Ahmed – another example of housing failures in Lambeth

Lambeth housing activists have been running campaign stalls outside the housing office in Lambeth every morning for the last week and every morning we have met people with housing horror stories like Clavia Chambers.

This morning we met Ahmed. He has a court case pending on 12th September to evict him from his home so he took unpaid leave from work and arrived early to queue. He emerged from the housing office after less than 10 minutes with a handout about rental websites which was inscribed “google bedsit in Sutton”.

How did he end up here? It’s a familiar story.

  • He works part-time earning £108 average per week. He lives in one room with shared facilities that costs £271 per week.
  • He got housing benefit to top up his rent and arrears accrued rapidly when his housing benefit was stopped.
  • The council had asked him for back payslips which he submitted to the document box in Olive Morris House but they say they didn’t receive them.
  • His housing benefit is paid directly to his landlord Ash-Shahada Housing Association who only alerted him that his housing benefit had been stopped once the arrears were in the thousands.
  • He provided the payslips again and his housing benefit was reinstated but he was told it was too late to backdate the payments.
  • He appealed and said he had submitted the payslips. But his appeal was rejected because he didn’t give a valid reason for not submitting the payslips!

To be absolutely clear nobody is saying he was not entitled to housing benefit during this period, only that he did not submit the payslips at the correct time. Which he disputes.

The housing association (which like all social landlords pays no tax due to its charitable status providing housing for vulnerable people) forced Ahmed to sign an agreement last week agreeing to repay the arrears at a rate of £177.55 per month, which in addition to the rent not covered by housing benefit makes a total of £435 per month. It is impossible for Ahmed to pay this amount.

His landlord, Ash-Shahada Housing Association, is taking Ahmed to court seeking possession which will lead to eviction if he does not maintain these repayments.

Ash-Shahada Housing Association are charging the maximum rent that can be covered by housing benefit in order to maximise profits and exploit people on low wages or on benefits who have little options about where they rent. The room that Ahmed rents has a broken window that has not been fixed since he moved in 5 years ago and no heating. There is one kitchen and 2 bathrooms between 10 rooms (presumably all also £271 per week) which are dirty and rundown and cleaned just once a week.

This is totally unacceptable.

  • Ash-Shahada should withdraw the threat of eviction immediately. As a social landlord they had a responsibility to alert Ahmed about the benefit problems immediately and to help him resolve them. Their tenants with arrears should always have a full assessment of their income and outgoings to set repayments at a realistic rate.
  • Lambeth Council should immediately backdate Ahmed’s housing benefit and reassess his case to ensure he is receiving the full benefit rate he is entitled to.
  • Lambeth Council should explain why their staff are promoting social cleansing by encouraging low-income residents to look for housing out of the borough.

Clavia and Ahmed are the tip of the iceberg. Lambeth Council urgently need to review the failings at Olive Morris House!