Family to challenge council in High Court over overcrowding dispute

A family of four living in a studio flat have been granted permission to legally challenge the council’s decision not to prioritise them on the housing list.

Milton, who did not give his surname for privacy reasons, was told by Southwark council that they could not be placed in Band 1 because they had deliberately moved into accommodation that was too small for them.

But on Thursday, January 20 the family found out they will be able to challenge the council’s decision at the High Court.

Milton, his wife, his 19-year-old daughter and his 14-year-old son have lived in a flat with just one room and a bathroom for the last five years.

The family has not been able to find a suitable apartment for a number of reasons including high cost of housing, language barriers and landlords not accepting housing benefits.

But in July last year Southwark council issued a decision saying that they would not be prioritised.

The council said in a letter to the family that their situation was due to choices they made and that Milton could have left his family in Ecuador, which is almost 6,000 miles away.

Milton’s daughter Rebecca said that living in cramped conditions was stressful and affected her studies.

She said: “I cannot focus. I have to go outside the flat to get some air to deal with the stress because it is too small. I cannot think in there.

“We feel like Southwark is our home. I have my friends here and my church. I go to the gym to relax and get away from the flat. I do volunteering which makes me feel good.

“It feels like we’re treated like we have committed a crime.”

Elizabeth Wyatt, a member of the Housing Action for Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), said: “The family have gone to enormous efforts to take this important legal challenge. 

“But this should not be necessary because Southwark council should never be treating it’s residents like this in the first place. 

“This treatment of some of Southwark’s most vulnerable residents is deeply harmful and absolutely unjustifiable.”

The council places applicants for social housing into four bands, with those in higher bands given priority when bidding for social housing. 

Council policy states that households which are statutorily overcrowded, and therefore legally homeless, should be placed in the highest band.

But the local authority excludes those deemed to have caused that overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. 

Sam Tippet, a paralegal at the Public Interest Law Centre which is representing the family, 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.  

“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. “

A decision stage hearing to determine whether the council’s decision was unlawful is now scheduled to be listed before the end of June.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, 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.”

Pictured top: Milton and his family at the Royal Courts of Justice




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