Open letter to Lib Peck, Chuka Umunna, Kate Hoey and Helen Hayes
It is over a month since Clavia Chambers and her 2 young children were evicted by Lambeth council and denied any help on the grounds that they were ‘intentionally homeless’. Clavia has bravely told her story publicly, not only to appeal for help for her own family, but because she does not want other people to experience the same nightmare.
In the course of her campaign Clavia has met literally dozens of other people struggling with similar issues and in danger of losing their homes. Like Clavia, many have fallen into arrears with rent because the housing benefit office has made mistakes in assessing their entitlement when they moved in and out of employment.
We all know that the benefit system nationally under the Tories, including the punitive system of sanctions and medical testing by the DWP, has caused untold hardship and has seen an explosive demand for foodbanks and a rise in street homelessness that is truly shocking in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
We believe that Lambeth Council could and should be doing more to help people navigate this complicated and unfair system and should be helping people to access the benefits to which they are entitled.
But the way in which Lambeth officials have responded to Clavia’s case does not show a council committed to dealing with residents sympathetically – in fact it seems quite callous that even when an anonymous donor offered to pay off all Clavia’s arrears the council refused to accept it.
Ahmed, another Lambeth resident who asked the council for advice when facing eviction, was simply told he was not entitled to help and to ‘google bedsit in Sutton’. This is how social cleansing plays out in practice because this advice flows from the grim reality that people on benefits are now very unlikely to find private accommodation in Lambeth.
We believe there is a fundamental and systemic problem within Lambeth Council which is leaving people vulnerable to homelessness and speeding the process of gentrification in our borough.
We are pleased that Lib Peck has arranged a private meeting with Clavia to hear the problems she has been facing and we hope that will lead to an urgent resolution of Clavia’s case. But we urge Lib Peck and all our political representatives in Lambeth to publicly acknowledge that there are serious problems with mishandling of benefit claims in the borough and that this issue must be actively addressed.
As Universal Credit is already creating havoc with rent arrears for other boroughs, we need the council to put positive measures in place now – such as making discretionary housing payments – to prevent people falling into arrears. We need the council to provide practical advice and support to help people recover lost benefits. We need a sea change in attitude when dealing with homeless applications so that people who get in to rent arrears because their benefits are withheld are never described as ‘intentionally homeless’.
We hope you will use the Lambeth Housing Activists website to make a public statement about how you feel these issues can be best addressed.
Lambeth Housing Activists