Tag Archives: Lambeth Council

Too Long in Temporary! Janeth’s family

 

Watch the short video we made with Janeth where she speaks about the difficulties of living Too Long in Temporary and the impacts on her family’s health.

In July this year, it marked the 6th year Janeth and her family have been living in temporary accommodation. Originally from Lambeth, the family have been housed in 5 different temporary accommodations across London. Lambeth council place homeless families in band C at the bottom of the housing waiting list meaning that Lambeth’s homeless households may never get the permanent, safe, secure council homes they need. We are supporting Janeth’s case and all homeless households who have spent Too Long in Temporary.

Janeth’s oldest child, aged 9, has spent over half his life living in temporary accommodation. Her other 3 children have spent all their lives living in temporary accommodation. The temporary accommodations have often been very poor quality – they have lived in a hostel, a severely overcrowded flat, and many of the properties have had infestations and damp and mould issues. The poor quality housing and constant moving has seriously affected the family’s health with the children developing coughs, asthma, skin rashes, and anxiety. They have suffered these health conditions for many years. Her oldest son is constantly worried that he will have to move home again and change schools. Homeless households and others suffering from bad living conditions are also at higher risk of catching and being worse affected by Covid 19, a Lancet article highlights the particular vulnerabilities of young children in temporary accommodation.

The family have submitted strong and detailed medical evidence to Lambeth council about the impact of their housing conditions on their health. The children’s school has stated that the housing situation is negatively impacting the children’s health and their future educational outcomes. Their GP called for an urgent move. Yet, despite this evidence, Lambeth council have refused to award the family band B on the housing register for an urgent medical move. The family received a very short and vague decision letter in July this year which failed to properly engage with the evidence submitted. Camden Community Law Centre are helping the family to review the decision and the family have now been waiting over a month for a response.

We are calling on Lambeth council to award the family band B based on the serious health issues they continue to suffer in temporary accommodation so that they can move into the permanent council housing they desperately need. As well as supporting homeless families who have an urgent medical need to move to permanent council housing, Lambeth council must also urgently change their housing allocations policy so that homeless households are not stuck at the bottom of the housing register with no hope of council housing.

We know there is a desperate shortage of high quality, safe, secure family-sized council homes in our communities. We campaign together for high quality, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes we need!

Lambeth’s Temp to Settled Scheme – what has changed and what happens now?

HASL visit Lambeth council’s Civic Centre last March protesting against the Temp2Settled policy

Were you homeless and housed by Lambeth council outside of the borough in private housing?

Were you placed in band B on the housing register?

Did your housing register bidding account get closed?

Did you hear about Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and Public Interest Law Centre’s successful legal challenge which means your bidding account should be re-opened?

Our leaflet can help you understand your situation and your rights.

LEAFLET IN ENGLISH

FOLLETO EN ESPANOL

Following HASL and PILC’s important legal and campaign victory in June over Lambeth council, we have produced a new leaflet to explain what this means for families who were affected by the Temp to Settle scheme and who were removed from Lambeth’s housing register. Families affected by this scheme still could face problems in the future so please do get in contact with HASL so that we can support each other with our cases.

Many families who approached Lambeth council as homeless were not even aware that they were put on this Temp to Settle scheme – many only found out when their bidding accounts were closed. But if you were housed outside of Lambeth in private housing and were put into band B, it is likely that you were affected by this scheme.

If you are a Lambeth family (or if you used to live in Lambeth) who is  concerned or confused about your situation, please do get in contact with us by email or SMS/ whatsapp (details in leaflet)and we will do our best to help.

Lambeth council’s social cleansing scheme stopped!

HASL visited Lambeth council’s Civic Centre last March protesting against the Temp2Settled policy

Thanks to our friends Public Interest Law Centre for writing this press release about the legal and campaign victory that we have worked on together.

There is great coverage in the Brixton Blog here. 

We will be producing an information leaflet for those affected explaining about the legal victory, what your rights are now and what more needs to be done!

 

Important win for homeless families in Lambeth

Lambeth Council agrees to amend a housing allocations scheme that had resulted in hundreds of vulnerable families being removed from its social housing register 

Lambeth’s Temp2Settled Policy 

Since 2014 Lambeth Council has been encouraging its homeless families to withdraw their homelessness applications, and to move into temporary private sector accommodation, by offering them higher priority for social housing. However, in very many cases, the deal that Lambeth was offering actually prevented these families from staying on the social housing waiting list at all.

Under the ‘Temp2Settled’ Scheme, those approaching the council as homeless were told that if they agreed to forego their rights under the housing and homelessness legislation, they would be placed in Band B (rather than Band C) and therefore have a ‘much better chance’ of successfully securing council housing or housing association tenancies.

However, what these families were not told was that if they were placed outside the borough (as hundreds were) they would almost certainly be removed from the housing register altogether before they were able to bid successfully for social housing and be rehoused. That was because they would lose their ‘local connection’ to the borough after two years.

These families never had any real prospect of securing permanent accommodation, as the average wait time for securing permanent family-sized accommodation in Band B has always been more than five years. We therefore suspect that Lambeth council may have designed the policy with a view to denying applicants their housing rights.

Other consequences – suitability of accommodation and eviction 

Apart from being removed from the housing register and losing their local connection, these families also felt the wickedness of Lambeth’s policy in other ways.

Unlike the accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation, there is no statutory requirement for  ‘Temp2Settled’ accommodation to be ‘suitable’, and there is no right to challenge the suitability of the offer of accommodation by way of statutory review. Families therefore often found themselves in unsanitary or uninhabitable living conditions and forced to stay there as they were unable to challenge private sector accommodation that was unconstrained by suitability requirements.

Given the unstable nature of the accommodation, many families faced threats of eviction from private landlords. On top of all this, having been placed many miles outside the borough of Lambeth, some had no choice but to travel long distances in order to retain their support networks and to get to and from work or school.

The legal challenge 

The Public Interest Law Centre, with support from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), brought a legal challenge on behalf of four families affected by the ‘Temp2Settled’ scheme. Each client had either faced eviction or felt forced to reside in unsuitable or uninhabitable living conditions. In many cases this led to them and their children suffering a deterioration in their mental wellbeing and physical health.

As a result of the challenge, and not long before the case was due in court, Lambeth agreed to amend its policy and reinstate the four families to its housing register with immediate effect. Applicants who opted for the Scheme (only to be placed in private rented accommodation outside of the borough and removed from the housing register after two years) are also to be reinstated.

Barristers Nick Bano and Liz Davies (Garden Court Chambers) and David Wolfe QC (Matrix Chambers) were instructed.

Quotes:

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL says:

“Our members told us they were tricked and deceived by Lambeth council when they visited the housing office as homeless. More and more people were coming to the group telling us they had been removed from the waiting list with no idea why. This allowed us to build our legal challenge, but there are still hundreds of households who have been struggling alone. 

Lambeth’s Temp2Settled scheme is yet another example that so-called homeless prevention which pushes families into the private sector does not work and is not fair. 

PILC and HASL have successfully challenged it here and we will continue to do so wherever these schemes fail to act in the best interests of homeless people. 

Real homeless prevention is safe, secure, high quality council housing in our communities, and a welfare system accessible to everyone that ensures a dignified life free from poverty.”

Helen Mowatt, solicitor at PILC, says:

“This case is an important victory for the hundreds of families who have been affected by the  ‘Temp2Settled’scheme, and we hope sends a message to councils – that it is not acceptable to place targets above the needs of the community. We know that there is a culture in housing departments that regardless of how vulnerable you are, the ultimate goal is to get the numbers down. Schemes like ‘Temp2Settled’ are adopted to further the gentrification agenda, as it is in the commercial interests of councils to get as many homeless and low-income families out of the borough as possible. 

Of course, this mentality trickles down from central government and is linked to the limited housing stock and to a decade of austerity measures. But councils need to be pushing back against this—and not taking it out on homeless families who approach the council for support. We must continue the campaign to ensure that those families no longer feel forced to reside in uninhabitable living conditions, are protected from eviction, and have access to secure council-owned accommodation.”

One of the four claimants had this to say:

“I first encountered Lambeth council’s ‘Temp2Settled’ Scheme when I became homeless in 2017 and was at my most vulnerable.  The council officers sugar coated the nature of the Scheme and persuaded me to agree to enter into it – they told me that it was the best option for myself and my baby as we would be provided with permanent council accommodation in our home borough within a matter of weeks. However, I later discovered that relying on this advice had put myself and my daughter at great risk. The conditions of the property I was placed in were very poor and it was not safe for us to live in. I have also been threatened with eviction on several occasions. 

My intention has always been to do right by my daughter and to do the best for her. I believe that Lambeth Council took advantage of this and of me when I was at my most vulnerable and when I had no choice but to place my trust in them. When given the option of a stable and secure home for my daughter, of course I was going to take that – even if it meant living away from our home borough for what I was told would be a short period of time. 

My daughter is now 3 years old and at the crucial age of starting nursery and settling down for the starting of her educational life. This should be an exciting time for us, but the consequences of the council’s scheme (the suitability of accommodation, threats of eviction and being forced away from the place I call home) had impacted us both greatly – causing so much stress and anxiety. Not knowing what my future for my daughter looked like and whether we would be able to return to our home borough, made making important life decisions for me very hard. 

Without HASL and the Public Interest Law Centre, who dedicated their time in helping us not only get justice, but also to expose the way me and others were treated, this would still be happening undetected, and Lambeth council would be able to continue to treat families in this way without any accountability for their actions. 

I am proud of myself and of all the other residents who stood up to the council and I hope this sends them a message that council officers cannot continue to treat us like we are just numbers which they need to reduce at any cost. We are human beings and have families, just like they do.”

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.

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

20180503_124309

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.

20180503_122659

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.

Lambeth Council’s Cycle of Homelessness – Challenging the Temp 2 Settle scheme

maze

Lambeth council have been making it harder for homeless families (and Smurfs) to get the quality, secure council homes they need and deserve

Are you homeless or facing homelessness in Lambeth? Are you making a homeless application with Lambeth council?

When you visited the housing office to make a homeless application, did the housing officer invite you to instead join the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?

In our group, many of our members have tried to make a homeless application but instead been offered the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme. We are concerned about the confusion and stress this is causing for homeless families and how the scheme is being used to avoid certain protections that homeless families have when they make a homeless application

We always recommend that people have a buddy when visiting the housing office and with this confusing scheme, it is even more important for people to know their rights and have support through this process. It is also vital that we campaign together for better treatment, real housing help (instead of schemes like this) and for council housing for everyone.

What is the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?

Temp 2 Settled is a scheme started in November 2014 by Lambeth Council which is being used to end or prevent a homeless assessment and therefore reduce the number of homeless duties on their records. This is done by offering people a 6 month private sector tenancy when you end your homeless assessment.  The sweetener that is offered is that it will improve your chances of council housing by being placed into band B (rather than band C where households with a homeless duty are usually placed). It is mainly aimed at homeless families as they are more likely to be given a homeless duty.

The effect of this scheme can be seen by comparing Lambeth’s homeless assessment decisions with that of the similar and neighbouring Southwark council. Before the scheme was introduced in November 2014 both Lambeth and Southwark made about 900-1,000 homeless decisions each year. Since then Southwark’s homeless decisions have soared to over 2,000 a year and Lambeth’s have dropped to almost 750. Hundreds of homeless applications will have been stopped with the use of the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme, or will have been discouraged from ever being started, because homeless families have been promised that they have a better chance of getting council housing by doing this instead of doing a homeless application.

Will the Temp 2 Settled scheme help me get council housing quicker?

Not for most homeless families. Although it depends on your specific circumstances. If you are not already on the housing waiting list then you will only join the list when you go through the Temp 2 Settled scheme and you will be put in band B. If you are given a private rented sector tenancy outside the borough of Lambeth, as over half are, then you will only stay on Lambeth’s housing waiting list for 2 years (because you are now living in a different London borough so after the 2 years are up you are no longer allowed to remain on Lambeth’s housing register). This means you will have very little chance of getting council housing before being removed from the waiting list. Last year only 2% of 2 bedroom social housing lettings were made to people who had been in Band B for less than 2 years. It was higher at 22% for people waiting for a 3 bedroom home.

If you have a homeless duty with the council then you will be housed in temporary housing and will be in Band C on the housing register. As Lambeth council explain in the Temp 2 Settled letter, in band C you may never be able to bid successfully for council housing. However in their Temp 2 Settled letter the council forget to tell you that if you choose the Temp 2 Settled route, and you are new to the waiting list, your chances of successfully bidding for council housing are very little too and you will likely have been forced out of your home borough of Lambeth.

Is the housing any better on the Temp 2 Settled scheme? (for example, is the Temp 2 Settled scheme housing better than the temporary accommodation you get when you apply for a homeless duty?)

The Temp 2 Settled scheme is mainly for homeless families. There are already legal protections for homeless families with a homeless duty for example, families can only be housed in bed and breakfast or other hostel-style accommodation for a maximum of 6 weeks by law. After this, you will likely be found self-contained private sector accommodation. This is likely to be similar to the private accommodation you are offered under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.

However we have found over the last year that Lambeth are more likely to house people somewhere in Lambeth through the Temp 2 Settled scheme (42% of placements) than through temporary housing (27% of placements).

This seems like the only clear advantage to the Temp 2 Settled scheme but why are Lambeth appearing to keep private tenancies within the borough for the Temp 2 Settled scheme? Why should someone be punished by being moved out of the area for wanting to keep the protection of a homeless duty? It is deeply worrying that Lambeth appear to be reserving in-borough housing for the Temp 2 Settled scheme and are disadvantaging those who take a homeless duty with the council.

With the Temp 2 Settled scheme, you are able to view the accommodation before accepting it, so if it is not in Lambeth you could still refuse it and continue your homeless assessment.

Why is the Temp 2 Settled scheme bad?

  • It causes unnecessary stress and confusion for homeless families at a time when they are already dealing with enough stress from homelessness.

 

  • It divides Lambeth’s homeless families between band B and band C on the housing waiting list – this is blatantly unfair to give some homeless families more priority than others when they have the same high level of housing need. Another inequality is that those on the Temp 2 Settled scheme appear to have a higher chance of being housed in Lambeth compared to those who get a homeless duty. This scheme increases housing inequality amongst some of the most vulnerably housed/homeless people.

 

  •         By accepting a place on the scheme you lose your homeless duty with Lambeth Council. This means that when the private tenancy comes to an end Lambeth will have no ongoing duty towards you. You will have to start a new homeless application. You also give up other protections/rights that you have when you make a homeless duty, for example, the ability to review the suitability of the accommodation.

 

  •         Because the scheme is ‘voluntary’ it has no legal protections. If Lambeth had done these private sector offers through the channel they are meant to for homeless people then you would have an automatic homeless duty for the next 2 years and your private tenancy would be for a year minimum. You also would be able to challenge unsuitable offers within 21 days. None of these protections exist under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.

 

  •         As mentioned before, if you are placed outside of Lambeth on the scheme you will be removed from the housing waiting list after 2 years. If you have a homeless duty with the council and are housed outside the borough in temporary housing, Lambeth are legally required to keep you on the waiting list, even if it is low down on it.

 

  • It helps Lambeth council hide the true number of homeless families in the borough because they are not recorded as statutory homeless duties.

 

What should we do about it?

The Temp 2 Settle scheme is clearly not in the interests of Lambeth’s homeless families as the many problems with it listed above show. We are campaigning to end the Temp 2 Settle scheme and return to the previous, fairer method where homeless families are provided with temporary accommodation, band B priority on the housing waiting list and can remain in temporary accommodation if they wish until they successfully bid for council housing. This is how Southwark council’s housing allocations policy and housing register works and it is fairly straightforward and easy for homeless families to understand.

We should not be forced to give up protections against further homelessness for a slim chance at getting council housing quicker. We shouldn’t be forced to gamble for secure, truly affordable council housing we all need.

Recent migrants (and others who do not already have housing register accounts and so have not accumulated time on the housing waiting list) should not be discriminated against and disadvantaged in getting council housing because they cannot get on the waiting list before becoming homeless. (If someone who was not previously on the housing register goes down the Temp 2 Settle route and are housed outside of the borough, then it is very unlikely that they will get council housing in the next 2 years, so when these 2 years are up, they will be removed from the list. If someone had been on Lambeth’s housing waiting list 2 years before becoming homeless and going down the Temp 2 Settle route and being housed out of borough, then they stand a better chance of successfully bidding for council housing before the 2 years are up.)

The lack of council housing should not be used to justify pushing homeless people out of Lambeth and ending all responsibility for them. The council should be building more council homes and should stop destroying and selling off what we already have.

Get involved in HASL to help us stop this scheme and help people access the homelessness support they need and deserve.

Case study

One of our members and her child were made homeless after their private landlord evicted them in order to get new tenants who would pay higher rent. She visited Lambeth council’s housing office to make a homeless application. Instead of a homeless assessment being opened as she had originally requested, The Temp 2 Settled route was offered to her. After a great deal of stress about what she should do, she decided that she wanted to take this route because the incentive of being in band B was important to her. She accepted a 6 month private tenancy in Southwark (and the landlord received a payment from Lambeth council for accepting her as a tenant). However, after 6 months, her landlord contacted her saying that he was going to evict her, because he wanted another payment from the council. She was absolutely distraught at facing homelessness again and after such a short period of time. Fortunately, it seems like an idle threat from the landlord, as he has not yet given her a section 21 (which he needs to do if he does want to evict her). However, if he were to go through with evicting her, she would have to visit Lambeth’s housing office yet again to make a homeless application. Again, she might be offered Temp 2 Settle and the cycle of homelessness would continue.

Lambeth needs council housing

IMG_20170523_160025530_HDR

The Patmos Lodge site as it currently stands. It used to be a care home until the council closed it down. It then became a home for 100 squatters for 2 years until the council had them violently evicted them to make this rubble heap.

Lambeth council have just started advertising their consultation on the future of the Patmos Lodge site on Cancell Rd, off Vassell Road on the north edge of Myatts Field North estate (N of Brixton/Loughborough Junction and SE of Oval tube):
The site is owned by the council and was a care home that was demolished around 5 years ago (planning decision here) – it’s been a pile of rubble since then. After the council closed the care home, the building was squatted and became the home of 100 people making use of Lambeth’s abandoned property for 2 years before the council violently evicted them. It’s vital to challenge a council that considers a rubble heap preferable to homeless people housing themselves.
We know that councils love to do ‘consultations’ with communities and then make up their own results. Let’s send them a strong message that can’t be distorted – this site should be 100% council housing.
With 21,000 families on the housing waiting list and a growing housing crisis (and the 1,000 new council homes that Lambeth’s Labour council have promised) the Patmos Rd site should be used for 100% council housing, seeing as it won’t have the cost of buying the land (which accounts for a big proportion of housing costs in London).
There’s a ‘drop-in consultation event’ on Thursday 25 May 2-8pm at Myatts Field North Centre, 24 Crawshay Road, Brixton, SW9 6FZ.
You can also complete a ‘feedback form’ here:
(There’s no deadline given, but presumably it won’t be around forever…)
Let them know Lambeth needs council housing – but we need to do more than just fill out forms and speak to them, we need to organise and take action together so that they can’t ignore our demands. Stay in touch and get involved in HASL!

Lambeth council – we need to talk about gatekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lambeth must address the issues we have raised.

Lambeth council’s systemic gatekeeping of single homeless people

HASL have uncovered – and are challenging – yet more gatekeeping of homeless people by Lambeth housing office. We have blogged about our member Mary Luz who was denied housing help last May and forced to return to severely overcrowded housing. We knew from conversations with people at the housing office and from our visits there that this was not the only instance of gatekeeping at Lambeth housing office.

It is very common for single homeless people to face gatekeeping at housing offices, as often they may not meet the automatic priority need test (for example, if you have children, you are automatically in priority need). In this case, we have found Lambeth housing office have a built-in policy to gatekeep single homeless people. Homelessness is rising, and youth homelessness in particular – a group that is likely to be significantly affected by Lambeth’s unlawful policy.

Our long time HASL member, we’ll call her Liz to protect her privacy, has recently faced gatekeeping by Lambeth council which has resulted in her being kept homeless for two extra months, and facing anxiety, stress and demoralisation that comes with being treated so poorly and denied basic rights. Liz requested a homelessness assessment at Lambeth housing office back in March 2016. She stressed the important mantra that she was homeless and in priority need – which means that the local authority is legally obliged to conduct inquiries into the person’s situation. She was booked what she was told was a homelessness assessment for the following week.

 
Attending the homelessness assessment with a buddy, the housing officer attempted a number of gatekeeping tricks, but Liz and her buddy thought they had navigated these successfully ending the meeting with the officer informing her that he would open a homeless assessment. He handed her numerous forms to fill out which again seemed to suggest the opening of a homeless assessment. Again during this meeting, Liz stressed she was homeless and in priority need at which the legal obligation to conduct inquiries kicks in.

After not hearing anything for almost two months, Liz contacted him to find out what had happened to her application. He didn’t respond, so with the help of HASL she wrote a letter to Lambeth council last week threatening legal action. This finally prompted Lambeth into action and revealed their gatekeeping tactics and lies that they had subjected Liz (and numerous other single homeless people) to. She was informed that she had not in fact had a homeless assessment but a ‘housing assessment for a single person’. So she would now be booked in for an actual homeless assessment this week – having to go through another stressful interview/meeting talking about her homelessness and vulnerabilities, as well as this assessment now being delayed by two months.

It turns out that Liz was lied to about being booked a homeless assessment, lied to during the meeting where she was told an application would be opened, and lied to by the housing officer that she was not eligible to join the housing register. Importantly, the ‘housing assessment for a single person’ meeting, suggests that it is Lambeth’s policy to gatekeep single homeless people with this meeting.

Liz explains herself:

I feel extremely demoralised by this experience. Dealing with homelessness and the homelessness application process is difficult enough – finding out that you believed you went through this process already, but actually you hadn’t because they purposefully had decided not to meet their legal obligations is even more difficult. They have made me endure homelessness for an unnecessary extra two months.

They make it such a struggle that you want to give up, which of course, is entirely their plan. I also feel furious at the multiple lies told to my face to deny me my rightful access to housing. I feel thankful that I’ve got the support and solidarity of my housing action group so I’m not going through this alone.”

Liz has made a formal complaint about the situation and HASL will be planning further actions to challenge gatekeeping and mistreatment. She should not be made to endure the homeless process again because of Lambeth’s failures to do this the first time and should be placed in band B where there is criteria for homeless people working with the council to deal with homelessness. Of course, twitter is a helpful place to make public complaints to @lambeth_council @cllr_peck and @cllrmattbennet about issues in their housing office.

HASL have also drawn up a pledge against gatekeeping that we will be approaching Lambeth council with.

Justice for ML – HASL’s mass visit to the housing office

HASL olive morris house mary luz

 

Thanks to everyone who came to support ML at Lambeth’s Olive Morris house this morning in a joint HASL and English for Action action! We have simple messages for the council:
A home close to school / una casa circa de la escuela

Justice / justicia

Respect / respeto

This morning, over twenty of us visited Olive Morris House with the simple request that the family be given the suitable social housing they would have had if Lambeth had given them the help they were entitled to back in May last year. ML’s case is one of total neglect by Lambeth council that resulted in her being physically assaulted in the overcrowded shared housing she had visited them to get assistance with. We demand accountability and justice from the council.

Our visit resulted in a short meeting with the manager of the housing office. Whilst they said that they would contact us by the end of the day about the case, they refused to meet our basic request that the family be given secure, social housing in their local area. They also called the police on our group as they were keen to get us out. But we left in our own time of our own accord.

Although we have not got our immediate request met on this visit, we have made our message very clear and spoke to people high up in the housing office to make them aware of this case, the urgent need for action, and that we will continue until our request for suitable social housing is met.

We promised that if our request is not met, we will return as a (growing!) group until it is. Please get involved and join us to fight for good quality homes we all need and deserve! And why not tweet @lambeth_council @cllr_peck in support of ML to keep the pressure on them.