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.
This evening, 27th May, the council is holding a Development Management Forum at CoNEL presumably to “consult” with the public over the plans for Apex House. Some have questioned why the meeting has been arranged with so little publicity. Others will be only too familiar with the way in which the council likes to keeps its dealings with Grainger under the radar.
Apex House is a three-storey building on the corner of Seven Sisters Road and Tottenham High Road. Many local residents will know it as South Tottenham Customer Centre. Many more will just know it as “the housing office”, because this is where you have to come if you are homeless, facing eviction or having trouble paying your rent.
So it is with some irony that the council is planning to evict its own staff and attempt to squeeze them in to Marcus Garvey library, much to the displeasure of current library users, who are worried about the cuts to library provision and study space. And it will be a surprise to everyone if any of the current visitors to Apex House will be able to afford to enter the premises once it’s developed.
Nevertheless, the real mystery about Haringey Council and Apex House is how they were persuaded to back down on their original commitment for Apex House without being required to inform members of their own planning committee.
In November 2008, the council’s planning subcommittee gave the go ahead for a Grainger plan to demolish the buildings at Wards Corner and replace them with a 1980s-style “clone town” and gated housing. Grainger cried that it would be “unviable” to provide any affordable housing on the site, let alone the council’s target of 50 percent. Apparently they won’t get into bed with a local authority for anything less than a [CENSORED due to commercial sensitivity] profit margin.
The planning officer (Mark Dorfman, Assistant Director for Planning and Regeneration) reported to the committee at the time, allaying councillors’ fears on the question of affordable housing provision by confirming that:
“There is a separate Development Agreement between the applicant [Grainger plc], and the Council that any development of Apex House would include affordable housing equating to 50% of the habitable rooms on the Wards Corner site.”
With Grainger planning 197 dwelling units at Wards Corner, that would mean 99 units – give or take half a unit, and depending on the number of habitable rooms. Read the rest of this post »
Protest outside the £300-a-head ‘regeneration and redevelopment’ event at our Town Hall
Thursday 26th March, 1pm – 2pm
Tottenham Town Hall, Town Hall Approach Rd, London N15 4RY
Protest called by the Our Tottenham Coordination Group, Haringey Housing Action Group, Taxpayers Against Poverty, and Haringey Solidarity Group. All supporters are welcome to bring relevant placards and banners…
We believe that those who live and work in Tottenham should be driving forward the decisions about the future of our communities. Instead we have unaccountable property developers, Councillors and private companies trying to impose their top-down, profit-led mass ‘regeneration and redevelopment’ schemes all over our neighbourhoods.
As the Tottenham public are excluded from this elitist event for so-called ‘key stakeholders’ [see below], we call on local people to attend the protest/rally outside to make our voices known…We invite all the real key stakeholders to join in.
At 6pm local people are invited to come and share ‘protest nibbles’ outside the N17 Design Studio, 451-453 High Road, London, N17 6QH, where event participants will be eating their own luxury ‘nibbles’ to round off their event.
New London Architecture on Location Event
Thursday 26 March 2015, 13:30 – 18:00 followed by drinks
Tottenham Town Hall, Town Hall Approach Rd, London N15 4RY
Ticket cost £299 +VAT
It has just been announced that Tottenham will be one of the nine new GLA Housing Zones for London, while key discussions are also moving forward for Crossrail 2, with proposals for new stations at Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale and Turnpike Lane. NLA hosts this afternoon ‘on location’ session in Tottenham to hear from key stakeholders on regeneration plans, identify key opportunities and support new work in the area.
A networking lunch will be followed by an area briefing with senior council representatives, developers, investors and occupiers; walking tours of Tottenham Hale, North Tottenham and Seven Sisters & Tottenham Green; and evening networking hosted at John McAslan and Partners’ N17 Design Studio (6pm) with local beers, drinks and nibbles.
Nick Walkley, Chief Executive, Haringey Council
Richard Blakeway, Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property, GLA
Michèle Dix, Managing Director Crossrail 2, Transport for London
Gerry Hughes, Senior Director – Head of Development, GVA
Andy Rumfitt, Director of Economic Development, AECOM
Anthony Benson, Director, Allies & Morrison
Cllr Alan Strickland, Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, Haringey Council
Sophie Camburn, Associate – Urban Design, Arup
Peter Murray, Chairman, NLA (Chair)
Further speakers to be announced
Today we have been give the runaround by Haringey Council. All we wanted was for a housing benefit officer to speak to a homelessness officer.
One of our members had been evicted from a privately rented property. She applied as homeless to the council, but the council eventually denied that they had a duty to house her, stating that she had made herself “intentionally homeless”. One of the key reasons why they had come to this decision was, they said, due to rent arrears as a result of rent she had withheld from the landlady.
She had made it clear to the council’s homelessness team that her rent was being paid by housing benefit, and was being paid directly to the landlady. If this was the case, how then could this have led to a “deliberate act or omission” on her part? A simple phone call from the homelessness team to the housing benefit office could have confirmed this.
On receiving the negative decision, she went to Haringey Council’s Customer Service Centre at Apex House, and requested that the Housing Benefit office provide her with written confirmation that housing benefit was paid directly to the landlady. This was on 16 February 2015. She told them that this request was in relation to an eviction from her emergency accommodation. They refused to give this to her on that date, and told her to wait for a written response.
So she waited. In the meantime, she contacted a solicitor to carry out a review of the negative homelessness decision, and also to request housing pending the outcome of that review. The council refused this request.
How to prevent an eviction
And so she finds herself two days from her eviction date at the council’s Customer Service Centre again. With support from other members, she again requested confirmation of her housing benefit having been paid directly to her landlady. She was told that the housing benefit team does not have to respond for another week – i.e. after the eviction is due to take place.
If the eviction goes ahead, it will cause more distress for the family. They will have to approach Haringey Council’s Social Services for support. Parents in similar situations to hers have been refused housing by social services, and have been threatened with having their children taken into care.
Under Section 188(3) of the Housing Act, local authorities have the power to secure that accommodation is available for applicants who are reviewing a negative homeless decision and who are homeless, eligible and in priority need, even if they are found to be intentionally homeless. They have to consider the merits of the case, and whether any new material, information or argument has been put to them which could alter the original decision.
So the question is this: will someone from the housing benefit office respond before next week and provide the information requested and help prevent a family from being evicted?
UPDATE: So as a result of this article and a tweet, we were contacted by a housing benefit officer for Haringey Council who was very helpful and produced a housing benefit statement for our member to pick up. It confirmed that housing benefit was paid directly to the landlady. Therefore, the assertion in the homelessness decision letter that our member was withholding rent, cannot be true. Unfortunately, because today is the day of her eviction, she hasn’t been able to leave the house. But we also found out, in the process, that this information was always available to the homelessness team.
Quite why the customer service staff weren’t prepared to escalate the request for a housing benefit statement of account, bearing in mind it pertained to the imminent eviction of a family, we still don’t know.
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.