Kes* (*not her real name) is not local to East Ham, but she is currently being housed here by Waltham Forest Council. Kes has three young children, and has another on the way. She is struggling in the temporary accommodation she is in – it is over an hour’s bus journey away from both her children’s nursery and her father, who she cares for.
I have been housed in an unfurnished two-bedroom flat (it is actually a one-bedroom flat where the living room has become a bedroom). I have restricted mobility because of a hip condition and it is impossible for me to get up the stairs to reach the property and along with my children and pram.
I have no savings and no furniture at the
moment and I’m scared of using what little money I do have to buy
furniture for this unsuitable accommodation. We have nothing.
Gemma* (*not her real name) phoned the office in early January because the closer on the front entrance gate to the block she lives on had been broken.
I think the gate has been broken over 15 times in the last year and each time we have a hard time getting it fixed.
When the closer on the gate is broken, I worry about a break-in happening while I am at work, because I have already had someone try to do this, and my window got smashed in. One of my neighbours can’t sleep because they get so worried.
Chasing the Council is exhausting, and I wish a camera could be installed to make the gate more secure instead of the back and forward when it gets broken.
This time, it took Gemma* and the other residents of the block 7 weeks to get the front entrance gate fixed.
According to research by Shelter, most social renters have a reasonable relationship with their landlord, with 65% of social renters agreeing their landlord resolves issues in their home in a timely way. However, people often talk about frustrations with communication, and long waits for essential work to be completed.
There is also an interesting regional variation in the percentage of social renters who feel their landlord doesn’t consider their interests – 16% in the North East contrasts with 38% in London.
Louise* (*not her real name) lives in a small two bedroom property with her daughters.
Currently, only the living room and bedrooms have heating. The family are relying on fan heaters for the kitchen and outside lean-to – which contains the only toilet. This means her heating and gas bills are extraordinarily high.
She knew the property had no central heating when she viewed it, but the Council promised to repair this by the time she moved.
When you view a property you don’t have much time, so I felt pressure to accept. It took the Council 2 years to install heating after we moved, and this is still only in the living room and bedrooms.
There are lots of other problems, like damp and dust from the layers of wallpaper. One of my daughters has fractured her ankle because there is no stair-rail. I struggle to cook because there is not much kitchen space.
I don’t invite anyone to our house. I slap on a smile and keep it all in when people are around.
Mostly I don’t feel like I’m living, I’m just existing.
Louise* mentions viewing a property and the pressure she felt to accept the offer. Viewings often aren’t very long – Louise* says hers was about 10 minutes.
When people are given an offer of a property by the Council, they are advised always to accept the offer. This is because not doing so may result in them being deemed ‘intentionally homeless‘. In such a case, the Council can discharge their duty to house someone and they can be removed from the housing register.
This can put families under a lot of stress when they are offered housing that is outside of the area (it is not uncommon for housing to be over an hour away from a family’s work or school) or even the city.
In 2017/2018, 103 homelessness applications in Newham were rejected on the basis of intentional homelessness (Local Authority Homelessness Statistics).
Anita* (*not her real name) has three children. Her oldest son was stabbed on Christmas Day, 2017. The attackers were known to the family and intended the stabbing to prove fatal. On the advice of police, her housing association agreed to move her out the area. Over a year later she is still waiting to be moved.
“This last year has been extremely difficult. We feel scared and unsafe in our own home. My youngest son has even tried to sleep with a knife under his pillow. It is hard to tell him not to be scared when I am so fearful myself.
I have been struggling with my mental health, and struggling to sleep properly. Often I can’t get through to the housing association and have to ask the MP’s office to phone so that I get a response. I don’t feel listened to, and all the time we remain here I am scared. Life feels like it is on hold.”
Anita* is housed by a housing association.
Housing associations (HAs) are not-for-profit businesses that provide social housing.
As seen below, they now house approximately 8% of the general population, and about half of social renters (IFS, ‘Long-term trends in British Taxation and Spending‘ p8) .
The growth of HAs was partly driven by two changes.
Firstly, while Local Authorities suffered sharp cuts in government spending on housing ,and strict limits on their ability to borrow, from 1989, HAs were allowed to borrow outside of the public borrowing and accounting regime.
Secondly, the Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) programme (from the Housing Act 1985), allowed for local authority housing stock to be transferred to HAs.
The LSVT programme had a number of aims, including bringing in private finance to tackle backlogs of repairs without increased public borrowing, and bringing (presumed) private sector efficiencies into the sector. Since 1988, 1.3 million homes have been transferred to HAs in this way (IFS, pg 9).
HAs have been highly effective in attracting private finance into the sector for development purposes under the mixed-funding regime introduced by the Housing Act 1988. It should also be mentioned that, because HA residents do not have the statutory right to buy, their housing stock is retained as affordable in perpetuity.
And, whereas local authority controlled social housing gives residents the opportunity to go directly to their elected councillors if they are unhappy, HA boards are, arguably, rather less transparent. This can be seen in Anita’s* case, as she struggles to get through to her HA.
Susie* lives in a one bedroom flat with her two children. Her son Aidan*
(*all names changed) suffers with focal epilepsy and nocturnal seizures. These seizures mean he is also doubly incontinent.
“Every night Aidan has seizures in his sleep, which means every night, I am awake to help him and change the bed-sheets. Every night I am scared, I am worried about Aidan hitting his head on the wall, and I have been told by doctors it is possible he could die while he is asleep.
Because we are all in one room, my daughter Kayla* also wakes multiple times in the night, and her school is worried because she can’t concentrate well in the day.
Doctors have given us special medical equipment to install in the flat for Aidan, but there isn’t enough space. At the moment my kids share a bunk bed and my bed is placed immediately next to theirs.
We applied for medical priority on the housing register in October, but this was rejected on the grounds that our housing is not having a ‘direct impact’ on Aidan‘s health.
Everything feels like a fight. I feel responsible for my children but don’t feel able to even keep them safe and healthy.”
Susie talks about applying for medical priority.
Under the current Housing Allocation Policy of the London Borough of Newham, applicants can move up the housing register with either “transfer/priority homeseeker status” (which Susie’s family are eligible for on medical grounds) and/or “additional employment priority“.
To receive additional employment status an applicant must be:
- In employment of at least 16 hours per week and have been in employment 9 out of the last 12 months.
- Self employed and have proof that they have submitted their last 3 years tax return.
- In receipt of the support element of the Employment Support Allowance.
- Receiving carers allowance for looking after a child or an elderly person who is not their partner.
Susie is eligible for additional employment status because she is also unwell and receives the support element of ESA. She is currently in the process of applying.
It is up to the Council (also called the Local Authority) to determine their own housing allocation policy. According to a 2018 FOI request, 64% applicants were listed under the type “Homeseeker with Priority” or under the “Priority Homeseeker” band.
Tania* (*not her real name) has three kids, and the youngest is just 9 months old. In September they were issued a Section 21 eviction notice by their landlord. They are currently in temporary accommodation.
“I contacted the Council ahead of my eviction, but the day we were evicted we still had no news of where we would be staying that night. As you can imagine, my children were very upset – I was doing my best to comfort them, but I was also upset myself. Being evicted is frightening.
I am very grateful to be in temporary accommodation, but it is still difficult to deal with the uncertainty. The Council said we would only be housed here until November, but here we are – three months on. My older two children keep asking when we are going home but I have nothing to tell them. The flat we are in is small and damp, and they don’t want to come back here after school, so we go and sit in the local library until it shuts.”
Tania was evicted because of a section 21 eviction notice.
Section 21 eviction notices allow private landlords to evict tenants without needing to establish fault (reason or grounds for eviction). Private renters in the UK generally have very short fixed-term contracts of either six or 12 months. After the fixed-term ends, landlords can issue an eviction notice under section 21 at any time.
In Tania’s case, because she was unable to find or afford another tenancy, she became homeless, at which point the Council rehoused her because she is in a ‘priority need category’ as the carer of three young children.
In London, 31% of Local Authority homeless acceptances in 2017/18 were due to tenants being issued section 21 eviction notices (MHCLG, Statutory homelessness live table 774, 29 June 2018).
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests the issuing of a section 21 no-fault eviction was the most common reason a private sector tenancy ended, whereas rent arrears was the most common reason in social housing (Poverty, Evictions and Forced Moves, pg24). Shelter’s research has linked section 21 eviction notices to the instability of renting privately – in the last five years, one in five of all families renting privately have moved at least three times (A Vision for Social Housing, p44).
Families renting privately have also expressed fears about reporting disrepairs because of the possibility of being issued a section 21 eviction notice. This is not altogether unfounded – research by Citizens Advice found 46% of private renters who made a complaint about the condition of their home (such as damp and mould) were issued with an eviction notice within six months (Touch and Go, pg2).