We recently supported one of our members, M, who faced gatekeeping from Haringey Council when she attempted to apply as homeless. This was not a one-off incident. Our previous experiences show that the council consistently fails to do its duty, and the comments made to M by a housing officer confirm this. We’re calling on Haringey Council to stop its unlawful gatekeeping practices.
M first reported her homelessness in July, and was moved back and forth between advisers. She told them she was due to be evicted in October, that she couldn’t afford a deposit for a new home, and that she is vulnerable because of her physical health. This should have given the council reason to believe M was homeless, meaning that they had a duty to offer her a homelessness assessment. At the very least, if they refused to do so, they should have given her a S.184 letter explaining why.
Instead, the housing officer gave her the phone number of a caravan site in Essex – despite the fact that M’s friends and support networks are in Haringey. She was told that her health problems ‘aren’t that bad’, that ‘we all have problems’, and that she might qualify for help after spending a night on the streets. When she was leaving, a security guard told her she had no reason to be presenting as homeless.
M says, “I cried at the housing office. I did not cry because I thought I would sleep on the streets. I cried because they were treating me less than human, like a dog.”
Haringey Housing Action Group got together with M and wrote a letter setting out her case and demanding that they offer her a homelessness assessment. In October, the day before her eviction date, we accompanied her to the housing office. What we were told there was incredibly worrying.
First, the housing officer said that he would never have referred her to the homelessness team without the letter we wrote together. The council have a duty to offer an assessment if they have reason to believe you’re homeless and eligible – not if you’ve written a letter. This attitude discriminates against anyone who doesn’t speak or write English well, or can’t access the materials for a letter, and anyone who doesn’t know what their rights are.
Secondly, he refused to offer her an appointment until the following day – three hours after she was due to be evicted. Without an assessment, we didn’t know whether she would be offered interim accommodation or not. This meant that M didn’t know, at the time she was evicted, whether she would have somewhere to sleep that night. She also had nowhere to move her belongings.
Thirdly, he said he hadn’t referred M to the homelessness team earlier because he didn’t believe she was ill enough to qualify. He told us he had been recently given training on vulnerability, and that the message he’d been given was “if it has a pulse it’s not vulnerable.” He also said “If I referred everyone who presented as vulnerable to the homelessness team, I’d be out of my job within a day.” It’s clear that the council has created a work environment in which staff are pressured to gatekeep under threat of losing their jobs. This shows that their gatekeeping practices are not accidental or occasional, but a deliberate strategy by Haringey Council to dodge their duties.
M says, “When I went to the housing office on my own I was ignored and turned away. When I went with a group I was told by security that having a group with me would hurt my case. But turning up with a group was the only way I got help.
I want Haringey Council to understand that I am not a thief. I am not an animal. I cannot work because am sick. I cannot save for a deposit or pay expensive rent because I am not working. I deserved to be listened to and treated like a human being, and I wasn’t.”
Fortunately, when M was finally given an assessment the council accepted that it had a duty to house her, and for now she has accommodation. But because she was refused an assessment until after her eviction she had to go through the stress of being evicted without knowing where she would end up.
This should never have happened. Haringey Council should have believed M the first time she presented as homeless, when there was plenty of time for them to give her an assessment before her eviction. Instead, they palmed her off, failed in their duty, and caused her a huge amount of stress and difficulty.
We want an apology from Haringey Council for the way M was treated. We demand that Haringey Council stop training its staff to impose unfair and illegal vulnerability tests. That it stop pressurising its staff into unlawful gatekeeping practices. And that it stop all gatekeeping practices immediately.
M is a Haringey resident. She is due to be evicted by the council this Tuesday (10 November). When she came to our meeting last week, she told us that the council want to evict her because of rent arrears, despite the fact that she has already put a plan in place to pay her arrears off, and has been steadily paying them off since earlier this year.
Because M made a verbal agreement with the council to pay off her arrears, and because she has followed that agreement completely, we think it would be utterly unreasonable for Haringey Council to evict her. It would also cause considerable hardship to her and her daughter, not only putting them through the stress of an eviction, but effectively forcing the family off the council’s waiting list and denying them the permanent home they have been waiting for for over a decade.
M is currently living in temporary accommodation – she is there because she applied to the council as homeless and the council accepted a duty to house her, placing her in temporary accommodation until permanent housing became available. Despite the name, there’s nothing temporary about it. Due to the incredible scarcity of council housing, families usually wait several years to move; M has been in temporary accommodation for 11 years.
By evicting her, Haringey Council may permanently damage M and her daughter’s access to suitable, affordable and secure housing. Due to M’s rent arrears they may find her ‘intentionally homeless’, saying that she caused this homelessness herself by falling behind on rent. They may then refuse to house her at all.
It will also mean that M will no longer be eligible for the permanent home she and her daughter have waited for, and been entitled to, since 2004. They should never have been waiting this long: temporary housing should be temporary, not semi-permanent.
We want to know why Haringey Council is trying to evict a woman and her child when she has already proactively made a verbal agreement to pay what she owes. We want to know why they’re trying to evict her when she has followed the agreed repayment plan. We want to know why they’re trying to evict her when she is so close to securing a permanent tenancy for a council or housing association property.
Please support M in standing up to Haringey Council by sharing this article and publicising her case. You can also share your feelings about the council (via Twitter – @haringeycouncil).
We are regular users of Apex House, which is where the council’s housing office is based. And we were alarmed to hear the plans for it – both to re-build it as a 22-storey eyesore with most of it being let as privately rented homes by an institutional/commercial landlord. We’ve spoken to staff at the Housing Office who are also shocked that this is what the land will be used for. In their informed opinion, the area needs more genuinely affordable social housing – not housing at market rent levels! But there are no plans for social housing on the site, and who knows what kind of affordable housing. Possibly only Shared Ownership, which as many of us know, is generally not affordable to current residents of Tottenham.
You can read our previous article about the development here. But the rest of this article is a plea received from the Friends of Marcus Garvey library to register your objections (or support) by this Friday (30th October). We have pasted it in full – the only small thing we would disagree with is the idea that Grainger has thrown crumbs our way – what about the sweeteners they got for the area around Wards Corner? And just how much have they paid for the Apex House site? They are building an empire in Tottenham, and it is being gifted to them by Haringey Council. Read on for how to stop them (at least for now).
Text from Friends of Marcus Garvey Library:
Objections to the 22 storey monstrosity which the developers Graingers wish to impose on the beleaguered community of Tottenham must be received by the Council by the 30th of October. So far there have only been 39 objections to the building which has come to be known as Fag Packet Towers which is planned to be built on the site of Apex House.
It is worth remembering that it is only because the Council declared the Apex House building ‘surplus to requirements’ and needed somewhere to house all the staff that we have been forced to campaign for our library. It is only because the Apex House staff are being squeezed into the upper floor of the Marcus Garvey library that we are faced with a fifty per cent reduction in library space.
There is a lot we could say about the deal which resulted in the building being sold off by the Council for peanuts. But let’s focus on the facts, i.e. what’s in it, or rather what’s not in it for Tottenham residents.
We understand that Graingers have thrown a few crumbs our way, but there will be nothing above ground level for Tottenham people. In addition, the flats in the rest of the building will be totally unaffordable for the majority of Tottenham residents.
What is the point of putting up a 22 storey ‘landmark’ building in an area consisting mainly of modest Victorian terraces? Clearly that area around the tube does need ‘improving’, but this building is clearly just an extreme example of willy-waving by Graingers.
Graingers need to reduce the size of the building and create something worthy of the people of Tottenham. We understand that they are supposed to be the biggest private landlord in the UK. They therefore need to spend invest some of their cash reserves in creating plans for housing the local community can actually stomach and afford.
Please support the campaign to reduce the size of the building and improve its the aesthetics. To call it cheap and cheerful is simply being too kind.
The link to lodge your objections is below:
and you can also use
HGY/2015/2915 on the Haringey Council Planning web page.
The Friends of Marcus Garvey Library
Focus E15 fought an inspiring campaign for better housing for their members, after Newham Council pulled the funding on their homeless hostel. They faced eviction and the prospect of being dispersed around the country, but using a variety of tactics, including occupations of the housing office, a march and weekly street stalls, they managed to get re-housed locally around Newham.
During that campaign, and since then, they have increased awareness of housing issues wider than just their own, and more importantly have contributed to the development of a culture of fighting back, collectively and effectively.
We are joining the Focus E15 march, not because we think the march on its own will bring an end to social cleansing, but because we want to pay tribute to the awesome work that they have done in such a short space of time in their part of London. We also want to highlight the impact that welfare cuts like the benefit cap have had on eviction rates. Private landlords are more unwilling than ever to let to people claiming housing benefit, and more and more we are seeing families either putting up with living in overcrowded, poor quality accommodation, or being moved to the outskirts of London, away from their jobs, schools and support networks.
Join us on the march! If you’re coming from Tottenham, meet at 11am outside Tottenham Hale station to travel together. Call us on 07932 241 737 on the day if you can’t find us. Or look out for our banner when we’re there!
Assemble at 12pm Stratford Park, West Ham Lane E15 4PT
Nearest tube: Stratford Stn/Stratford Int. Buses: 25, 86, 69, 104, 262, 238
Bring instruments, shakers and your voices!
Join the facebook event
(Some people have asked why we’re not going on the Tottenham March for Homes and Communities. We were asked to support this march at a time when the date had not been set. Once it was clear that there would be a clash, we made a decision for the reasons set out above to go to Stratford. However, we hope the Tottenham march is a success.)
UPDATE: Success! Ms L was offered accommodation starting from 23 June. Separate report of the action to follow.
At our group meeting last week, a friend of one of our members came along – Ms L. She is a single mother of two, and is due to be evicted on 2 July from her flat in Tottenham which she has been privately renting for seven years.
Ms L has been in touch with Haringey Council throughout her eviction process, from being served a section 21 notice at the beginning of the year, through to the possession order in May 2015 and then, at the beginning of this month, when she was given an eviction notice. At each stage, the council have told her that they will not house her until the date of her eviction.
However, the date of the eviction is now set to happen just five days after she is due to give birth.
Ms L has been to the council to ask if she could be housed a week earlier, to give her time to move into her new place, and get her things settled before her baby is born. The council has so far refused, telling her that she would not be housed until her eviction notice was signed by a bailiff. At a recent appointment, when she managed to get an appointment with a manager, she was asked a series of questions which implied that the council would only consider housing her before her eviction date if she expected to have medical complications at the birth. As though a “normal” birth was like having a flu jab.
In a recent Freedom of Information request, Haringey Council stated that there is no requirement to have the eviction notice signed before temporary accommodation is given. They also claimed that it was not routine practice at the housing office to say this to people coming in. This is not the experience of any number of people we have spoken to, and certainly not the experience of Ms L.
We understand that the council has financial constraints and would like to keep its temporary accommodation bill as low as possible. In the longer term, this can only happen with a dedicated commitment to finding ways of providing secure, genuinely affordable housing in the borough. However, for now, in a situation like this, with a single mother about to give birth, it would seem that the only human response would be for the council back down from its “we won’t move a muscle until you’re on the streets” approach. Let’s hope for Ms L’s sake they do.