A Deliberate Act: Southwark Council Blames Victims of Housing Crisis

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Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth support the migrant families resisting inhumane housing conditions in Southwark and Lambeth.



Migrant families enduring some of the most appalling housing conditions having been campaigning for their housing rights, including a recent action canvassing the canvassers on the Walworth road.

No one denies there is a housing crisis in London. Well, no one apart from Southwark council, who instead have chosen to blame some of their most vulnerable residents for their housing situations. Members of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, living in statutorily overcrowded housing, were shocked to receive letters from the council telling them that their housing conditions had been caused by a 'deliberate act' by the families. Because the overcrowding was deemed a 'deliberate act' the council would not be giving them priority on the housing waiting list that they should be eligible for.

Understandably, the families, who have experienced homelessness as well as years of overcrowded and poor quality accommodation, were deeply distressed to read that it was considered their fault and that they would be denied the urgent help they need. For the last year, whilst enduring their appalling housing conditions, the four families have been campaigning with HASL for their basic housing rights. The efforts and determination of these families are incredible. In HASL, supporters have seen the hugely detrimental impacts that the overcrowded housing conditions have had on the families, particularly on young children. The parents regularly express their concerns for their children. The poor treatment of the council in dealing with the cases has only added to their problems. You can see them explain their situations here.

These families are Spanish-speaking migrant families. Like most Londoners, they struggled to find suitable private rented accommodation because of high costs by exploitative private landlords. As they did not have English as their first language, they faced additional difficulty and discrimination in accessing housing on the private rented market. The families' children was another reason landlords gave when they refused to rent to them. For these reasons, they took the only accommodation they could access and this meant that some of the families were forced to live together in one tiny room, whilst others shared a small studio flat.

Statutory overcrowding is actually a very hard definition to meet. This shows how serious the overcrowding these families face is. The out-of-date 1935 definition of statutory overcrowding was described by the previous Labour government as 'no longer defensible in modern society' and plans were made for the standard to be updated by secondary legislation, however this never happened. However, with the growing housing crisis, more and more people, particularly migrant families, are forced to live in these inhumane conditions.

The decision letter issued to the families by the council reads like racist victim-blaming. The council question why the families came to Southwark – despite the fact that the families had already voluntarily explained this to the council. And the council refuses to accept that they faced discrimination when trying to access housing. Another reason the council give for the 'deliberate act' decision is that the families should have been able to access suitable private rented accommodation. However, Southwark council, with paid staff who speak fluent English, have been unable to do this for the borough's homeless families. Southwark council have recently housed 165 families in Bed and Breakfast accommodation over the 6 week limit in December 2016 from statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Why then are they blaming vulnerable migrant families for their poor housing conditions?

The families have shown immense strength in challenging the council's appalling decision. For the last year they have endured the council's incredibly slow official processes whilst all the time campaigning on their cases. For many of the families the council took almost an entire year to finally issue decisions on their cases – this significant and unnecessary time delay is of great concern as well. The families and their supporters have occupied the town hall in October highlighting the 'House of Horror' conditions they face and have attempted to speak at the council's Cabinet meeting about their situations, yet they have time and again been responded to with inadequate excuses from the council and councillors. Last Saturday, the families and supporters canvassed Labour canvassers on the Walworth road to ask for their support. The group handed out leaflets outside Morrisons on the Walworth road and displayed their banner receiving lots of support from passersby. Over 300 people have signed a petition in support of the families. 

The families are now having to take stressful and lengthy legal action in order to secure such basic housing rights. It's impossible to understand why the council are so determined to hold on to their hateful and harmful decision. The families are determined to keep on fighting and their struggle is vital to stop local councils blaming their most vulnerable residents for the housing crisis.

 

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