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.
1. Vulnerable people are being excluded from waiting lists and forced into workfare.
Under the Localism Act 2011 local authorities have been given more powers to set their own guidelines for their housing registers and waiting lists. Following guidance set by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), local authorities are setting extremely narrow criteria for accessing social housing and waiting lists, effectively excluding many vulnerable people. This can entail workfare as people are forced to ‘volunteer’ in order to be allowed on the register. Newham council’s housing list now gives priority to people in paid work over those who are unemployed on the housing waiting list. Hammersmith and Fulham council have used their new powers to remove a homeless single mother from their housing list.
2. British homes for British soldiers.
In a move that echoes the BNP’s ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ campaign, the DCLG guidance also gives additional priority to military personnel for “the important contribution they make to the country.” Taking on this ‘British Homes for British Workers’ guidance with relish, then Hammersmith and Fulham cabinet minister Andrew Johnson sickeningly describes their housing waiting list criteria: “There can be no people more deserving of a council house or access to homeownership than those who give voluntary service in the name of Queen and country.” Research by Inside Housing seems to confirm that as well as the nationalistic and racist prioritising of military personnel, the rest of the changes related to the housing register discriminate against BME populations. Read the rest of this post »
Well done to housing campaigners from London Renters who today occupied the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in protest at evictions and insecurity of tenure. The campaigners bedded down in sleeping bags in the department’s lobby to highlight how being evicted by a private landlord has become the leading cause of homelessness.
The DCLG have reportedly held a workshop about ways to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants. But we want secure tenancies for all tenants, and in particular an end to ‘no fault’ evictions, where a landlord can evict a tenant for no reason.
Members of our group have had landlords refuse to renew tenancies, or threaten eviction, after tenants have complained of disrepair. But there are even greater numbers of people who would rather not complain, and continue to live with damp or poor heating, rather than risk triggering an eviction, and being in the difficult position of trying to find somewhere affordable to rent in London.
Recent research by Shelter found that 1 in 33 renters had been a victim of retaliatory eviction, and a one in eight were so fearful of it that they did not ask for repairs to be done.
According London Renters, it is already easier to evict a tenant in the UK than it is in any other European country. It is disgraceful that the government are thinking about making it even easier. And a report by Crisis has found that landlords ending private tenancies are now the main cause of homelessness and the number of evictions has been soaring since 2010. Instead of making it easier for landlords to evict tenants, we need secure tenancies to reduce homelessness and allow people to build lives in their communities without fear.
As part of a consultation on property conditions in the private rented sector, there has been a proposal to prevent landlords evicting tenants where they have complained about serious disrepairs. This is something we would support, however, this would still leave tenants at risk of eviction for things like being involved in private tenants groups or questioning a rent increase. There is also no guarantee that this proposal will be implemented.
Tenants also fear evictions for joining or being seen to be involved in private tenants groups or other housing campaigns, questioning rent increases or asking permission to make changes to their home or living arrangements like hanging pictures or keeping a pet. We consider that section 21 should be removed entirely, and private tenants should have the same rights and security as social tenants with secure tenancies.
See more at http://letdown.org.uk/
This Saturday, Haringey Housing Action Group will be joining the 1000 Mothers March for Justice. Come along and speak out against the attacks on welfare.
We’ll be marching with families, carers & supporters
11am Saturday 29th March 2014
Assemble at Bruce Castle Park,
Lordship Lane N17 8NU
Move off 11.30 – march down Tottenham High Road to Tottenham Green East, N15 4UR for a
Follow up meeting; Haringey benefit claimants and supporters
11 am – 1 pm Saturday 12th April
North London Community House, 22 Moorefields Rd, N17 6PY
MOTHERS OF LONDON SAY:
MARCH TO DEMAND
living incomes and decent, affordable homes to rent or buy for waged & unwaged
MARCH TO REJECT
bedroom tax, housing benefit caps, unfair taxes, hunger and cold homes – austerity hurts vulnerable people, the rich get richer
The £500 overall benefit cap
forcing families to pay rent out of the income they need for food, utilities, clothes and transport or be evicted and deported away from their extended families and vital support to anywhere in England or Wales; cap rents not benefits.
The bedroom tax
hits disabled people who have one or two spare bedrooms. It also hits 50 to 60 year old adults who become unemployed and are expected to survive on £71.70 a week minus £24 pw bedroom tax and £5 pw council tax. People evicted are forced out of London – this is social and ethnic cleansing.
20% of the council tax has added to the misery of residents.
Last year Haringey Council started court proceedings against 23,000 households adding £125 court costs and in over 9000 cases bailiffs’ fees, which have already been increased by 42% this year.
imposed by jobcentres punish people for little or no reason leaving them penniless for up to three months.
Freezing increases in benefits at 1%a year
while prices escalate inflict hunger and cold on thousands of households.
Food banks as an alternative to social security
the three days food does not end hunger for adults or children. Supply food by right, not by charity.
The activities of ATOS
inflict poverty on disabled people with inappropriate fitness for work tests carelessly administered.
Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Day-Mer Turkish & Kurdish Community Organisation, UCU at CONEL, Global Women’s Strike, Haringey Alliance for Public Services, Haringey Defend Council Housing, Haringey Federation of Residents Associations, Haringey Green Party, Haringey Housing Action Group, Haringey Solidarity Group, Haringey Trades Council, Haringey UNISON, Holy Cross United Reformed Church, Unite the Union/Community, London Region National Pensioners Convention,
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, Socialist Women’s Union, Socialist Workers Party, Somerford Grove Community Centre, St. Paul’s C-of-E Tottenham, WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)