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Our demands in detail

  1. An end to Gatekeeping tactics by the council

“When you go to the Hackney housing office and temporary accommodation office they talk to you like an animal. I am not an animal I am a human”

We have documented numerous cases of gatekeeping. These range from inappropriate tones by the homeless officers when dealing with new applicants, to medical conditions being disbelieved, to aggressive behaviour that reduces applicants to tears when presenting as homeless. People who can’t speak English are treated as second class people.

We are tired of being criminalized for our vulnerabilities. We have experienced this culture of disrespect throughout Hackney Council services.

Rulings made against applicants on the grounds of being intentionally homeless are spurious. The depth of investigation to which council workers delve in order to prove applicants are intentionally homeless contrasts sharply with the effort expended to help house vulnerable people.  We are not homeless by choice, and again refuse to be criminalised for our vulnerabilities.

Our experiences of our caseworkers are not of people trying to help us, but rather people who dissuade, discourage and discriminate. Many of us share negative experiences of caseworkers. Instead of support we receive accusations.  Compounding this, there is a dire lack of support workers (the hostel at 19 Blurton Rd has had no support worker between July and December 2009), and crucial information is routinely withheld from applicants. There is also a lack of translation, which further isolates applicants.  Improved communication is needed on multiple levels.  Our letters and phone calls must be acknowledged and responded to.  There must be a dialogue based on respect and understanding.

Gatekeeping at its worst means families and vulnerable people left destitute and at risk of serious harm.

2. Dignity for survivors of domestic violence

Individuals or families presenting as homeless under these conditions must be treated with respect, dignity, and the burden of proof must not rest on the victims.  It is not reasonable for people presenting under these circumstances to have to present documentation, as this can further endanger them.  Survivors who have fled domestic violence need to be recognized for their courage and protected.

3. An end to extortionate rents and service charges for temporary accommodation

Temporary accommodation costs around £300 per week for a room often with shared facilities. This is not ‘best value’”. The market rate for rooms such as these are £80 a week.  By our calculations based on Hackney council’s data, central government are paying Hackney Council £2,000,000 a month through housing benefit. Private management companies, landlords and housing associations make money from temporary accommodation, and yet it is almost never fit for purpose and is also double the cost of comparative private rented accommodation.   The lowest service charge in Hackney’s hostels takes over one tenth of an entire weekly benefit JSA/ESA.

In addition, working families are unable to save money as rent often consumes an extreme proportion of their incomes.  Hackney’s policies of charging affordable rent for working residents in temporary accommodation is never in reality implemented. This in effect removes any incentives for hostel residents to work. This reduces their abilities to save towards a deposit, which even under the best of circumstances is now a virtual impossibility for residents of Hackney.

4. Hackney Council needs to make temporary accommodation temporary!

“When I go … they say go home and we will call you. I have been in ‘temporary accommodation” since 2005”

The Hackney council policy is to reach a decision on homeless applications within 33 working days, or to state why not. This does not happen.  Our experience is that decisions can take many months and applicants are not kept informed. If further enquiries must be made, then they must take place within a reasonable time frame.  One resident, for example, is still having her case investigated more then two years on from her first application.

Even when residents are successful in bidding there is no guarantee they will receive social housing.

5. Housing conditions to improve drastically

“Until I was moved to Alexandra Court my illness was controlled and I could work… the buildings alarms repeatedly rang… I started to have fits. I went to the housing offices and pleaded to be moved to some other emergency accommodation while my case was being assessed. Nothing happened”

Our health has been seriously damaged by the hazardous or unsuitable conditions in which we are forced to live in Hackney’s housing.

Hostels are not dumping grounds. The appalling levels of disrepair, overcrowding and infestations are damaging peoples’ health and self esteem. Children living in these hostels (2,500 according to Shelter’s 2008 figures) are exposed to the worst circumstances possible. Vulnerable people who require temporary accommodation can not be punished by being forced to live in the worst accommodation in Hackney.

In the case of Alexandra Court, there are mice infestations and in a 10 storey block, residents are left with the lift broken for weeks on end, leaving a pregnant tenant stranded on the 6th floor. Several tenants have been left stuck in the lifts in Alexandra Court over the last few years.

6. Decent homes for all residents – deal effectively with overcrowding

Between 1991 and 2001, overcrowding in Hackney rose by 52%. This situation was obviously completely out of control.  Overcrowding in Hackney has also increased by 3,000 since 2003. It is still rising and has overtaken disrepair as the biggest cause of dissatisfaction. This is clearly a very significant problem and needs to be tackled much more aggressively.

The impact of overcrowding on children and parents is significant; as Hackney’s draft overcrowding strategy, “Making Room” states, “Overcrowding affects educational opportunities, personal development, and the overall wellbeing of adults and particularly children. It can also impact negatively on both physical and mental health.” (Foreward, P2). This problem needs to be deal with as a matter of urgency.

7. Hackney needs to use existing empty homes for people rather than profit

We understand there are scarce resources but we know there are means available to create more social housing such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders to bring empty homes into use. According to the councils Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission, 800 homes have been empty for more than six months and there are two hundred long term empty family homes. A concerted effort needs to be made to make these houses available to those who need them.

One of Hackney’s key strategies has been the facility to offer grant assistance to property owners to bring properties back into use. (P.24, 2:5:5vi)  Why are ‘Empty Dwelling Management Orders’ not being used?  Why are property owners being rewarded for allowing their homes to fall into disrepair and stand empty?  This is a waste of public resources.  We want to know how effective this strategy is and how much of these resources are actually being used for the good of tenants. These houses should be used for social housing, which is desperately needed.


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