Tag Archives: Lambeth Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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.

A Gatekeeping Masterclass from Lambeth Council

After a recent judicial review in the High Court, where Southwark Council was order to stop refusing vulnerable people from applying as homeless through the use of ‘gatekeeping’, we thought other boroughs would have taken some notice. Apparently not. In fact, a housing officer and senior housing manager at Lambeth didn’t even seem to agree that such a thing as gatekeeping existed; it’s a conspiracy against local councils, you see.

Today, HASL visited Lambeth Council at Olive Morris House to support two members whose families are living in private rented sector flats which are infested with rats and bed bugs, have blocked drains and exposed electrical wiring – facts which the council are already aware of.

As the judicial review of Southwark Council’s practices and policies detailed, under the Housing Act 1996, local authorities *must* investigate applications from anyone ‘it has reasons to believe may be homeless or threatened with homelessness’, and provide temporary accommodation to those with children or who appear vulnerable. This means that once a council has taken the housing application, they must then make inquiries about whether the applicant is eligible for assistance and whether a duty is owed. Where the council have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, that they are eligible for assistance and in priority need, the duty to secure accommodation for homeless applicants, pending the decision as to whether a duty is owed, applies. This is process is enshrined in law, but trying to get a council to recognise their duty and what they should be doing is nearly impossible – made worse by the hostility people face from council staff and all the other policies and options councils put in place that people have to navigate.

Our first stop was with a housing advisor. After briefly discussing what we were there for, the officer almost immediately refused both housing applications, stating that both families were not homeless. We challenged this flippant decision, reminding the officer of their legal duties. He began questioning who we were so that he could record our details and demanded to see all the other evidence we had for proving that the families were homeless. Gatekeeping hurdle one.

We objected to this unlawful gatekeeping so he called security. During a heated debate, we repeatedly requested an explanation, but he refused and stormed off around the corner whilst security tried to move us away from the desk. Gatekeeping hurdle two.

We stood our ground and eventually were sent to meet with Lambeth’s manager of the welfare reform and private sector teams. With the slick soft power you would expect from a senior council worker, he listened to the facts of the case and agreed with the first housing officer that there was no ‘reason to believe’ that the two families were homeless. Reasonable belief, apparently, is what the housing officer says it is: a gaping hole in your roof exposing you to all the elements wouldn’t meet that definition according to the manager – advice which runs contrary to the High Court’s deliberations in the Southwark case where ‘reason to believe that the applicants are homeless’ is supposed to be a low threshold. The difficulties people face when living in these conditions also has absolutely no bearing on what is reasonable. Despite the fact that other families in the building had been moved out, given the extent of the repair works the landlord needed to do on the flats inside and the environmental report on the problems with fire hazards and health and safety, it was still reasonable for both families and their children to continue living there. Gatekeeping hurdle three.

We were offered all too familiar excuses: “Do you really want to make us send them to Birmingham?” “It’s not our fault there’s no social housing, it was all Thatcher” “We just don’t have any temporary accommodation, what can we do?” “Can’t they just repair the house themselves?” Gatekeeping hurdle four.

After 3 hours of waiting and pleading, and with our members running out of time before picking up their children from school and going to work, it became clear that as with so many of our interactions with Lambeth Council, a decision was going to be made informally in the corridor. Gatekeeping hurdle five.

Both families just want out of their horrendous flats. We wanted something in writing about the council’s refusal to accept the homeless applications. Initially, the senior manager said he could do that, but an hour or so later he made it perfectly clear that it was an inconvenience for him. Gatekeeping hurdle six.

Throughout the day, our collective approach to support was dismissed as ‘Advocacy’. We were accused of acting irresponsibly in demanding written reasons as to why homeless applications were being refused and creating more problems in the future with ‘out of borough’ or out of London accommodation – in the long-winded process of fighting for the council to follow the law, we became the problem and were dramatised as causing more difficulty for the families in the future.

During these kind of interactions, it can become increasingly difficult to hold onto the simple realities that are, in fact, playing out. Today, Lambeth Council sent two families back to accommodation they know to be dangerous and unhealthy, simply because they refused to believe that it *might* be possible that their housing conditions constituted homelessness. We believe they acted unlawfully in doing so.