Tag Archives: southwark council

Don’t blame families for overcrowding!

A recent report showed that there are people 3.6 million people living in overcrowded housing.

Another report shows that 94% of private rented homes are too expensive for families on housing benefit.

Almost everyone accepts there is a housing crisis and that the root causes are the unregulated private rented sector, benefit cuts, low wages, and lack of social housing. There is huge support for social housing as one of the main solutions.

But Southwark council have taken a new approach to the housing crisis. They are blaming overcrowding on families themselves.

Recently, 5 families have received decisions telling them that they have deliberately caused their overcrowding. They have been put in band 4 at the bottom of the housing list where they have no chance of social housing. This is a big change in policy for Southwark council. Previously overcrowded families would be placed into band 3 and depending on the level of overcrowding, they may qualify for a priority star for statutory overcrowding. Some families may qualify for band 1. Now these families are being denied any priority for overcrowding and statutory overcrowding, a serious and severe level of overcrowding.

So what is going on?

These decisions are wrong, immoral and, we think, unlawful. They are hurtful and devastating for our members who receive them. How can Southwark council justify making these decisions against their own residents? Why are they blaming and targeting the victims of the housing crisis?

Many of these families are migrant families who already face significant discrimination and barriers to accessing decent housing. Why are Southwark council introducing new anti-migrant, discriminatory policies into their housing register?

We have written to Southwark’s councillor for housing Kieron Williams asking him for answers and to advocate on behalf of our members and all overcrowded families. 

The council must immediately change these decisions and give our members the priority they are entitled to.

We also feel our members are being targeted. We made a Freedom of Information request asking how many households had been placed into band 4 for ‘worsening circumstances’. In the last 12 months, there have been ‘less than 10’. However, in the last few months, 4 of our members have been put into band 4.

Our members are stuck in appalling conditions in overcrowded housing because they have no other option, they could not rent anywhere else. They have been discriminated against by private landlords who won’t rent to them because they are claim benefits, because they do not speak English, and for having children.

Now they are discriminated against by Southwark council who tell them the overcrowding is their own fault.

Meanwhile, we know that Southwark council are housing homeless families in temporary accommodation that is overcrowded, including temporary accommodation that is statutory overcrowded. When our members challenge the council on these overcrowded conditions, the council are happy to use the housing crisis as their excuse.

We will be campaigning in support of our HASL families and all overcrowded families to make Southwark treat them properly!

 

Protest for a Home Close to School

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a home close to school

All this situation is affecting us physically and psychologically. It impacts on our education, work, welfare and health. We have asked to the Council to move back to Southwark, but instead of helping us to move back, they offer us a house at Birmingham.

I am the main carer for my parents, who are in their late seventies, they do not speak English and live in Southwark. My mum has high blood pressure and mild dementia. My dad cannot walk too much as he has problems on his knees. They have been in trouble many times because my mum at middle of the night feels bad and needs to go to hospital, they have to wait for me at least one hour.

Taking to our daughters to school is a big deal, we take the bus because we do not have enough money to take the train. They have to wake up early and leave the house early. Usually, there are not seats available in the bus. This is a long journey and they want a seat because they want to sleep. They arrive tired to school. Many times they want to go to the toilet, we have to get off from the bus in any place. Sometimes, there is traffic. We frequently arrive late at school, at least 2 or 3 times per week.

Last Thursday, over 50 HASL members occupied Southwark HQ for two hours calling for homeless families to be given: a home close to school.

Homeless families in Southwark and across London are being housed in temporary accommodation further and further away from their schools, communities, and work places. This is having a hugely negative impact on our daily lives. Children are sick on the long bus journeys to and from school. They fall asleep in school because they are so tired from the journey. Their education and welfare is suffering. GCSEs are stressful enough without adding 4 hour+ bus travel each day. Parents are tired from the school run and from long commutes to work. They don’t have as much time and energy to spend with their family. Parents have had to reduce their work or change work. Parents’ immigration status can be affected if they cannot work enough hours. Temporary accommodation a long way from our home boroughs can impact every aspect of our lives.

Whilst our members are forced to endure these long journeys to school, homes on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth lie empty. We were at the town hall in support of 4 HASL families who are housed on the outskirts of London and whose children are currently studying for their GCSEs. The families also have other urgent circumstances which mean they need to be housed close to their former homes and communities. They are asking to be housed in temporary accommodation on the Aylesbury estate which is close to their secondary schools. This was the demand we made to Southwark and that the families made directly to Michael Scorer, the Strategic Director for Housing and Modernisation, when he came to speak to us.

Southwark council’s own temporary accommodation policy says that families with children studying for crucial exams like GCSEs should be given priority for re-housing in the borough. So we wanted to know why they have not been following their own policy.

It was our biggest and loudest protest to date and the energy and determination of the group was inspiring! For the whole time, we made noise and chanted so that Southwark council could not ignore us. Our members made a line across the hall forming a blockade. Eventually, Michael Scorer, came down to speak to us. Our members made him give them his word that he would support their cases. He promised to look into the cases and give a response as soon as he could the following week. The families are anxiously waiting to hear from him about their cases.

Everyone in our protest had direct experience of living in temporary accommodation or living in overcrowded private rented housing. Everyone understood and felt the very real suffering of bad housing. They came out to support other members of the group and show such strong solidarity.

HASL children and young people played a strong and vital role in the protest speaking about the stress and exhaustion they face studying for GCSEs and spending so much time travelling to and from school. One child made her own placard about the eviction attempt her family had faced and the long journey she has every day to school.

Our demand to the council to be housed in empty flats on the Aylesbury estate, close to school, is fair and practical – we are after all just asking them to follow their own policy as well as homelessness law. Why force people to travel miles where there are empty flats available?

The situation for homeless families in temporary accommodation is getting worse. Due to a lack of council housing, (as a result of disastrous national policies as well as in part due to Southwark council’s sell-off and demolition of council homes), there are not enough 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes on the housing waiting list so our members are stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation for years. This cannot continue! Southwark council must house families in their home borough such as on the empty homes on the Aylesbury estate. We need 3, 4, 5 bedroom council homes now!

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Southwark council – support L & F and all DV survivors

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Last week, we occupied Southwark council’s HQ on Tooley street in support of our members F & L to demand that they get the full homeless duties they desperately need and to stop L’s imminent eviction. We also wanted to highlight the poor treatment that survivors of domestic violence face when trying to get safe, secure housing.

F & L are two long-term HASL members who are both homeless survivors of domestic violence. They also both suffer from significant medical problems which affect them on a daily basis. However, despite submitting strong medical evidence and other supporting evidence, the council have deemed them not vulnerable enough to qualify for a homeless duty.

Of course, all survivors of domestic violence should be considered vulnerable and qualify for a homeless duty. Homelessness law needs to be much better, it does not do enough to protect and house vulnerable homeless people. In our group, we constantly try to highlight, organise and campaign on this. No one should be put through a degrading vulnerability test. Everyone needs and deserve good quality, safe, secure housing.

But Southwark council cannot shift the blame here. Their actions and treatment of our members within the current inadequate homelessness law cannot be justified either.

  • In the face of so much evidence, how can Southwark council deem our members not vulnerable?
  • Why have our members faced repeated eviction attempts by the council which has made their health even worse?
  • How can Southwark council justify the appalling statements and misinformation in their decision letters about the women? As well as the entire homelessness process being traumatising for the women?

When we visited the town hall in support of F & L this poor treatment continued as we faced deeply rude treatment from senior male housing staff. Our member L was left ‘reeling’ by their behaviour and attitude to our group of women, some of whom are survivors of domestic violence. We are women dealing with housing problems, doing child-care, dealing with medical problems, doing paid-work and supporting our members.

The housing manager told a supporter that L must accept private accommodation (an area was written on a scrap of paper – an area which is away from L’s support networks). We explained this would end her homelessness appeal which will be heard in court. He replied that it would not.

Either he does not understand homelessness law, or he was lying to us. Both are worrying.

Despite our best efforts and determined efforts from L’s solicitors who repeatedly requested accommodation as their client was at ‘high-risk’ if made street homeless – the council went ahead with the eviction the following morning.

We will continue to support our members with their cases to get the safe, secure, quality council housing in their local communities that they need. We will continue to fight to get better treatment for all survivors.

Thank you to everyone on twitter who showed their support, the response was great and boosted us all.

Thank you to South East London Sisters Uncut for their support.

And thanks to South West Londoner for a good write up here

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

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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

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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.
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Southwark must support survivors – house F now

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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.