Tag Archives: southwark council

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.

Council homes and affordable cinema for all – our plan for Southwark

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.

From the 35% Campaign: Southwark’s lost section 106 social housing

section 106.jpg

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!

Cross posted from 35% campaign

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 Local Government Ombudsman has issued the damning judgement that Southwark Council has no procedure to ensure that social rented housing approved by the Council’s planning committee is actually being delivered. The Ombudsman further found that without a monitoring procedure ‘it is hard to know ..how many social housing units…developers [have] delivered’. Or indeed, how many remain social housing units.’

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.

Background

Our complaint was prompted after we discovered that the Richard Rogers Neo Banksidedevelopment had provided 32 social rented homes fewer than the number agreed at planning committee.

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).

Local news coverage of the story: 21/05/15; 01/10/15; 11/02/16

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;

Colorama buildings

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.

Conclusion

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.

How is she not vulnerable? 7 months and Southwark council still won’t support our member, a DV survivor

southwarkvsouthwark_1

Update from 3rd December 2016:

Yesterday evening we got good news from our member that Southwark council has finally accepted a full homeless duty. It should never have taken 7 months for Southwark to provide this most basic support for our member. The last 7 months have been incredibly stressful and hard for her as she faced negative decisions from the council whilst her refuge served her notice. But together, public pressure made Southwark reverse their original decision that she was not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty. We’re some way away from the secure social housing she needs, and there are constantly new policies to make it even harder for us to access. But it’s important to celebrate this win.

Her lawyer emailed her to congratulate her on winning her case – here he recognised the incredible effort that our member and her supporters went to to achieve this decision!

Thank you to everyone who emailed, tweeted, and supported our member and our group! Especially NELMA who always show amazing twitter solidarity! Thanks Sisters Uncut – South East London for inviting our member raise her case at your meeting with Southwark council. Collective action and solidarity works! Let’s keep on winning together and fight for the quality, secure homes we all need!

Original post:

This Wednesday, South East London Sisters Uncut are meeting with Southwark council to demand safe, secure homes for survivors of domestic violence. We send them our solidarity. Here we provide an update for the case of one of our members, a survivor of domestic violence, who has been challenging Southwark for 7 months now simply for a homeless duty. She desperately needs safe, secure housing so she can get on with her life. Why are Southwark council denying her this? We hope her case can be raised at the meeting and that Southwark are held to account. We hope that Southwark listen to Sisters Uncut and our member and make sure their domestic violence policies give DV survivors the help and support that they need.

In July, we first blogged about our member C who was denied a homeless duty by Southwark council because they deemed her not vulnerable, despite having endured 33 years in an abusive relationship. Hundreds of messages have been sent to Southwark’s councillor for housing, Stephanie Cryan expressing concern and support for C and questioning how the council could find her not vulnerable. But the council have still not accepted a homeless duty.

C then reviewed the council’s appalling decision with the help of lawyers. In the council’s review, they again decided that she was not vulnerable and would not accept a homeless duty. However, they then withdrew this decision. We hoped that they would accept a full homeless duty, but they returned another negative decision. Again, with lawyers, C is reviewing the new negative decision.

In September, C joined a meeting between HASL and Southwark council housing officials where she bravely explained her situation to them and challenged them on their decision. But they still refused to take any action to ensure that she is given the housing help she desperately needs.

C first made her homeless application to Southwark council in May this year. 7 months later and lots of effort and strength on C’s part, C still does not have safe, secure housing. During these 7 months, as well as taking on Southwark council over her own case, C has been a valued HASL member, supporting others with their housing problems too.

How can Southwark council draw out the homeless process for so long for vulnerable homeless people? In October, C was served with a notice to leave from her domestic violence refuge, requesting that she vacate the accommodation on Sunday 13th November. Southwark council must accept a full homeless duty and provide temporary accommodation immediately.

Southwark council’s negative decisions and delays have caused C significant stress and have negatively impacted on her well being. C desperately needs safe secure housing so she can get on with her life. Southwark are denying her this and instead she has spent the last 7 months trying to get them to provide the most basic support of suitable temporary housing.

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 decide DV survivor can be street homeless – Stand up to Southwark council!

Update today, cllr for Housing Stephanie Cryan responded to our email saying that they are looking for private accommodation for C. We have responded that this is unacceptable. We will not let Southwark council avoid a homelessness duty to C with an offer of insecure, unaffordable private rented accommodation. Forcing homeless people into the homelessness-generating private sector is not a solution. Homeless people, particularly survivors of domestic violence, need the security of council housing. We reiterate our request that the council reverse their cruel and harmful decision not to accept a full homeless duty towards C and we invite you to support our demand (see below).

We are deeply concerned and distressed that our member C, who is a survivor of long term domestic abuse which has left her with post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety, panic attacks and other medical issues, has been deemed not in priority need and therefore able to live on the streets by Southwark council yesterday.

We are calling on Southwark to immediately reverse this decision, accept a full homeless duty to C and ensure that she has suitable temporary accommodation in Peckham where she has important family connections. Please join us in tweeting the council @lb_southwark and the councillor for housing @steviecryan to show your support for C.

The new vulnerability test used by councils to decide whether someone is vulnerable enough to be deemed ‘priority need’ – and therefore owed a full homeless duty if other criteria are met as well – looks at whether the applicant would suffer significantly more than ‘an ordinary person’ if they were faced with street homelessness. Clearly our member C, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by many years of domestic abuse, would suffer more than an ‘ordinary person’ if she is forced into street homelessness, which is a very real threat. (Although obviously there are clear problems with this test as no one should be forced into street homelessness.)

We are shocked that the council found otherwise, and we are deeply concerned at some of the reasons they gave in deciding that C can live on the streets – they literally say she has the ‘skills’ to deal with street homelessness. Here are some of the statements made by the housing officer when coming to the decision. C’s attempts to get on with her life, and her vital support networks, are used against her as proof by the housing officer that she can cope with homelessness with statements such as – you made an ESA application, therefore you can live on the streets, you made this homeless application, therefore you can live on the streets. As well as these ridiculous conclusions, there is also a deep lack of understanding of vulnerability (having good mobility and literacy skills are used as evidence that she is not vulnerable) and the daily struggle many survivors experience in dealing with domestic violence. These are just some of the hurtful statements contained in the letter that C read yesterday. (our bold and italics)

This Authority understands that you were naturally adversely affected by your experiences as the victim of domestic abuse. However we are of the opinion that your experiences have not prevented you from managing your affairs and accessing relevant services and support from friends and professionals organisations…As a result, we are satisfied that your medical and social issues have not prevented you from undertaking most everyday tasks. It is therefore considered that you have the ability and skills to cope in your situation of homelessness.”

It is the Council’s opinion that you are not vulnerable as a result of your medical condition or your history of domestic violence. We have considered that these circumstances do not significantly impede your normal function or impair your ability to manage your daily tasks, including using public transport, shopping, cooking and managing your health and finances.”

We are also concerned that when C went for her homelessness interview last month, she was denied her supporter that she requested attend with her. Again highlighting how Southwark council have failed to support the interests and well being of survivors. It is likely that the absence of a supporter would have made the interview more difficult for C.

Last month, with the support of South East London Sisters Uncut we highlighted Southwark’s poor treatment of DV survivors with our member S. Southwark council reversed their decision as a result of public pressure on twitter and promised to investigate and produce a policy to ensure that DV survivors receive adequate support and treatment through the difficult homeless application process. But we have not heard anything from Southwark council about this, and yesterday’s decision clearly shows that staff urgently need training on understanding domestic violence and its impact on survivors’ lives.

We will be supporting C to review the council’s decision, but we also believe it is unfair and detrimental to her well being that she should be made to go through this difficult process. We hope that Southwark will take immediate action to reverse the decision.

HASL guide to gatekeeping

What is gatekeeping?

Gatekeeping is when people are denied the help, services and support they are legally entitled to by council staff employing different tactics to turn us away and make us give up. Gatekeeping is very common is housing offices when people go to make homeless applications and also in social services when people try to access housing help.

Southwark housing office has a particularly bad reputation for gatekeeping. In February, a High Court judge ordered Southwark council ‘to cease with immediate effect the policies and practices’ which had seen a homeless family refused help by the council and told to look for their own accommodation in the private sector.  In May, a homeless man, Mr Kanu, who had been denied help by Southwark council, won in the Supreme Court where the judge ruled that Mr Kanu was entitled to housing. Sadly, Mr Kanu died shortly after this victory. Despite these legal cases, we know that Southwark housing office still continues to gatekeep homeless people.

What does it mean? What are the impacts?

The effects of gatekeeping are to keep vulnerable homeless people homeless or in unsafe, overcrowded housing.  It denies them the immediate housing help they need and their place on the housing register so that they might eventually access secure social housing.

Charities are predicting a particularly bad winter with high street homelessness this year with gatekeeping playing a role in this.

Women trying to escape violence have nowhere safe to go.

For the housing office, it means that their homelessness statistics are kept low so that the true scale of homelessness is hidden.

How do you spot it?

Housing office staff say things like: “I can tell you now, you are intentionally homeless”

“You need to bring more evidence before we can start a homeless application and give you interim housing.”

“We can’t help you, you need to find your own housing in the private sector.”

“You’re not homeless until the bailiffs evict you.”

“If you have a roof, then you are not homeless.”

“If they have a pulse, then they’re not vulnerable”

How can we challenge it?

London Coalition Against Poverty has been going since 2007 and is made up of local groups who meet up and provide support and action on each others housing issues. LCAP groups have long been challenging gatekeeping at their local housing offices by:

Making sure that people know their rights

Providing buddies for each other to attend the housing office together

Visiting the housing office as a big group and refusing to leave until a homeless application has been accepted.

Regular leafleting outside housing offices to talk to people about their rights and the housing group and local campaigns and actions challenging gatekeeping at a local housing office.

 

Don’t struggle alone! It’s easy for them to turn one person away, but if we stand up for each other, we can fight for the support and services that we all need and deserve. We welcome you to get involved and help us organise more ways to challenge gatekeeping.