Homelessness and the Localism Act – know your rights!

Localism Act leafletToday, 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 pOutside Apex Houselace 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 fewerOutside Apex House 2 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.

 

February 16, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: INFORMATION