As the Planning Inquiry related to the final plot of land of the former Heygate estate wraps up, we summarise the legal arguments, the notable moments and what’s next.
On 22nd September 2023, closing submissions by parties were heard at the Elephant Park ‘Plot H1’ planning inquiry. This brought to a close a 2-week process in which global property developer Lendlease were appealing Southwark Council’s decision to reject their planning application to build an 18 storey office block (with no housing) on the final plot of the Heygate estate.
Public Interest Law Centre, in a legal team with Southwark Law Centre, were instructed by Community Objectors of H1 (‘COH1’) a Rule 6(6) party to the Inquiry, bringing to the fore the argument for building housing, not an office block on this final plot of the Heygate Estate. Charles Bishop of Landmark Chambers is the instructed counsel in this matter.
This appeal concerned a standalone planning application known as ‘Plot H1’. This application is not a Reserved Matters Application (‘RMA’) under the permitted Heygate Estate Masterplan (given permission in 2013 alongside permission to demolish existing buildings). Rather, it is a ‘new’ application which has to ‘stand on it’s own two feet,’ despite being the ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ in the redevelopment of the Heygate estate. Lendlease applied to build the proposed 18-storey office block under a new standalone application, as it is larger than the area permitted under the Masterplan.
In summary Lendlease, the Appellant, argued that:
The design of the proposed 18-storey office block is exemplary and signals a positive change;
The need and size of the office block was necessary to fulfil the employment space target of 60,000sqm in the local Southwark plan; and
There was no case for housing as any policy requirements for the reprovision of housing had been fulfilled by the reprovision of housing on the Masterplan site plus the offsite Early Housing Sites.
In defending their original rejection of this application, Southwark council argued that:
The proposed office block would harm the character of the surrounding area;
The impact to the daylight of neighbouring properties was ‘very serious’; and
That the scheme has benefits, but it ultimately does not outweigh its harm.
COH1, as well as supporting Southwark Council’s position on the character and light impacts, put forward the position for housing. COH1 position is that Lendlease have not followed Policy H8D of the London Plan 2021, as they have favoured an office block over building affordable (and we say particularly social rented) housing.
We made the case that the ‘limbs’ of Policy H8D are fulfilled on the facts of this case:
(a) demolition of affordable housing (including, but not restricted to, an estate redevelopment programme); and
(b) failure to replace the demolished affordable housing by an equivalent amount of affordable housing floorspace.
Demolition of Affordable housing
We argued that Plot H1 land cannot be stripped of its historical context as land on which a demolished estate stood, despite permission to demolish being given in 2013. There has been no significant intervening development on this land, Plot H1 was part of the land under the Regeneration Agreement with Lendlease and Plot H1 is regarded as the last part of the redevelopment process of the Heygate. Therefore, we say that the mere passage of time is not enough to avoid the need to engage with policy H8D.
Failure to replace Affordable housing
COH1’s case is that the reprovision of affordable housing is incomplete. Lendlease cannot fall back on the provision of so called ‘Early Housing Sites’, which were intended, but failed, to rehouse the residents of the Heygate.
The affordable housing demolished on the site of the Heygate estate has not been fully replaced by the Early Housing Sites and cannot be included by Lendlease in the calculation of housing reprovision. The reasons for this are:
Southwark Planning committee resolved to grant planning permission for the early housing sites in December 2008, four years prior to planning permission was granted for the demolition of the Heygate. At this point in time, Lendlease had no regeneration agreement with Southwark (although it was the council’s development partner). The regeneration agreement was only entered into in July 2010;
The construction had commenced on the early housing sites prior to the grant of permission for demolition of the Heygate estate;
The construction had even completed on some sites prior to the grant of permission for demolition;
None of these units were provided on the site of the former Heygate Estate;
These sites were not granted permission subject to the outline planning permission of Heygate estate; and
They were not delivered by the developer (Lendlease) who was bringing forward the demolition of the Heygate. They were delivered by the registered social landlords in conjunction with Southwark council.
If these Early Housing Sites are not included in reprovision calculation, the loss of social rented homes across the Heygate site, compared to what has been delivered today, totals over 900. This is appalling given the housing emergency in the borough and across London.
In addition to the above, we made the case that as the Plot H1 application is a ‘new’ standalone application (as opposed to part of the 2013 Masterplan) that Policy H8 (introduced under the 2021 London Plan), must apply as it would to any other brownfield site. Furthermore, we raised issues of broken promises by Lendlease and misleading consultation and information presented to past and present local residents who were told Plot H1 would be a residential building. We raised issues of the displacement of market traders, supported by Latin Elephant.
For more detail on each of the parties cases, we suggest you read the opening statements and closing submissions which summarise the positions and how they relate to each other’s arguments:
Below are a selection of some notable moments and quotes from the Inquiry:
“…there is a housing crisis, not an office crisis.” (COH1 opening statement, quoting Southwark Council’s evidence)
On 22nd September 2023, there was an admission from Jonathan Marginson (planner from consultancy DP9 working as a policy expert for Lendlease) that there must have been active discussions between Lendlease and Southwark Council in the lead up to introducing the target of 60,000 sqm of office space in the Southwark local plan. This came as a result of a recap of the timeframe – namely that the architect Friedrich Ludewig (founder of Acme) began work on this office block in 2017, around 4 years before the target for this level of office space was introduced in 2021.
On 15th September 2023 Jerry Flynn of the 35% campaign and part of COH1 defending COH1’s position in the stand brought the case for housing, and in particular social housing. Without COH1’s input the provision for social housing would not have been raised at all as no other party or witness made the case for this. Mr Flynn noted in his evidence that only 48 out of the thousand plus Heygate households had benefitted from new homes from the Heygate redevelopment.
The admission from Jonathan Marginson on 21st September 2023 that Lendlease did not provide any of the Early Housing Sites.
The roll-back from Mr Pagani (daylight and sunlight specialist expert witness for Lendlease) on his assertions about residents in properties neighbouring Plot H1 and how much value this place on daylight. In his evidence submitted prior to the start of the Inquiry, he stated
“A large number of properties seeing reductions are considered to be rented out for brief periods and often show fully drawn curtains and blinds even in broad daylight.
“During my site visit it was also clear to see how the windows had accumulated a meaningful amount of dirt. This leads me to conclude that the occupants do not place a high value on the available daylight as Plot H1 currently stand.”
Following a site visit (facilitated by COH1) to meet one of the council residents in these properties, and in cross-examination, Mr Pagani accepted that some of the factors he relied on (as above) could not actually be used to reach a finding of lower value on daylight or sunlight. These included a claim that residents of bedsits are merely transitory so there should be less weight given to daylight loss in these properties, in ignorance of the housing emergency which means many live in bedsits for years. When challenged by Southwark Council and COH1 on views arguably hostile to working class communities, Mr Pagani’s rolled back on this.
“What is being proposed here is not what was envisaged when the Heygate was demolished. It is proposed as an alternative to what was envisaged by the OPP on plot H1. That means it has to stand on its own two feet as a suitable replacement for what was on the Heygate. We say that there has not been an equivalent amount of affordable housing floorspace provided following the Heygate’s demolition.” (COH1 closing submission)
“neighbours are absolutely entitled to expect that the planning system will protect them from unacceptable loss of (daylight) amenity.” (Southwark Council closing submission).
If H8 means this then that has chilling consequences for scores of other estate regeneration projects which quite lawfully relied on directly off site provision especially to provide early decant options.” (Lendlease closing submission).
Southwark Law Centre’s ‘Planning Voice’ were instructed to led the s106 negotiations on behalf of COH1.
COH1 were not a party to the s106 agreement, but demanded to be part of negotiations. The main focus was the potential delivery of a health hub and/or affordable workspace. We made arguments that affordable retail should also be delivered to help displaced shopping centre traders, but this point was sadly not entertained.
Regarding the health hub, the developer tried to stretch the relevant planning policy to reduce the size and lease length, based on their own assessment of financial viability. We strongly resisted this and managed to keep our alternative interpretation on the table. It is now for the Inspector to decide which stance to take. We believe he was sympathetic to our case and hope that, if planning permission is unfortunately granted, we will at least win on these smaller points.
We also demanded that the developer to do everything they could (i.e. use “All Reasonable Endeavours”) to try and secure the health hub – given they claim to be so committed to it. However, the developer strongly resisted and we did not manage to get this into the agreement.
If no health hub comes forward, the developer must provide affordable workspace. We made sure that, if this happens, the full 25% rent discount is passed on to the end users. We also demanded that the space is fully fitted out at the developer’s cost, having learnt this lesson from the displaced shopping centre traders, who were expected to cover this hidden cost themselves.
The Planning Inspector will now consider all evidence and then return a decision. Unfortunately, after consideration, the Secretary of State Michael Gove declined our request to call in the application (see background here). Therefore, the final decision will lay with the Inspector.
Jerry Flynn of COH1 states:
“This was a hard-fought inquiry and the community objectors are pleased that we were able to make the case for housing, particularly affordable housing. The COH1 objectors included not just ex-Heygate residents, local campaigners and groups, such as the Walworth Society, but also new residents on the replacement development, Elephant Park. We were united by our anger at developer Lendlease reversing their decision to build housing, to propose building a huge office block instead. With the support of PILC and the Southwark Law Centre we were able to hold them to account for this reversal and now look forward to the Inspector’s decision.”
The legal team were:
Alexandra Goldenberg and Saskia O’Hara of the Public Interest Law Centre, ‘Gentrification Project’
Jed Holloway, Ariane Ordoobadi, Gabhan O’Tighearnaigh of Southwark Law Centre ‘Planning Voice’
Charles Bishop of Landmark Chambers.
 Lendlease argued this size of office block (60,000sqm target was a requirement in the local plan. The Council and COH1 argued it was merely a target.
Paul Heron is a lawyer, socialist and activist. He is the Legal Director and Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). Here Paul looks into the Government’s ‘Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill, which is of major concern not only to groups such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, but to wider democracy as a whole.
The Government is proposing legislation with the clear objective of stopping public bodies such as councils, local government pension funds, and even universities from taking decisions and actions about how they spend their money. It has significant opposition from trade unions, campaign groups, charities, and individuals.
The anti-boycott bill significantly hinders public bodies from making conscious decisions allowing them to follow and comply with international human rights law. This includes limiting independent decision making by public bodies and restricting their right to decide not to invest in companies implicated in the systematic suppression of Uyghurs by the Chinese government, the commission of crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians by Israeli authorities and companies guilty of mass pollution.
Should the anti-boycott bill be passed as it stands, there is little doubt that it will impact decisions aimed at addressing deforestation, environmental contamination, as well as the mistreatment of children and workers. However the feeling of campaigners and trade unions is that the ‘driver’ behind this legislative effort by the Government is to stop initiatives advocating for Palestinian rights. It comes at the same time as evidence is coming to light of Israeli embassy officials attempting to influence UK court cases.
The anti-boycott bill: why we should oppose it
The anti-boycott bill is set to erode local democracy, curbing the freedom of expression, and undermining peaceful and legitimate campaigns for social and environmental justice.
According to the provisions within the anti-boycott bill those public bodies will be mandated to disregard any “territorial consideration” in a manner that implies disapproval of foreign state conduct on political, economic or moral grounds – section 1(2). This phrasing appears designed to shield individuals and states involved in activities such as human rights violations, ecological harm, or aggressive conflicts. The bill therefore sets itself squarely to prevent public authorities from making financial allocations or investments that are ethical and/or lawful. The bill proposes that in future such actions can only be undertaken if explicitly sanctioned by the Government. This is undemocratic.
Most people in the UK have genuine concerns regarding human rights and the environment. However, the anti-boycott bill poses a threat to their ability to campaign for public bodies to not invest directly or indirectly over illegal and unethical decisions. Notably, the anti-boycott bill seeks to stop public bodies to adopt ethical decision-making regarding financial decisions and investments. These actions are deeply unpopular with the majority of people in Britain who stand for fairness, decency, human rights, in defence of the environment and who do not want to see their savings or pensions invested in companies who involve themselves in illegal or unethical practices.
Are there any exceptions?
As stated above, section 1(2) of the anti-boycott bill establishes a broad prohibition preventing public bodies from allowing their procurement and investment choices to be swayed by political or moral objections to the actions of foreign nations with regard to a specific “territorial concern.” The term “territorial concern” is clarified as “a consideration primarily associated with a specific foreign region” according to section 1(3).
There are some exceptions. Under clause 3(5), the Secretary of State holds the authority to outline, through regulatory measures, specific countries or territories exempt from this prohibition. Moreover, the Schedule defines entities and functions that are immune to the restriction. The Schedule also lists a series of factors which the decision-maker may take into consideration when making determinations. These factors encompass scenarios involving potential violations of the UK’s international legal commitments, instances of labour-related misconduct, and cases of environmental wrongdoing.
Despite the exemptions mentioned it is specified in clause 2(7) that the Secretary of State is restricted from enacting regulations that would eliminate the prohibition on boycotts, particularly when the conduct of a foreign state pertains to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or the Occupied Golan Heights. To put it differently, public entities are disallowed from considering the behaviour of foreign states concerning these three territories when making any pertinent decisions. This rule stands without any deviations. Any alteration to this regulation necessitates an amendment to the core legislation.
The bill’s impact will be anti-democratic. It centralises decision-making and sets out to stop ordinary people having a say – for instance – about how their local government pension is invested. There is no doubt that a significant Governmental aim is to cut across the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (‘BDS’) movement that has been born as a peaceful action to support and defend the rights of Palestinians. BDS was initiated by Palestinians, and was directly inspired by the successful economic boycott of Apartheid South Africa. As Mandela famously said in 1997
“The United Nations took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system…but we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
The international action to defeat Apartheid in South Africa is one of the most successful international peaceful protest movements in recent history. This bill seeks to make similar action illegal. It sets the UK outside of international human rights and humanitarian law It must be opposed.
The Public Interest Law Centre supports the Right to Boycott campaign and its aim to stop this of legislation. It is supported by individuals, trade unions, charities, NGOs, climate justice, human rights, cultural, campaigning, and solidarity organisations. Sign the petition here and say NO to the anti-boycott bill.
On 8 August 2023, the Home Office revealed plans for the ‘Professional Enablers Taskforce’ which intends to “clampdown on crooked lawyers who coach illegal migrants to lie”. Speaking about the task force, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice”.
The task force – which was established a few months ago, but officially launched on 8 August – aims to bring regulatory bodies like the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) together with “law enforcement and government departments to increase enforcement action against lawyers who help migrants exploit the immigration system”. The Home Office also shared plans to expand the task force to other so-called “professional enablers” like doctors, accountants and employers who allegedly “use their expertise to facilitate illegal migration”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, David McNeill of The Law Society stated that the announcement of the task force “which they tout with such aggressive language has been in existence for months now so really, from our perspective, it just looks like a bit of lawyer-bashing as a distraction from really bad news for the Government on the number of asylum seekers now accommodated in hotels – 50,000.”
Despite government and media attempts at dehumanising refugees, for a fair judicial system, it is vital that everyone can access legal advice and representation. The overwhelming majority of lawyers who work in asylum law and public law undertake such work in the best interests of their clients, and act on instructions within the clear confines of the law.
After more than a decade of failed austerity, the government are now reduced to weaponising investigations against lawyers as a smokescreen for their disastrous social and economic policies. The SRA are being used, and allowing themselves to be used, to support the government’s ‘enablers task force’ investigations. Rather than continue to assess solicitors independently as a regulatory body, the SRA are now being drawn into politically-motivated investigations. As such, they are failing in their duties to act independently of government; independence which is essential in checking the power of the executive and upholding the rule of law.
Solicitors are already strictly regulated by the SRA, who impose numerous sanctions in cases where the Standards and Regulations have been breached. The means in which to strike off and investigate breaches of the SRA’s regulations are already in place. It is therefore troubling and perhaps confusing why the SRA would not point the Home Office towards these measures, instead they run the risk of further enabling the government to scrutinise and surveil lawyers as a whole.
The announcement of the ‘enablers task force’ is just one of many recent assaults on so-called ‘lefty lawyers’. Six months ago it was revealed that the Home Office had been ‘monitoring the activities […] of a small number of legal practitioners’. The Home Secretary’s recent announcement is consistent with a government that devalues the rule of law and the valuable work lawyers do to ensure access to justice for all. It is no surprise that the government seemingly seeks to drum up vitriol against ‘lefty lawyers’ at a time when they are pushing their anti-immigration policies more ferociously than ever.
The ‘enablers task force’ is an insidious programme designed to invite scrutiny and public condemnation of professionals working in an already stretched and underfunded sector. The timing of Braverman’s announcement – the same week the first asylum seekers were taken aboard the Bibby Stockholm – is not coincidental.
We stand by our colleagues working within the immigration and asylum sector, who undertake essential work in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The move to shut ticket offices – and potentially cut hundreds of jobs in the process – comes after months of tension between striking rail workers, stubborn network bosses and the Department of Transport, in bitter disputes over pay, pensions and job cuts.
Closing vast numbers of ticket offices seems illogical, though the RDG claims that ticket sales from offices have dropped from 82% in 1995 to just 12% today. Yet for so many of us this will be a disaster: disabled people, elderly people, women, parents, and tourists. Research from Transport for All found that a third of disabled people use ticket offices to buy tickets – nearly twice the number that use ticket vending machines – with 40% of disabled people reporting that ticket office closures were a barrier to them purchasing tickets.
Anyone who ever needs cheaper tickets, advice on train routes and timetables, or assistance when travelling alone will be affected by the planned closures. In the wake of the RDG’s announcement there has been widespread public support of ticket office staff, with the public reporting numerous occasions when ticket office staff stepped in to aid travellers.
In spite of this, RDG are pushing ahead with their plans – presumably as a way to increase shareholder profits while seemingly punishing rail workers for daring to exercise their democratic right to strike. The RDG have undertaken a public consultation – originally due to close on 26 July, this has now been extended until early September – with the added complication that each train operator is also undertaking their own separate consultation.
“It is obvious to everyone that the government and train operating companies are blatantly ignoring the Equality Act 2010 yet EHRC continue to fail to act and implement their enforcement powers.
“The impact on being able to travel by rail will seriously deteriorate for disabled, older people and lone women travellers and all of these groups need face-to-face assistance located in one accessible place.
“Help points in many stations which disabled people are being told they could use to get assistance are too high for wheelchair users to reach, not accessible to deaf or blind people and often on platforms which without help disabled people cannot reach. They are not a viable alternative to a staffed ticket office.
“We believe EHRC should call for these proposals, particularly as the outcomes of the flawed consultation will occur during the parliamentary recess period, to be recalled given the obvious breaches in equality legislation.”
“Ticket office staff are an absolutely essential accessibility feature for disabled people. Not only do they sell tickets (including disabled people’s discounts that cannot be bought elsewhere), they are the first point of contact for people needing assistance: they guide people through the station, organise ramps, help plan journeys, and unlock station facilities. If these closures go ahead, millions of disabled people will be prevented from travelling by rail.
“The line we keep hearing from government and industry is that “no station that is currently staffed will become unstaffed as a result of these proposals”. But if you actually look at the details of the proposals, around a hundred will become completely unstaffed apart from unscheduled “visits” from mobile teams. Others will become unstaffed on particular days of the week, with staff hours on other days dramatically reduced. The full extent of this destaffing is not yet clear.
“These details however are buried in consultation materials that are completely inaccessible. Many train operators do not have alternative formats of these materials available, meaning that disabled people are being prevented from reading let alone responding to this consultation.
“Both the policy itself, and the way it is being rolled out, are an affront to our community. If the plans go ahead, years of progress to make transport more accessible will be reversed.”
“We believe there are major equality and consumer rights breaches throughout these proposals, and have been calling for the urgent intervention of the Office of Rail and Road and Equality Human Rights Commission.
“The consultation process itself presents a huge threat to the future of rail accessibility and should never have gone forward in the first place. It is taking place under an out-of-date industry agreement on ticket retail that has never been used simultaneously outside a single operator before. This is one reason why the information is so fragmented, and there are no national or regional overviews, nor evidence presented on the economic and equality impacts of the plans. Obviously, all these things should have been fundamental to a consultation on national policy.
“Worst of all, the only current requirement for staff presence is tied to ticket office opening hours, so when the consultations are over, there will be no more transparency of staffing numbers and locations, and no more requirement to consult on future staffing changes. Any promises made by the Rail Delivery Group to retain staff are meaningless, as they have no regulatory or contractual basis.
“It’s vital to remember that ticket office closures mean deregulation, as well as destaffing and the withdrawal of vital retail services. Neither the proposals nor the consultation process have any credibility whatsoever, and we expect to see these issues go to judicial review.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said in a press release:
“The decision to close up to 1,000 ticket offices and to issue hundreds of redundancy notices to staff is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public.
“Travellers will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them rather than having trained staff on stations.
“This is catastrophic for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers trying to access the rail network.”
We urge everyone to take part in the public consultation and strongly object to the proposed closures of around 1,000 ticket offices and the loss of hundreds of jobs in the process – and the worsening overall quality of our privatised railways.
To respond to the consultations launched by individual train companies, travellers should contact the independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus or London TravelWatch before 1 September 2023.
Southwark community ask Michael Gove to stand by his housing ambitions and intervene on Lendlease’s battle to build a giant office block instead of housing.
‘Community Objectors of H1’ (‘COH1’) are intervening in a Planning Inquiry in which Lendlease are appealing the decision of Southwark council not to grant them planning permission on ‘Plot H1’ – the final plot of Elephant Park, a controversial redevelopment which stands on the former site of the Heygate estate. Although this site was originally identified for housing (as per the Outline Planning Permission), Lendlease are now battling to build an 18-storey office block instead of housing on a ‘standalone planning application’.
Further to Gove’s recent speech in which he talked of the “failure to turbocharge the redevelopment of inner city London” and of the government’s commitment to a “new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England”, which would encourage housing in city centres and the “supply of beautiful, safe, decent homes”, COH1 have written to Gove asking him to ‘recover this appeal’. That is, personally determine the outcome. COH1 say this represents the perfect opportunity for the Secretary of State to demonstrate his commitment to these ideals in practice.
Jerry Flynn, spokesperson for COH1 states: “Local people were baffled and shocked when they learnt that Lendlease were going to build a giant office block instead of housing on the final plot of Elephant Park. Southwark desperately needs housing, particularly affordable housing. Southwark Council made the right decision when they refused this application last October and we are looking to the Secretary of State to uphold that decision.”
Alexandra Goldenberg, solicitor at Public Interest Law Centre states: “This is a matter of public significance. Lendlease’s planning application should be treated as an application for estate redevelopment on a former council estate and as such must follow the London Plan Policy 2021 and increase housing supply. In the midst of a housing crisis, they are seeking to circumvent these policies by overbuilding and have reneged on promises made through consultation with the local community.”
COH1 are represented by Public Interest Law Centre, supported by Southwark Law Centre. Instructed counsel is Charles Bishop of Landmark Chambers.
Aicha Penrith (Principal Policy & Project Officer, Housing & Planning, London Councils) explained that this project will look at the initial stages of triaging people in need of emergency support. The intended outputs of the triage project include: a series of practical tools to assist local authorities delivering frontline services; a standardised triage script for local authority staff providing first contact with homelessness services; and a rough sleeping risk assessment tool to help housing specialists recognise when someone is homeless.
Set to run from March to July 2023, the report states that at the end of the project a self-assessment framework would be implemented to allow both London (and non-London) authorities to measure performance of homelessness and housing options services – using best practice from the project. With the intention of enabling benchmarking and helping move from a process-driven service to a person-centred approach.
London Councils’ report and subsequent project are a sign of real progress. The interviews, evidence and law that we presented in Abused Twice has forced London Housing Directors to sit down and acknowledge the housing problems faced by so many survivors. Examining the endemic failure of London councils to provide emergency accommodation is an urgent priority – and it is great that London Councils and London Housing Directors have begun the process of reviewing their systems. It is also encouraging to see that a broad range of London local authorities are involved in the project – and will hopefully begin a process of necessary change.
However, we are concerned that this grant will not be enough to resolve the wider, more entrenched issues relating to housing in England. As we argue in Abused Twice, the problem of local-authority ‘gatekeeping’ of support for survivors has worsened over the last decade as a consequence of austerity and a chronic shortage of social housing. The enormity of the problem now requires a response of similar magnitude.
Under Sections 188 and 193 of the Housing Act 1996, domestic abuse survivors have the legal right to access emergency housing and longer-term safe and secure accommodation. Despite this, local authorities continue to claim that their failure to abide by the law is due to a lack of resources. These, quite frankly, are excuses. Local authorities must abide by the law – which means granting survivors their statutory right to housing support.
While we appreciate that London Councils and London’s Housing Directors are taking our findings from Abused Twice on board, we question why local authorities do not undertake joint campaigns for decent funding from Central Government to enable them to house people safely and securely. In this vein, we are encouraged by the joint letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove, signed by London Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley and the London Housing Panel, urging the Government to provide long-term investment into social rented housing as local authorities cannot solve the housing crisis alone.
We look forward to the findings of the London Councils pilot project, and hope this marks the beginning of tangible change.
Our Report – Abused Twice
‘Gatekeeping’ can be defined as the placing of bureaucratic or other obstacles in the way of those seeking statutory support. In other words, when somebody tries to access support a gate is effectively put in their way. In domestic abuse cases this might be: demanding that survivors submit police evidence, or that incidents of abuse have occurred recently. Unless they provide this evidence the survivor is prevented from receiving housing support. With years of experience working within this area, we can confidently report that this type of gatekeeping is unfortunately systemic across London.
To fully emphasise just how endemic gatekeeping can be, we published Abused Twice. We took a witness statement from a domestic abuse survivor or frontline advocate from each of the 32 London boroughs. In every statement, the same kinds of obstacles arise when survivors seek housing support from local authorities. This is not a coincidence. Instead, we found this to be a deeply-rooted, chronic problem.
Out of the survivors who participated in our report, one third were not accommodated in emergency accommodation; three quarters reported experiencing delays with their application for housing support, with some waiting for months or even years for an outcome of their applications; and two thirds were accommodated in unsuitable accommodation, including housing that was overcrowded, located in unsafe areas or far from support networks.
Advocacy from an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) or a lawyer is often required for a survivor to have any chance of accessing housing; over a quarter of the participants required the intervention of a lawyer to get their local authority to provide housing support.
The real-life consequences of this ‘gatekeeping’ can be extremely grave. As documented in the report, this includes:
Survivors being forced to remain in dangerous properties or return to the perpetrator of abuse;
Street homelessness—one of our participants was forced to sleep in a friend’s car, another on a park bench – who then the next day tried to take her life;
Survivors having no choice but to occupy unsuitable or unaffordable accommodation;
Survivors are being moved away from support networks; and
Survivors being retraumatised leading to a deterioration in their mental health.
The impact of local authority gatekeeping in domestic abuse cases can be the difference between life and death, safety and danger, housing and street homelessness. As one survivor put it, this makes survivors feel like they have been abused twice.