Anger at Newham Council as people in temporary housing say they live in state of disrepair

PUBLISHED: 11:49 11 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:49 11 June 2019

Picture: Luke Acton.

Picture: Luke Acton.

Luke Acton

Demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest against Newham Council’s housing system as people in temporary accommodation say they face living in a state of disrepair.

Security talking to the demonstrators. Picture: Luke Acton.Security talking to the demonstrators. Picture: Luke Acton.

Demonstrators have taken to the street to protest against Newham Council's housing system as people in temporary accommodation say they face living in a state of disrepair.

The demonstrators, organised by the London Renters' Union (LRU), set-up outside the council's housing department building in Stratford and demanded a meeting with senior officers.

Established last year, representatives for the LRU said the union has signed around 1,400 members.

A Newham resident who asked to be known by her initials, HK, is living in Forest Gate.

She said she has been in six temporary homes since 1999. She has two children, who were six and seven when they entered the system. They're now adults and still live with her.

The family moved into their current house in 2016. Like many of the homes they've stayed in, suffers from damp, cold and disrepair.

HK asked the council if they could be moved, but was offered a place she said is in a worse condition and is unfurnished.

She refused, but the council said if she didn't accept the new home, they would cut off support, a practice known as 'discharging its duty'.

Picture: Luke Acton.Picture: Luke Acton.

The union says that after its intervention the council told HK to reapply for aid. That was in October.

Now, still living in a home in disrepair, the landlord is trying to get rent from HK, as the council stopped paying the fee when it discharged her, a fact she says she wasn't told at the time.

HK's wasn't the only case highlighted outside the authority's building. Another woman, SA, has been living in temporary accommodation for the past year.

She moved into a new home organised by the authority on April 16. In that time, she said she has lived without heat or hot water for a total of 25 days over three separate occasions.

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"It's like we're not human, we're just furniture. If you complain about disrepair, they just move you from one property to another, but they don't [hold] the landlords accountable for their negligence," said SA.

"Rather than prosecuting the landlords and the agents, they just punish us, they punish the tenants."

"We're asking for our basic rights. We're not asking for luxury."

Pat Halligan negotiated with the group. Mr Halligan is a senior manager with the council’s Central Accommodation Service. Picture: Luke Acton.Pat Halligan negotiated with the group. Mr Halligan is a senior manager with the council’s Central Accommodation Service. Picture: Luke Acton.

Amina Gichinga is an organiser for the Renters' Union and led the negotiations with Pat Halligan, a senior manager with the council's Central Accommodation Service.

After discussions with members, the union offered the council an ultimatum: a meeting with cabinet lead for housing John Gray and senior officers, or they would be back.

"It's not radical to say that everyone deserves a safe home to live in," said Ms Gichinga.

"That is a human right."

Union member Liam Barrington-Bush said, "Every one of these cases is an example of a bigger crisis.

"It's not going to be addressed by helping one person's situation in itself, but, if we come together and start to fight and win these little battles, we can start to demand and take back the rights that we need to live."

Councillor John Gray, Newham's deputy mayor and cabinet member for housing services, has agreed to meet the protestors to discuss their concerns.

He said: "We are fully aware there are significant issues with temporary accommodation in Newham and across the capital due to London's housing crisis, which are compounded by the government's welfare reforms."

Picture: Luke Acton.Picture: Luke Acton.

"We are doing all we can solve these problems.

"All homes in Newham should be fit for human habitation and we will put pressure on those landlords who are failing to deliver quality housing provision in Newham."

He said that pressure included inspections and serving improvement notices and that the council has made changes to its practices and culture to ensure its approach is sympathetic and caring.

He added: "More work is still needed, but we are committed to making the necessary changes to ensure our homeless families receive a good service from the council during what will be a traumatic time in their lives."

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