Protesting for Homeless Help from the CouncilThe ‘Crisis’ in Local Housing Services
Andrew Kersley speaks to a man awaiting the bailiffs as campaigners warn that cuts to housing services are leaving vulnerable people desperately unsupported
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Campaigners have warned of a crisis in housing services after a single father was forced to protest outside a London council’s office just to get it to respond to his urgent need for homelessness assistance.
Seven weeks after his sister died of cancer in early 2022, Petrus Burin was told that his rent was increasing by 50% by his landlord. When he tried to contest the unaffordable increase, he was told he would be evicted.
Despite him first reaching out to Waltham Forest Council for homelessness support last March, the council eventually began to stop responding to his emails and calls for help.
He is currently still living in the property, nearly a year since the last correspondence from the council, awaiting bailiffs that would force him and his teenage daughter onto the streets.
Councils have a legal obligation to support and re-house those who have been made or are facing becoming homeless, suggesting that Waltham Forest Council’s failure to act is in breach of the law.
“It’s just been complete radio silence from the council,” Burin told Byline Times. “I emailed and made phone calls and got no answer. So now I’m just waiting for a bailiff order. Every day I come home from work expecting their letter.
“I couldn’t do anything to stop my sister from passing away and I wasn’t even allowed to grieve. My daughter is doing her GCSEs, she needs stability. I don’t want her stressed about where we’re going to live.”
In recent weeks, he mounted a protest outside of Waltham Forest Council’s housing service – in a bid to get it to respond to his pleas for help.
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When contacted by this newspaper, a spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council told Byline Times that Burin is now in contact with its housing team and suggested that the reason for cutting off contact was that it incorrectly believed that his eviction notice was invalid.
Burin’s case has been handled by the London Renters Union, which said that it is one of eight instances in which it has had to take action after Waltham Forest Council refused to even reply to requests for homeless assistance in the past few years.
A spokesperson for the group told Byline Times that the “political choice” to impose cuts to housing services was causing a crisis in housing provision, and leading to an increase in councils simply ignoring requests for urgent help in breach of their legal obligation to act.
That crisis has been most acute in the capital, where both housing costs and poverty rates are often higher than in the rest of the country. The most recent data suggests that one in every 23 children in London is homeless – almost three times the rate recorded in 2010 when the Conservative Party came to power.
In that time, on the back of years of increasing budget cuts, the amount spent by councils on homelessness support has dropped by at least £1 billion. Last year alone the Government cut £40 million from a special programme specifically aimed at addressing homelessness in London.
Another Waltham Forest resident, Helen O’Grady, told Byline Times that she first asked the council for help last June, after being told that she and her three children would be evicted by her private landlord. Over the next six months, the council offered no suitable help and even tried to wrongly suggest that O’Grady was making herself intentionally homeless.
By the time she was evicted and made homeless in November, the council said that it had nowhere to house her – despite half a year of warning – forcing her and her children to sleep on a friend’s floor for the next week in severely overcrowded conditions.
“I was shocked to be told, after months, that they would only help when the bailiffs turns up, that was when I needed to call them,” she said. “I was waiting after the eviction for a call for three hours and I was told by the council they they we didn’t have anything for me.”
Even after the council responded to her claim, she spent the next few months being moved between various council hotels, riddled with issues ranging from cockroaches and rats to no cooking facilities and even blood-stained mattresses. In January, she was eventually placed in more permanent temporary accommodation but, due to a technical error in its systems, the council almost ended up evicting her.
Waltham Forest councillor Ahsan Khan, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, said: “We apologise to Ms O’Grady for the error in administering her housing benefit and delay in supplying the personalised housing plan. We will learn from this incident and put those learnings into effect as we continue to try our best to help residents at risk of becoming homeless.”
London Renters Union’s Liam Miller told Byline Times that “the homelessness crisis was a political choice” and “decades of government decisions have prioritised the profits of landlords and developers at the expense of our fundamental right to a good home”.
“Local authorities cut to the bone are left to pick up the pieces,” he added. “After selling off our council homes, the Government is now handing huge amounts of public money to private landlords for emergency and temporary accommodation at a premium. There is no excuse for denying families homeless support for months on end. But we will not see an end to this crisis until the Government builds social housing… and brings rents under control.”
A Waltham Forest Council spokesperson added: “We will always try to do everything we can to help those at risk of homelessness. The council is determined to build more high-quality, affordable, homes across the borough. We are committed to building 1,000 homes for social rent in the next few years.”