Tag Archives: overcrowding

Press release: SIGNIFICANT VICTORY against Southwark Council.

Cross posted from the Public Interest Law Unit. The original post can be found here.

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“Further to a successful legal challenge by the Public Interest Law Unit (PILU) and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), it has become apparent that Southwark Council have been incorrectly applying the ‘space standard’ test for statutory overcrowding as contained in s.326 of the Housing Act 1985.

Had Southwark applied the law correctly, it would have been recognised that the family in question were living in statutorily overcrowded conditions, and that in accordance with their allocation scheme they should have been placed in Band 1 and given an additional ‘Priority Star’ to reflect that status.

The evidence provided by HASL and as a result of a Freedom of Information Request suggests that the error in fact forms part of a wider unlawful practice.

Since December 2017, HASL have come across five cases where households have reported to Southwark that they are overcrowded according to the space standard for the number of people in the property and the number of rooms, that in each of these cases Southwark has proceeded to measure the size of the rooms and that in only one of the cases has the household been placed in Band 1 on Southwark’s allocation scheme.

The Council’s response to a Freedom of Information request showed that since February 2018, 46 banding decision had been made which had involved assessing whether a household was statutorily overcrowded, all of these cases had been assessed with reference to the space standard set out in s326 Housing Act 1985, and all had been assessed solely with reference to floor area as opposed to the number of rooms. 13 of those cases had been found not to be statutorily overcrowded.

Southwark Council have now admitted that the test for statutory overcrowding had been incorrectly applied the case in question, and while the Council have been reviewing previous decisions made on this basis, it is unclear whether everybody affected will notified and awarded the additional priority that they are entitled to.

Helen Mowatt, solicitor from PILU said:

Southwark Council has formally adopted the measure of overcrowding contained in Part 10 of the Housing Act 1985 within its allocation scheme and is required to properly apply this when allocating social housing. A failure to do so is a breach of the Housing Act and amounts to an unlawful failure to follow a published policy.

Southwark have been erroneously applying the space standard contained in s326(3) Housing Act 1985, by assessing overcrowding solely with reference to floor area and not also with reference to the number of rooms, as required.

The error in our client’s case is material. Had Southwark correctly applied the space standard, his household would have been deemed statutorily overcrowded months ago, they would have been placed in Band 1 of the allocation scheme and awarded an additional priority star.

This was also not an isolated error on the part of the Council. The evidence we have obtained from HASL and as a result of our Freedom of Information Request shows that Southwark have been consistently misapplying the law in every case. It is therefore likely that many households have wrongly been assessed as not being statutorily overcrowded and placed in the incorrect housing Band.

We know that there may have been as many as 13 cases since February 2018 which must now be reviewed, but we are unclear as to how many households may have been affected before this date. We will be seeking assurances from the Council that they will review all relevant cases, but if anyone thinks they may have been affected, please contact HASL and/or seek legal advice.

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL has said:

Overcrowded housing in the private rented sector, but also in Southwark’s own council housing, is one of the main problems we come across in our group and is one of the more invisible sides of the housing crisis. We know many families forced to live in single rooms, studio flats and one bed flats because of discrimination and extortionate rents in the private rented sector. We know first hand the devastating impact that overcrowded housing has on people’s lives particularly their mental and physical health. We have been raising the problem of overcrowding with Southwark council for years but the council have failed to engage and take meaningful action.

Southwark council should be supporting their residents to access their housing rights and the secure council homes they need, instead it took a legal challenge before the council would accept that it had been wrongly denying that our families were statutorily overcrowded. Together with PILU, we will be making sure that the council goes back to review all previous decisions and applies the law correctly for all future cases. 

Southwark residents and all Londoners desperately need good quality, secure, 3, 4, 5 bed council homes in our communities. We welcome anyone struggling or worried about housing problems to get involved in our group to support each other and take collective action for good housing for everyone.” [ENDS]

For more information please contact Helen Mowatt at hmowatt@lambethlawcentre.org or Elizabeth Wyatt at elizabethwyatt1988@gmail.com

 

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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.

When local councils don’t listen to their most vulnerable residents

Like all Londoners, we are devastated by the Grenfell tower tragedy. Our thoughts and solidarity are with everyone affected.

A totally preventable and political tragedy happened because the local council did not listen to the concerns of some of their most vulnerable residents and the council did not bother to check that the housing they have a responsibility for met the highest safety standards.

Listening to the residents of Grenfell tower explain how the council had ignored and neglected them and treated them with disrespect and contempt resonated a lot with some of our experiences when trying to raise very serious housing concerns. Many concerns were raised by Grenfell residents who are migrants and people who do not have English as a first language but they felt the response to them was: “you are a guest in this borough, and a guest in this country, you have no right to complain”.

In HASL we have often had our concerns ignored by the council or have been treated as an annoyance when we raise serious issues we are facing related to homelessness and unsuitable, unsafe and overcrowded housing conditions. In light of what has happened at Grenfell, where people raised concerns and were ignored, we do feel an added urgency and fear of what might happen if we are not listened to and people’s rights and needs are respected. Local councils must engage and respond to their residents.

One case in particular has deeply affected our group because of the seriousness of the housing conditions, the impact we can see them having on our members and the council’s appalling response. In our group, 4 migrant families living in appalling, inhumane and overcrowded conditions have highlighted this to the council for over an entire year. Not only have we been ignored but the council has blamed the families for their housing conditions saying they caused the overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. One of the council’s reasons for this was that the families should have found suitable housing for themselves on zoopla.com.

The families have highlighted how their housing is impacting on their children’s wellbeing. Babies who are learning to walk do not have adequate space.  The families have explained that there was no way they would have caused these overcrowded conditions deliberately – an incredibly degrading thing to have to do. Overcrowded housing is unsafe housing. Victim blaming is not an acceptable response. It should not take a tragedy for local councils and government to listen to people affected by unsafe and bad housing.

We are calling on Southwark council and the councillor for housing Stephanie Cryan to engage meaningfully with these families, give them the help they are entitled to and talk with us about how we can support overcrowded families in the borough and other concerns that homeless and vulnerably housed people face. You can read and sign our petition here.

 

As a group of homeless and badly housed people in HASL and the London Coalition Against Poverty, we organise in solidarity with each other and fight together for housing justice. Supporting each other, we do make progress on our cases and situations that we know we could not have done alone, but the council still has a long way to go to provide adequate housing assistance and respect to their residents. If you are worried about unsafe, insecure, and bad housing in our communities, we invite you to get involved. We hope we can respond to calls from the Grenfell Tower community for support and solidarity.

Southwark council – no more excuses, no more housing nightmares!

This morning, HASL and our friends from Espacio Mama and English for Action visited Southwark council’s town hall in support of 5 families who face statutory overcrowding and have been subjected to long delays by Southwark council in getting the help they need. As Southwark council’s housing allocations policy states, these families should qualify for band 1 due to the serious and appalling nature of their living conditions. However, the council have insultingly responded that the families have caused the statutory overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. We know this is not true and it is an insult to even suggest this. It is basic common sense that these families have not endured years of severely overcrowded housing deliberately.

We demand that Southwark council follow its clear housing allocations policy and ensure these families are placed into band 1 immediately, the banding that reflects their severe housing need.

At the town hall, we bumped into the manager for homeless services Ian Swift on his way in to work, but instead of engaging with the group, he rushed past us, and instructed security to call the police on us!

Thankfully, the security staff decided this was not necessary and we were able to remain in the town hall and were not thrown out into the cold!

Two members from the press office came to speak with us about why we were there. We explained the 5 cases and the two members of staff agreed with us on a number of occasions that it was obvious that the overcrowded situations were not caused by a ‘deliberate act’ of the families. They promised that the cases would be looked into by Housing Director Gerri Scott and that we will hear from them soon. Let’s hope that we get some good news soon, and if not, we’ll be returning!

More information on the cases

As well as failing to follow their housing allocations policy in the spirit with which it was intended, and failing to acknowledge the acute housing crisis as the cause for overcrowding rather than the ‘choice’ of these families, we have also experienced long and unnecessary delays in getting the assistance from the council that we need. We have repeatedly provided the necessary information to process their cases. These delays and problems include:

One member first submitted information on her case on 23 May. She did not get a response for 3 months, and only then, because we contacted the council to chase up the case.

We first emailed Ian Swift about these five cases on 25th July detailing the statutory overcrowding and how they had all tried to access the housing register and had faced a number of problems doing so.

August we received a response finally saying that no applications are open for anyone and no documents have been received (even though 2 had receipts of having accounts). The group had actually visited the housing office and one stop shop on 25 July to submit information and documents, which had obviously not been processed.

HASL met with Ian Swift and a number of housing officers on September 14 where we requested to be told the information they needed in order to review these cases quickly, but they refused to tell us what further information was needed. We were promised that the cases would be independently reviewed within 10 days. 10 working days later and we had heard nothing. After a reminder, the person who had originally looked at the cases returned the reviews to us on October 10.

Accessing the housing register has been an extremely difficult process to follow and understand, particularly for non-English speakers as many of our members are.

In total, we have spent a great deal of our time over many months emailing Ian Swift and his officers, collecting together all the required information, to resolve these cases. Some might say we have been doing their job for them! These serious cases should not be taking months to resolve.

The families have highlighted the incredibly serious consequences of the appalling conditions they face:

Children and young people without space to study and play.

Children experiencing depression and mental ill health due to the overcrowded conditions.

Poor conditions, including the ceiling falling through in the kitchen, and the landlord renting out another room to an abusive person who threatened our member. The children are too scared to enter the kitchen after seeing the ceiling fall in.

Highly unsuitable shared accommodation for families with young children.

Once these cases are resolved, and the families are placed in their correct band 1, we will be happy to work with the council and in particular the housing office, so that the problems we have faced here and not encountered again.

Southwark council, no more delays – safe housing now

Our member A and her family have been living in poor quality and severely overcrowded private rented accommodation. Like many other households in London and across the UK facing rising rents and low incomes, this is often the only accommodation they can afford. Overcrowding, particularly in the private rented sector, is an issue that many HASL members are faced with and we will be raising this issue, organising around it, and taking more action on this issue in future.

In A’s case, the overcrowding is so bad that it meets the legal definition of statutory overcrowding – a definition that is unhelpful because it fails to capture many overcrowded households and conditions as the threshold is so high. A’s household meeting this definition shows the serious nature of this overcrowding.

Southwark’s housing allocations policy rightly gives people in such housing need high priority on the housing waiting list so that they can access secure, social housing quickly.

Our member A attempted to inform the council of her housing condition to get her correct place on the housing waiting list back in May this year and was told she would hear back from Southwark council in 2 weeks time. Yet almost three months later she still hasn’t heard anything and their housing situation has got even worse. If they had responded to her request, the family could have secured the safe, social housing they desperately need.

The other week, the ceiling in the kitchen fell through. You can see from the photos that this was an incredibly dangerous incident. A’s young children are too scared to enter the kitchen for fear that more will fall in. The kitchen is largely unusable. The landlord isn’t interested in doing the vital repairs and threatened eviction when A called about the incident.

A reported the conditions to Southwark’s environmental health team who visited and said they would try to get the landlord to do the repairs. The landlord has made it clear that they are not interested in this.

Why are Southwark council not taking stronger action to protect these vulnerable tenants and take harsher action against this exploitative and neglectful landlord?

Southwark council must take urgent action to ensure that A and her family are given their correct place – band 1 – on the housing register, which should have been done back in May. Their delay and neglect has meant that the family have been forced to endure unacceptable and worsening conditions for longer.

Why not send the councillor for housing@steviecryan a tweet or two about this case demanding A be given her band 1 position and safe housing now?

Together, we’ll hold Southwark council to account for their inaction and neglect of vulnerable tenants and fight for the secure, social housing in our communities that we all need.