Tag Archives: Southwark

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!

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Some first thoughts on the Homelessness Reduction Act

On 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force across England.

The Homelessness Reduction Act brings significant changes to the assistance that homeless people will receive from their local council. Under the old homelessness law, single homeless people were often not given any help. This new law is supposed to change that.

However, under the old law we know that many families and individuals who were entitled to assistance were turned away without any help – a practice called gatekeeping.

Will this new law change the culture of gatekeeping that we’ve faced (and challenged!) in the housing office? Will the Homelessness Reduction Act really reduce homelessness?

We know what will reduce homelessness – secure, quality council homes in our communities for everyone, higher wages, higher benefits and an end to racist rules and immigration controls (including Right to Rent, No Recourse to Public Funds, restrictions on EEA benefits being some we’re familiar with).

Unfortunately, the Homelessness Reduction Act doesn’t include any of these. There are really basic homeless law changes that could actually help reduce homelessness such as abolishing priority need which Scotland have done and phasing out intentional homelessness as Wales are doing but it doesn’t even include these good steps.

So what does the Homelessness Reduction Act mean and how does it work?

We’re still trying to understand it fully. There’s a flowchart here which is a useful starting point.

We certainly had strong criticisms of the old homelessness law and process. Many of us in the group have had very bad experiences of it. But trying to understand the HRA makes us miss the fairy simple old homeless law and process.

Our experiences so far of the HRA has included Southwark council’s trial of it over the last year, a homelessness assessment at Lambeth’s housing office and a workshop we attended by Doughty Street Chambers. All of these experiences have given us some deep concerns about the HRA.

There are a number of changes that we believe make things much worse for homeless people under the Homelessness Reduction Act and we are very worried about their impact:

More stress for homeless people – Personalised Housing Plans are patronising

The Personalised Housing Plan that every homeless person must follow is deeply patronising. It brings in the harmful conditionality that has been running out of job centres where the blame and responsibility is placed on the claimant/homeless person. During this severe housing crisis, homelessness law is placing responsibility on homeless people to solve homelessness themselves. Homeless people often visit the housing office as a last resort after exhausting all their other options. As if being homeless wasn’t difficult enough, as if people haven’t done everything to prevent their homelessness already, they are being given extra tasks under threat of sanction.

Under the old law homeless families could get interim/ temporary housing from the council – alongside this, if they wished, they could look for alternative housing completely voluntarily, so the PHP simply acts as a coercive and patronising tool.

Worse rights for homeless people – 6 month private tenancies create a cycle of homelessness and poverty

The new law allows the council to discharge their duty to a homeless household with a section 193A offer. This is a 6 month private tenancy. This offer is far worse than the previous private sector discharge offer that a council could force on a homeless household under the old law. Under the old law, a council could discharge their homeless duty by offering a 12 month private sector tenancy with 2 years protection if they became homeless again. This private sector tenancy had to meet a list of criteria to make sure it was decent quality. If the household became homeless within 2 years of the start of the tenancy, then they would have an automatic homeless duty with the council.

6 month private sector tenancies for homeless households is the exact opposite of what homeless households need – after enduring homelessness, you need security that you will not face this again. Secure council tenancies provide this. A 6 month private tenancy means that homeless households will face a cycle of homelessness, insecurity and poverty.

The new law is even more complicated than the old law

The new homelessness process and law is not easy to understand. Flow charts appear to be the favored way to explain it, it is much more complicated than the previous law. These flow charts show many routes and options – but getting to secure, quality council housing looks further away than ever before. Before, we were able to use our clear and simple leaflet with the 5 tests that a council would do to investigate for your case. Whilst the old law was still difficult to understand, it was simple enough that we could know and share our basic rights. We have certainly struggled to get our heads around the new law.

Slowing down and drawing out an already difficult process

Under the old law, the council had 33 working days to investigate a case and make a decision on whether the applicant was owed a full homeless duty. Now, if you are homeless, the council have 56 days under the relief duty to investigate your case and come to a decision. This increased wait will simply mean more stress and delays for the homeless household awaiting their decision.

Some positive developments?

Of course, ensuring that everyone who approaches the council as homeless or facing homelessness gets help is a welcome development. Although under the old law, the council did have a duty to provide ‘advice and assistance’ to anyone who approached as homeless. Most councils just regularly chose to gatekeep single homeless applicants instead from this duty.

The new law also possibly provides better support for those households who are in priority need and deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ as a duty under section 190(2) arise. Although again under the old law councils were supposed to give households a reasonable amount of time to find other accommodation. Nearly Legal confirms that the new law ‘potentially’ gives households more time than under the old law.

What’s been happening in Southwark who piloted the Homelessness Reduction Act?

Southwark council explain their pilot of the Homelessness Reduction Act

Southwark council were featured in a Guardian article on the Homelessness Reduction Act. They explain the ‘positive effects’ of the Homelessness Reduction Act in the borough:

  • Numbers of households being put up in temporary homes have halved in a year, and the use of unsuitable and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation has been eliminated.

The dramatic halving of households provided with temporary accommodation cannot be denied, but how exactly was this achieved? What has happened to those families now? (By the looks of it they have been housed out of borough in private rented housing – see next bullet point.)

Before the HRA the council had been able to avoid the use of B&B accommodation to house homeless families. It was only in June 2016 when the council first started using B&Bs. Before this they had not used B&B accommodation at all for homeless families. It is already unlawful to house families in B&B accommodation for over 6 weeks (and the law says that councils should do everything they can to avoid housing families in B&Bs at all) so homeless households already had protection against this and Southwark should not have been housing families in B&B accommodation.

  • People threatened with homelessness were helped to find homes in the private rental sector – though this was often many miles away in outer London boroughs.

Housing people outside of their communities in private rented accommodation cannot be seen as a positive effect. This is social cleansing. Being re-housed in outer boroughs also means that they will no longer be entitled to be on Southwark’s housing waiting list so that they will not stand a chance of moving back to their home borough in council housing. Southwark council says that 358 households were placed in private rented accommodation (although it does not say whether this was in or outside of the borough). These families will have missed out on the protections afforded to them that you do have in temporary accommodation with a homeless duty (for example, the ability to review suitability of temporary accommodation, immediate rehousing if the temporary accommodation private landlord wants you out, ‘reasonable preference’ on the housing register and certain standards in the quality of the private rented accommodation with private sector discharge).

  • The borough provided mediation to rehouse young people at home after they had been thrown out by their family following a row.

What was the quality of this mediation? Was it really effective or did young people just give up on pursuing a homeless duty? Young people cannot remain in their family home forever and often family tensions and rows arise from being forced to live together, something mediation cannot resolve.

  • In some cases it paid off tenants’ rent areas.

This is of course a positive thing.

  • In the first year Southwark topped up the £1m government grant it received to test the new system with £750,000 of its own cash.

Depending on the true outcomes for homeless households and those threatened with homelessness that will determine whether this was money spent in support for vulnerable families or gatekeeping and socially cleansing them.

Our experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act in Southwark

Same old gatekeeping – reducing homelessness by pretending it doesn’t exist?

Our member M approached the council as homeless. M and her family were living in M’s mother’s flat. The two families were very overcrowded living together in the small flat and M’s mother asked her to leave. M approached the council to make a homeless application, but they told her that they could not open a homeless application until after 56 days had passed.

J and his family faced a similar situation living at J’s mother in law flat which was two small to house both families. J, his wife and his two children all share a single room. The stress of the situation lead J’s mother in law to ask his family to leave. They made a homeless appointment with the council but again it seemed the housing officer was reluctant to open a homeless application. They were told that they could remain in their current housing situation while they looked for other places to live. The housing officer suggested that they have mediation between J and his mother in law so that J’s family could remain in the home. Since the first homelessness appointment, J heard nothing from the housing officer (despite making a complaint about this) and 3 months have passed.

Our member F made her homeless application in October last year when the council were trialling the Homelessness Reduction Act, yet she heard nothing from the council about her application for months. When she faced eviction from her hostel this April, it took a twitter storm before the council would confirm temporary accommodation for her.

We have been supporting all of these members with their cases.

Another HASL member met a young street homeless man on the street. He was a care leaver. He told her he had been to the housing office for help but was turned away.

What can we do?

We’ll be organising leafleting sessions to speak with people about their experiences of getting housing help from the council and we’re also organising a Homelessness Reduction Act workshop with Southwark Law Centre to learn our rights together.

Join your local housing action group to support each other with housing problems and fight together for the good quality, secure homes in our communities that we all need and deserve! The Homelessness Reduction Act won’t reduce homelessness, it’s up to us!

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.

Southwark council, no more delays – safe housing now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stop another social housing sell off! Join our twitter storm this Friday.

This Friday, housing associations will vote on whether to go ahead with selling off their/our social housing under an extended Right to Buy. Only, the decision has been made already. Either housing associations vote YES and allow their social housing stock to be sold off, or the government plans to push this Right to Buy of Housing Association homes through Parliament.

Thatcher’s original Right to Buy decimated social housing, contributing to the huge housing crisis we now face. There is massive demand for quality, secure, social housing but housing associations and the government are looking to sell-off the little we have left.

As a group of homeless people, badly and precariously housed people, and social housing tenants, this proposed sell-off affects us all. We totally oppose any sell-off of social housing. Many of us are in desperate need of quality, secure, social housing in our communities.

As part of these plans, the discount given to tenants to buy their housing association home will be paid for by the sell-off of COUNCIL HOUSING. We expect that council housing in Lambeth and Southwark (areas that now have become incredibly valuable) will be under threat for selling off to pay for discounts to help with the sell-off of housing association homes. This means more social cleansing as council homes in high value areas will be lost – meaning poor people can no longer live here.

We probably can’t stop the housing associations voting YES this Friday, lots of them have made their minds up already – but we will continue to organise, take action, and make our voices heard in our communities to make the sell-off as difficult as possible.

Twitter storm this Friday anyone? Are you a social housing tenant or someone in housing need? Angry at social cleansing and profiteering private landlords? Why not let your council and the housing associations know your opposition to the Housing Association Right to Buy this Friday as the Housing Associations go to vote. You can contact them on social media, and be sure to include us @housingactionsl.

Media Coverage of the Park Street Council Houses Occupation

We’ve now been occupying 21&23 Park street for a week in protest at Southwark council’s sell off of council housing and the wider housing crisis we face. We’ve had loads of people stopping by and showing their support for us – we’ve even received a greetings card in the post. We’d like to say a massive thanks for all of this support.

The occupation has received a good deal of media coverage in the national press. The mainstream media have picked up on the fact that housing is a major concern for most people – from housing benefit cuts, poor quality housing, temporary accommodation, stationary housing waiting lists, sky-high rents – and it is good to see some decent writing on the issue. It is quite something to see our ‘Homes For All!’ banner emblazoned on the front page of the Evening Standard. We’ve collected a selection of some of the media coverage we’ve had here. Whilst it’s nice to have hit the pages of national media, the most quality stuff is definitely from independent media sources and blogs, so make sure you check these out! Stay in touch with us by following and chatting with us on our blog, facebook, and Twitter. Drop us an email at haslemail[at]gmail.com if you’d like to be put on our announcements email list.

National Media Coverage

Guardian feature by Amelia Gentleman featuring supportive local resident Maureen

Interesting piece in the Observer about the history of the Park street building

Our Comment is Free piece

Article on the BBC website

Financial Times article (behind a paywall – boo)

Article in The Independent

Independent media

Schnews piece

Occupied Times interview

People’s Republic of Southwark

London SE1

London SE1 discussion forum

Squash

Squat Net

We’ll be having a stall in Windrush square this Saturday from 11am -3pm to hand out our ‘Resist Evictions’ posters and to talk with people about their housing problems and about the group.