UPDATA 30th ARPIL 2018: Our member F was housed in temporary accommodation by Southwark council. She is very happy in her temporary accommodation because the location is close to her community and she has use of her own bathroom for the first time in almost 2 years. But the council have still not confirmed a full homeless duty for her. They must give F the peace of mind and security of a full homeless duty where she can then bid for secure council housing. Southwark council must support survivors.
Our member F was made homeless by domestic violence. When she visited Southwark housing office for help she was gatekept on two occasions – turned away without any housing assistance. With our help, she was finally able to open a homeless application, but 6 months later the council have failed to give a decision letter or temporary accommodation, leaving her threatened with street homelessness this month.
Southwark council’s treatment of our member, a vulnerable survivor of domestic violence, is unacceptable. F does not have English as a first language, a factor that is often used by housing officers when refusing help and which makes her more vulnerable in general as it harder for her to access basic support services. She suffers from a number of health issues and is experiencing severe stress and anxiety caused by homelessness. The council’s unlawful gatekeeping and delays has meant that she has been forced to live in unsuitable hostel accommodation for the last year and a half. During this time, one hostel she was staying in evicted everyone with days notice and she was forced to move to another.
If the council had acted when she first approached for help in October 2016, she might have been in secure council housing by now, instead, she is fearing street homelessness yet again.
The council must accept a full homeless duty and provide her with suitable temporary accommodation.
The council must also seriously reflect and investigate how F came to be so seriously mistreated in this way over this last year and a half. This gatekeeping and mistreatment has had a devastating impact on F’s life for the last year and a half.
We know that F is not the only person to face gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. Southwark council must take urgent action to end unlawful gatekeeping of vulnerable homeless people and ensure they are treated respectfully so that a situation like this does not occur again.
This year, Southwark council hold top place for the local authority with the most number of homeless households in Bed & Breakfast/hostel accommodation over the 6 week limit. As you can see from the table, this increase in families being housed in B&B/ hostel accommodation is extreme.
Your rights: Local councils should avoid using B&B/hostel accommodation for families and pregnant women. If they do have to house homeless households in B&B, then it should be for no longer than 6 weeks. If you have been housed over this time in hostel accommodation, then get legal advice from Shelter, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or your local law centre and come along to our meetings for support and action.
Being housed by the council in unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very common problem in our group. In the last year, we have seen this problem get even worse. We have met many Southwark families who are being housed for many months in unsuitable hostel accommodation where they share bathroom and/ or kitchen facilities with other families. Some families have had three different temporary accommodations in one year. Our members talk about the impact of this bad housing on their families. The hostel accommodation and regular moves that people have faced are causing their families mental and physical health problems due to the stress. The unsuitable accommodation is also affecting children’s education significantly. Unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very serious issues that is affecting people’s daily lives, their health and their welfare.
We have been in contact with Southwark council in support of a number of families in our group who have been living in unsuitable hostel accommodation or have been housed out of the borough. We hope that the council will listen to these cases and take the urgent action needed for these families. We also demand that Southwark council take urgent action to find suitable temporary accommodation and permanent council housing for all homeless households in the borough. Southwark council should be deeply ashamed to have the highest number of families living in B&B accommodation over the 6 week limit.
Here are the cases of some of our members:
- Our member E and her family have been living in hostel accommodation for the last 5 months. Her daughter is studying for her GCSEs and she has a young son as well. Before this, they were housed in another hostel accommodation for a month and a half. E is 7 months pregnant. The hostel rooms they currently live in have mice which have been causing the family enormous stress and sleepless nights. A mouse-infested room and shared facilities is not suitable for a pregnant woman and her family, especially since they have endured these conditions for over half a year already.
- Our member J and her family have lived in three different hostels since September 2016. Although the current accommodation is not suitable for the family, she would rather not leave, as the stress of moving is so great. But sharing facilities with other households for over a year has been incredibly stressful for the family.
- Another member H and her baby have lived in a hostel for over a year. She told us: “In the one room I live, I cook, I sleep…my baby is struggling to learn to walk because she does not have enough space.”
- Our member L, describes her experience. Her family have lived in three different temporary accommodation placements – all of them out of borough and meaning long journeys to school and work:
“Soy Madre Soltera y trabajo tiempo completo. Despues de una lucha de casi dos años continuos con mi Lanlord Privado para que no me desalojase De la casa que alquile finalmente la ley esta a su favor y me desaloja…el council fue informado de esto desde que me dio la primera notificacion de la corte..aun asi no recibi una respuesta positiva lo unico que me decian era que espere a que me sacara con los bayflis…pedi ayuda a recuperar mi deposito para poder o intentar buscar algo…y tampoco…que solo me ayudaban cuando estuviese en la calle…porque aun tenia techo y no era hommeles…fue asi como llegue a esta situacion….y ahora estoy en una acomodacion en Croydon despues de vivir 4 años continuos en southwark y practicamente estar con todo casi controlado desde..Hora de levantarse hora de comida tiempo de salida de la escuela de mi hija a mi trabajo..y tener una estabilidad familiar ..ahora nos vemos desplazadas de un entorno que para nosotras era casi familiar….ah sido un tiempo realmente estresante porque aunque para el council es normal que mi hija se tarde 1.30 minutos en llegar a su escuela o hasta mas cuando hay demasiado trafico….para nosotras es estresante…porque yo debo estar en mi trabajo 8.30 am ubicado en pentonville road king croos .y mi hija 8.55 am en la escuela….ya se pueden imaginar…nuestro recorrido trenes ; buses…etc…en mi trabajo me siento agobiada por tan larga jornada de transporte…y realmente me preocupa mi hija su dia a dia .. Mi hija Ama su escuela y por esto y por el tiempo que lleva en ella no la retiro…..aun asi intentando cumplir la jornada de su Escuela…ah llegado tarde porque en ocasiones me valgo de otras personas(abuela.amigas) para que me lleven a mi hija..porque no me alcanza el tiempo para llegar a mi trabajo…La Escuela me ha llamado la atencion porque no tiene el porcentaje minimo que exige la Educacion…. en asistencia. cada llegada tarde es un punto negativo para ella….lastimosamente ….veo solo una preocupacion por un numero % …..no por el niño…..fue lo que percibi…porque casi como ultimatum…que no debia llegar mas tarde ..para mi algo casi…imposible…aunque trato con la ayuda de mi madre cumplir……pero no es facil…solo es una parte de lo que nos ha afectado…porque para decir tendria mucho..mas…….Gracias..”
Of course, this problem is not limited to Southwark, last week a short film showed the appalling conditions of a converted warehouse where homeless household were living. A BBC article also looked at dangerous and cramped housing that people are forced to live in.
Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth wish to express our support and solidarity with the tenants of the Ledbury Estate. (We’re sorry not to have done so sooner – as a group made up of homeless and poorly housed people, often just running our group means that we are at our maximum capacity.)
Shortly after the Grenfell tower tragedy, Ledbury residents were informed by their landlord, Southwark council, that their tower blocks were unsafe (although the tenants had been raising concerns about the disrepair of their homes before this). In fact, they were death traps. Since August this year, Ledbury residents have had their gas turned off and many residents have moved into temporary accommodation. Those that have remained in their homes are living without gas making daily living very difficult.
Many of HASL’s members are people who are dealing with homelessness and poor quality private housing. We often find ourselves challenging Southwark council over their poor treatment of us. The neglect, disrespect and contempt that the council shows towards homeless and poorly housed people also extends to their own tenants as the Ledbury tenants have highlighted themselves. The Ledbury tenants have raised poor communication by the council and the council’s failure to meet the simple and basic demands of people directly affected. We know this (mis)treatment very well.
As many of our members struggle for the secure council housing they need, the Ledbury tenants are having to deal with Southwark’s long term neglect of this vital housing stock. We support the Ledbury tenants campaign for their rights for safe and secure homes and to be treated with respect.
Why was Southwark council not taking action on fire safety in 2009?
But the current crisis on the Ledbury Estate should never have been left this long. It was only the fire safety inspections after Grenfell that the structural problems were discovered. However, there had already been a deadly fire at Lakanal Tower in Camberwell in 2009. Southwark council should have been leading the improvement in the safety of their council housing since then – their failure to do so left hundreds of families in danger.
Instead of inspecting and improving fire safety on their estates, Southwark council has been busy demolishing thousands of council homes. And it is this demolition of council homes by Southwark that is making the Ledbury crisis even worse for everyone involved. The Ledbury residents will be having to wait longer for re-housing into council stock and HASL members, and other homeless Southwark residents, will be pushed even further down an ever lengthening queue for council housing.
Unsuitable temporary accommodation
Ledbury residents have also highlighted the unsuitable temporary accommodation they are being provided with by Southwark council. Again, this is a huge issue that we face in our group and have also highlighted and taken action on. Southwark council is currently the worst council in the country for keeping families in B&Bs for over the 6 week legal limit and they have almost quadrupled the amount of homeless households they are housing outside the borough in the last 3 years. Southwark council need to drastically improve this appalling record – homeless households must be given suitable and local temporary accommodation.
Ledbury residents’ demands for basic amenities and respect
The Ledbury Action Group has organised a number of protests with a list of the problems still faced by the residents months after the council realised the seriousness of the housing conditions. We fully support the residents’ basic demands for decent living conditions and respect.
We have two further, simple suggestions for Southwark council:
- Stop decanting Aylesbury estate council tenants now! If estate clearance is stopped it will relieve pressure on the council waiting list immediately.
- Re-furbish all empty council stock. The Aylesbury Estate has hundreds of empty flats on it which they are currently pulling down. There are still hundreds of flats that have only had minor damage (done by Southwark council to make it uninhabitable for squatters) and they should be urgently made liveable again providing local housing for those on the council’s waiting list.
Housing in Southwark and London is in crisis with people stuck in in poor quality, expensive private housing or neglected council housing. It is important to hold Southwark council accountable for their role in this crisis. We all deserve answers about why Southwark council does not respond to the concerns of their residents (be they homeless people, private tenants, or council tenants), why fire safety checks were not done sooner, and why good quality council estates, like the Aylesbury, are being demolished, against their residents wishes.
Follow Ledbury Action Group’s website here for updates and actions
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 are conducting a ‘public consultation’ on their New Southwark Plan, a draft plan of future developments in the borough. This public consultation closes on Friday 28th April. Southwark council’s plans for our borough look pretty huge and it’s hard to get your head around, especially with the fast approaching deadline, and if like many people in the borough lots of your time is spent trying to house yourself, support others and generally just survive. Despite the ‘public consultation’, it’s likely that you haven’t had your ideas concerning your neighborhood and borough listened to.
The threat to the PeckhamPlex cinema, one of the few affordable cinemas left in London, has caught the local headlines. There’s a template letter here calling for the current plans for the PeckhamPlex to be put on hold. And other community and public spaces are under threat too –such as the Peckham Arch in front of Peckham library (petition to save it here) and grassy plots in Peckham.
After Southwark’s terrible reputation for destroying council housing and doing terrible deals with developers (just look at the Heygate estate and the Aylesbury estate), the council are promising lots of new homes as part of the Southwark Plan. But their mantra of ‘homes, homes, homes’ is deceptive. Southwark desperately needs council homes, particularly for those with high housing need on the housing register, not ‘affordable’ homes or private rented homes. And homes should not come at the cost of community spaces.
Think that ‘regeneration’ shouldn’t look like this? Struggling or don’t want to fill in their in inaccessible and confusing consultation? Concerned about rent rises, poor housing and gentrification we’re already experiencing in our communities? Don’t worry, together we can make sure that there are plenty more ways to highlight and assert the needs of our communities and neighborhoods – council housing, community spaces, and affordable cinema for all!
The New Southwark Plan consultation can be viewed and responded to online here. Although it looks like it’s only available in English – so many of Southwark’s residents who do not have English as a first language, or literacy, or internet access are already excluded. Whether you fill it out or not, get involved in HASL to organise collective action on housing and poverty issues in our communities.
Last week, great research conducted by 35% campaign revealed how Southwark council have failed to make sure that developers stick to their promises and provide the agreed amount of social housing in new developments.
In Southwark, there are around 25,000 people on the housing waiting list – many who are homeless or in poor quality accommodation and are desperately in need of secure, quality council homes (these statistics are from 2012, since this year, local councils have been desperately trying to cut their waiting lists so that demand for social housing looks less).
When we visited Southwark council last week in support of 5 HASL families who live in severely overcrowded private rented housing – the council made excuses that they don’t have enough council housing. Instead of making excuses, the council must treat homeless households and others in housing need with more respect by actually making sure developers deliver the social housing that we desperately need.
We’re not at all surprised that Southwark council haven’t bothered to look after social housing for their residents (just look at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates!) – we have experienced first hand their disrespect for homeless households and others in housing need. But we will hold them to account for their actions and fight together for the quality homes we all need and deserve!
Southwark’s lost section 106 social housing
Ombudsman finds Council doesn’t know how much social housing it’s getting from developers
Posted on December 12, 2016
The Ombudsman’s decision came after the 35% Campaign referred its complaint that planning consents were being breached, listing 43 developments where we thought the social rented housing may not have been delivered as required.
In her decision notice, the Ombudsman said:
“In response to my enquiries the Council says it is taking legal action in response to several of the breaches identified by Mr X. It also accepts it did not have a systematic supervision procedure to check compliance. It relied on developers’ voluntary compliance.” (para. 12)
She concludes that ‘the Council accepts that fault’ and has agreed to roll out ‘a borough-wide annual audit to ensure compliance’, nonetheless noting that ‘until that audit is complete it is hard to know how many social housing units all section 106 agreements called for and how many developers delivered. Or indeed, how many remain social housing units.’ (para 20)
Despite the Ombudsman’s decision and Southwark’s own admission that it had no monitoring procedure in place, no further action is proposed in any of the other instances submitted – aside from the two cases subject to legal action (the Jam Factory and Signal Tower). This leaves unresolved issues about the levels of rent being charged for purportedly social rented properties.
Following this we discovered that 44 social rented units had been lost from the Bermondsey Spa regeneration and had instead been switched to affordable rent, at 62% market rent, by housing provider Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT).
The lost Bermondsey Spa homes were raised at the Aylesbury estate CPO inquiry in May 2015. The Council assured the inquiry that it had robust procedures in place and that it monitored compliance of S106 affordable housing provision every 12-18 months. This was evidently not true, but was asserted to show that NHHT could be trusted to deliver social rented housing in the Aylesbury regeneration.
Inquiry document 27 – evidence submitted by the Council to the CPO public inquiry, 12/05/2015
Southwark struck a deal with NHHT to reprovide the 44 lost social rented units on another site – Manor Place depot, but this deal double counted the social rented units and in any event the development is still not under construction.
Social rent is not affordable rent
Social rent is calculated by using a legal formula, based primarily on average local earnings; in Southwark social rent currently equates to between 19-25% market rate and this percentage falls as market rents rise.
Our list of suspect developments shows many where the level of rent identifies them as affordable rent, not social rent. The list was compliled by cross-checking planning committee reports, section 106 agreements, Land Registry information, the GLA affordable housing outturn dataset and CORE lettings data.
Amongst the sites we’ve looked at where the ‘social rent’ is higher than it should be, are the following;
This redevelopment of the former Colorama film processing warehouse in SE1 was completed in April 2016 and should have provided a total of 19 social rented habitable rooms, about 8 units, according to the planning report.
However, GLA affordable housing outturn data, shows that the developer has provided affordable rent, not social rent. These range up to 59% market rent, giving rent levels of £215pw (excl. service charge) for a 1-bed flat, over twice the current average social rent in Southwark (£100 pw).
143-149 Rye Ln/1-15 B’mouth Rd SE15 4ST (L&Q)
Southwark’s planning committee report (06/AP/0995) approved 61 new homes of which 7 should have been social rent, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by London & Quadrant as affordable rent of between 74% and 78% market rent.
32 Crosby Row SE1 3PT (Family Mosaic)
Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0140) approved the demolition of St Hugh’s church on Crosby Row and the construction of 22 new homes, which should have included 5 social rented units. But the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Family Mosaic as affordable rent at up to 57% of market rent.
177-184 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Linden Homes Ltd)
The planning committee report (11/AP/1390) for this development approved 38 new homes, of which 9 were supposed to be social rented units. The GLA data shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association as affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.
34-42 Grange Road, Bermondsey (Bellway Homes)
Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/3251) approved 41 new homes of which 8 should have been social rented, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered by Leicester Housing Association at affordable rent of up to 52% market rent.
Royal Road, Kennington SE17 3DA (Affinity Sutton)
This development was built on the site of a former old people’s home. The site was designated as one of the replacement housing sites for decanted Heygate tenants and sold by the Council, at cost, to Affinity Sutton housing association. Notwithstanding this, the new development wasn’t completed until 5 years after the Heygate was demolished and the government’s CORE lettings database is showing only 45 units let at social rents at this site, while 76 is the number required by the planning consent and correspondingsection 106 agreement.
430 Old Kent Road SE1 5AG – (Family Mosaic)
This is one of the Neo-Bankside off-site affordable housing sites, which according to Southwark’s planning committee report (11/AP/0138) approved 22 social rented units, but the GLA dataset shows that these have been delivered at affordable rents of up to 49% market rent.
Silwood estate regeneration Site 4B (Notting Hill HT)
This is yet another Notting Hill Housing Trust redevelopment of a council estate. It was supposed to provide 22 social rented homes as part of its redevelopment of the Silwood estate involving the demolition of 57 council homes and construction of 127 new homes. The definition of social rented in the section 106 agreement is worded as affordable rent and the CORE lettings data system shows that only 19 units have been let at social rent levels.
Southwark has confessed that up until now it has not ensured that social rented housing has been delivered in accordance with planning approvals, but instead relied on‘voluntary compliance’. Southwark promises an annual public audit as a remedy, with some unspecified ‘further investigation to ensure accuracy’ and has budgeted £60,000 for this. Developers and, unfortunately, housing associations have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted, so we doubt that this will be enough.
Southwark charges developers a 2% administration fee on the sum total of financial S106 contributions, including affordable housing. The table below shows this amounts to be a considerable sum each year and far more of it should be invested to ensure that the affordable housing conditions are properly monitored and enforced.
Extract from the Council’s most recent S106 contributions report
We also need an audit not just ‘going forward’ but also one looking back, an historical audit of all relevant planning applications for an least the past 10 years, to retreive the social housing that Southwark Council has lost through being let at higher than social rents. Only when Southwark has done this will we believe that it is ‘leading the fight for social housing’ as it claims and is not the developers’ free-for-all it has been labelled.