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High Court agrees to hear claim brought by family against London borough amid row over banding, overcrowding

A family has gained permission to take the London Borough of Southwark to the High Court over what they claim is an unreasonable period in which they have been left in overcrowded accommodation.

The family, who have not published their surname, are being represented by Public Interest Law Centre, My London has reported.

It said the parents and children aged 19 and 14 lived in a studio flat and were not put on a priority housing list as they council felt their situation was of their own making.

They have lived in the studio flat for five years, and have been on band 3 of Southwark’s waiting list for four years.

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They want to be placed on the highest priority band 1, but say they have been told their statutory overcrowding is a “deliberate act”, which the family believes refers to their having moved from Ecuador to south London.

My London quoted a letter the family says the father received from Southwark, which said: “It is without question that you would have been aware that the room in a shared house was not going to be suitable to accommodate your family of four.

"You had no accommodation for your family and did not take any steps to secure suitable accommodation for them. Despite this you made the decision to save money to buy plane tickets for them to join you in highly insecure accommodation rather than seek affordable and suitable accommodation for your entire household.

"The suggestion that you had no other choice but to place your family in an immediate situation of statutory overcrowded is not accepted by this authority.”

Four grounds of challenge were put forward by the Public Law Interest Centre:

  1. It was irrational to conclude that the statutory overcrowding was caused by a deliberate act, and in particular it was irrational to conclude that at the time the claimant moved into his current accommodation he had the option of instead moving into suitable alternative accommodation which was not statutorily overcrowded;
  2. As the claimant was not able to afford alternative accommodation which was not statutorily overcrowded, his decision to move into statutorily overcrowded accommodation was not a “deliberate act” within the meaning of Southwark’s Housing Allocation Scheme;
  3. Southwark’s Housing Allocation Scheme did not explain the criteria which would be applied to determine whether an applicant has committed a “deliberate act”;
  4. It breached Article 14 taken with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court granted permission on the first two grounds.

Sam Tippet, a paralegal at the centre, said: “We are pleased that the High Court has granted permission for our clients to challenge this policy, which is being used by Southwark to penalise households who cannot afford suitable housing. Our client’s family have spent almost five years living in accommodation so severely overcrowded that they are legally homeless.

“In a city blighted by high rents and low wages, countless households are forced into properties that are too small for their needs. Instead of punishing such families, Southwark should be supporting them. This would include lobbying the government to increase the provision of social housing and introduce rent controls so that private tenants can afford a decent home.”

Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, said: “While this is still being dealt with as a legal issue we cannot go into too much detail about the family’s individual circumstances – we would prefer to communicate with them directly.

“However, I can confirm that we have offered lots of support to them and we assessed their housing situation in relation to their move from Ecuador, and also from Lambeth.

“We also offered them suitable housing in the private sector and asked if they wished to make a homeless application, which may include temporary accommodation.

“These offers were declined. We are still here to offer the family any support they require and I sincerely hope their housing situation is soon resolved.”

Mark Smulian

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