Tag Archives: southwark council

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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Southwark Council – No more evictions from temporary accommodation

no evictions

Last Monday, we supported one of our members to stop the eviction of her and her daughter from temporary accommodation provided by Southwark council. By emailing and tweeting Southwark councillor Stephanie Cryan and the manager for housing, we were able to get Southwark to stop the eviction.

You can read our tweets here and thanks to everyone for the retweets and tweets in support as it makes such a difference (please keep on following our social media and sign up to our email alerts for future online support).

D and her daughter had only been given a weeks notice from the council that they would be evicted. Due to this short notice, they had not been able to get an appointment at the Citizens Advice Bureau. The eviction was due to rent arrears caused by problems with Universal Credit. D had been in touch previously with the council and they were aware that she had taken steps to deal with the arrears. D is a single parent who does not speak English as her first language. So why were the council being so quick to evict her?

This attempted eviction is not a one-off case. Threats of eviction from temporary accommodation due to rent arrears has become a familiar problem in our group. We have supported 5 other members with this problem this year. There must be many more people who our group has not met who are affected by this problem. One of these families was forced to leave her home but was re-housed the same day after we supported her at the housing office – during the move from one temporary accommodation to the other, her 3 year old daughter broke her leg. Homeless households are already a vulnerable group. Why are Southwark council being so quick to evict them?

Problems with universal credit, low paid and insecure work, and high temporary accommodation rents all mean that it is very easy to fall into rent arrears. Instead of evicting people, homeless households need support to deal with these problems. No one should be evicted from temporary accommodation.

As well as being wrong, we think that some of these eviction threats by Southwark council may be unlawful as the council have told families in temporary accommodation flats that they must leave, but the council have not got a court order which can be required for some types of temporary accommodation.

We are calling on Southwark council to stop all evictions from temporary accommodation and give support to homeless households who are in rent arrears. Homeless families need secure, quality, council homes not evictions!

Southwark council, don’t evict our member F, a survivor of domestic violence

support survivors
Southwark council pledged to improve their treatment and provision for vulnerable survivors of domestic violence, yet one of our members F is facing street homelessness again after Southwark council have refused her a full homeless duty and are ending her temporary accommodation next week.
Our member F suffered domestic abuse for 5 years, she then faced months of sofa surfing and a year and a half in 5 different unsuitable hostels. She does not speak English and she suffers from a number of medical problems which she has struggled to get treatment for due to language and cultural barriers. Yet the council have deemed her not to be vulnerable enough for a full homeless duty.
Southwark’s approach to domestic violence survivors is made clear in this statement in the decision letter:
I have considered that you have previously been a victim of domestic abuse; I do not however consider this would render you vulnerable.
A number of other similar broad and unsubstantiated statements are made about how F is not vulnerable, despite us submitting detailed information about the many vulnerabilities she faces and deals with every day.
If a survivor of domestic violence is not considered to be vulnerable, there is something very wrong with the test that Southwark council are using.
Why is Southwark council not taking domestic violence seriously? Why are they still failing to support survivors? How can they justify making our member street homeless?
F must be given the full homeless duty that she needs so that she has some stability and security. She must be able to access the safe, secure council housing that she needs and deserves.
Southwark must support all survivors of domestic violence and support them to get the safe, secure housing they need.
no evictions

Southwark must support survivors – house F now

gatekeeping letter

When F went to Southwark housing office in September 2017 for the second time to ask for a homeless assessment, she was given this instead. Unlawful gatekeeping.

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.

Original post:

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.

Southwark Families Stuck in Unsuitable Temporary Accommodation – some of our stories

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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.

Solidarity with Ledbury estate tenants from HASL!

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:

  1. Stop decanting Aylesbury estate council tenants now! If estate clearance is stopped it will relieve pressure on the council waiting list immediately.
  2. 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

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.