Southwark Spot Homeless Team, Streetlink, and No Second Night Out. However, for the last two nights, the people who are supposed to locate and support him have failed to do so. He has been told by No Second Night Out that he can sleep on the streets for a maximum of 10 days but after that if the team turn up and do not recognise him, he will no longer receive help.

We are a housing support and action group. We believe in decent homes for all. This sort of service, where the housing office fails to live up to its name and fails on so many other levels as well (basic respect), is not acceptable. We welcome people to get involved in the group to provide support for each other and take action together.

Anti-gentrification event this Saturday in Windrush Square

Event in Windrush Square this Saturday 5th July from 2pm to discuss evictions and gentrification in our local area. Come along and share your thoughts and ideas. There will also be music and a quiz!

For more info, see this brilliant blog piece http://evictionbrixton.tumblr.com/post/53932807346/eviction-brixton