Today, members of Haringey Housing Action Group distributed leaflets outside Apex House (South Tottenham Customer Service Centre), to make people aware about some changes that councils are making to the way they house homeless households. This was just one of many actions happening across London as part of the Radical Housing Network’s week of action. (Read about HASL’s occupation of Lambeth Town Hall.)
Since November 2012, there have been some important changes to homelessness provision by local councils. These changes mean that homeless people that the council have a duty to house may now only be entitled to private sector accommodation.
Previously, homeless households could refuse a council’s offers of private sector accommodation and wait until secure, affordable social housing became available (often waiting for years, living in poor quality temporary accommodation). However, now, if a council makes an offer of a one-year tenancy in the private sector, people will be forced into taking this offer or face the council ending its duty towards them.
Moving Homeless Households out of London
Haringey Council has reportedly not been using this option because private housing in our borough would be unaffordable to most people in temporary accommodation, and so would not be suitable. This has not stopped council officers from putting pressure on homeless households to accept private rented accommodation on the outskirts of London, and in places as far away as Birmingham. The council’s official policy does not state that they are doing this, but our members, and other people we have spoken to, say that it happens on a regular basis. Many people are not aware that the council does not have a policy in place yet and are scared that they have to agree to such suggestions or face losing any support from the council for good.
The council is now looking to put through a policy some time in March so that it can officially move people out of London in large numbers (see the Council’s Corporate Plan proposals – Agenda item “P5 Savings”. Such a policy will break up existing family and support networks. Many people rely on such networks for language support and informal childcare provision. However, this kind of informal support often extends to helping people with benefit claims, finding decent employment and basic legal advice. If these networks are destroyed, then families will be faced with going to official bodies like the council for much more of their needs and for any queries. The total cost to public bodies is certain to increase as a result, because this work is being done on a voluntary and unpaid basis at the moment.
It is also intending for temporary accommodation to be used to make it easier to carry out its estate demolition plans, by placing homeless families in estates earmarked for demolition or “decanted permanent stock”. We have already heard from people who have been moved into such properties. Any attempt by the tenant to get the council to fit basic security or carry out repairs was met with a big blank.
Our housing action group is against the use of any force being used to divide families and friends. There is enough space in Haringey for the households that want housing, the problems are that the housing is unaffordable, in a poor state of repair and is controlled by those who only want to turn a profit, rather than those who want a home. And yet, the council tries to convince us that the best option is to demolish existing council estates and replace them with fewer council homes for social rent.
Changes to Council Housing Allocations
Councils have also been granted the power to change the way they allocate council housing. Haringey Council is in the process of making changing to its own allocation policy. Many other London councils have changed their policies so that homeless people are no longer in high enough priority to stand a chance of getting much needed social housing. Some are increasing the amount of time someone has lived in the borough before they can even go on the waiting list.
These policies make it more difficult for everyone to access decent housing, and mask the real demand for such housing. However, while many people are now understanding the problem facing relatively well-off middle classes – of a lack of affordable housing to buy, and to rent in the private sector – there doesn’t appear to be as much being said about the problems that households in temporary accommodation will soon be facing. This is something that our group, along with our sister groups in London Coalition Against Poverty, would like to change.
Please come along to one of our meetings if you would like to help.
Join the mass Lobby of Haringey Council,5.30pm, Tuesday 10th February, outside Civic Centre, High Road, Wood Green, N22 8LE
As part of its plans to make £70m cuts, the council wants to pass a policy to move up to 3,000 households in temporary accommodation out of the borough, and ultimately out of London. In particular, this will apply to households that the applied to the council as homeless after November 2012, and whom council has accepted a duty to house. In addition, thousands of council homes across the borough, including 1,000 at Broadwater Farm, are to be proposed for demolition, according to the Council’s revised Local Plan. The council has stated that it does not intend to replace the demolished homes with an equivalent number of new council homes, because the new homes will be of better quality.
*** People around the borough will be coming to protest against Cuts of £70 million.
*** Housing demolitions are also part of the Cuts budget
*** Bring placards and banners, bring your neighbours and friends!
Please get involved the various campaigns around housing in the borough, including Haringey Housing Action Group, Haringey Defend Council Housing and Our Tottenham. People power can make the difference. Read the rest of this post »
Below is a statement from Haringey Defend Council Housing on the council’s new proposed tenancy strategy which will now go out for consultation:
This is a tremendous victory for tenants who have bitterly opposed proposals by Cllr Alan Strickland (Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration) for new council tenancies of five years only, with options for renewal, but without any appeals procedure.It is also a victory for those Councillors who have blocked and criticised Cllr Strickland’s plans. They know who they are. Thanks are due to everybody who spoke out, and helped to secure this decision.
Once again, members of Haringey Housing Action Group found ourselves at the Hackney offices of Shian Housing Association, along with supporters from Fuel Poverty Action.
We were supporting one of our members, and her neighbours. They are all tenants of Shian HA and have been living in new-build properties in Tottenham for over three years. All that time they have been facing electricity bills four times higher than they should expect to pay.
We were met with similar stonewalling tactics to before. No staff member who had any knowledge of the problem was able to speak to us – not even on the phone. In a particularly twisted gesture, one male member of staff informed us that someone would be coming to speak to us, telling us to wait. When no one came, we chased it up with his colleague, she told us that in fact it was the police who had been called.
Is this really the best way of dealing with complaints from tenants struggling to pay their fuel bills?
The Dorothy Smith Lane homes were fitted with Nibe Fighter boilers, which use exhaust air heat pumps, with back-up immersion heaters. There have been numerous problems from the beginning:
- some boilers were installed incorrectly and parts were missing
- poor heating temperatures and high electricity bills
At the office today, the tenants were told they could make a formal complaint, despite the fact that they have already made a complaint, some of them more than once. Shian appear to be using their complaints procedure as a way of not dealing with the issue.
Tenants from other housing associations have experienced the same problems. They’ve been reported on BBC News and BBC’s Rip Off Britain, with positive results. A housing association in Runcorn replaced the boiler in 69 properties, following complaints. Others have also compensated tenants for the extra money they have paid on electricity.
But Shian continue to put the blame for the high bills on the tenants of Dorothy Smith Lane. They say it’s down to “user control”.
We want Shian to:
- acknowledge that the problem of high fuel bills is not down to the tenants’ use
- commit to fitting new heating systems for all tenants that want one
- contact the Tottenham tenants to carry out surveys for a new heating system
- compensate the tenants for the fuel bills already paid while the complaints have been going on
We found this question and answer in the agenda papers for the council meeting on 21 July 2014:
WRITTEN QUESTION 4 – TO THE CABINET MEMBER FOR HOUSING AND REGENERATION [Cllr Alan Strickland] FROM COUNCILLOR CONNOR:
How many Council homes has the Council built since 2010?
In November 2013, the Cabinet approved a Housing Investment and Estate Renewal Strategy that supports the development of new Council homes. Homes are currently being designed and need to go through the planning process, so no homes have yet been built, but applications will start going to planning committee from September.
During 2015, construction will commence on the first of 95 new homes (62 for rent, 32 for low cost home ownership and 1 for open market sale) and, of these, 41 are expected to be completed in 2016 and the other 54 are expected to be completed in 2017. Funding and suitable sites are being identified in order to ensure that the Council is able to deliver a bigger and more ambitious new build programme in future years.
Or, in one word: NONE.
Meanwhile, almost 3,000 families are being housed by Haringey Council in temporary accommodation, some for as long as ten years, while they wait for an offer of permanent housing to come up.