Thousands are being made homeless by a broken housing system say Lambeth Housing Activists who have been assisting the now homeless mother of two.
Clavia is not an exceptional case. Thousands are being made homeless because of a specific loophole being used by councils to avoid housing vulnerable people.
Councils have no legal obligation to help people classed as ‘intentionally homeless’. If you’re evicted because of rent arrears, you fall into this category. Here’s how one woman was failed by the system.
Before she was made homeless, Clavia was in a private flat, sublet on her behalf by Lambeth council, which charged extortionate rent. The average rent for a 2 bed in Lambeth is now £1,855 per month.
Without a high income Clavia relied on housing benefit to pay her rent. In London, most people in private flats who rely on housing benefit to pay their rent are also working.
With childcare responsibilities Clavia had limited job choices and went on a seasonal contract. Her employer pays the minimum wage for part-time hours, which are not guaranteed. When she was working Clavia earned around £90 per week.
Every time Clavia moved in and out of work she had to inform the relevant authorities so that her benefits could be recalculated.
But some benefits work in arrears, some in advance and some, such as tax credits, are paid speculatively and recouped at the end of the tax year if actual income exceeds expected income.
Stopping or starting work can involve moving between working tax credit and income support or jobseekers allowance which are administered by the DWP but also impacts housing benefit which is administered by the council.
Benefits can be, and often are, suspended while changes are calculated and then backdated if and when the correct information is supplied. Strict deadlines apply for backdating and if they are missed claimants can be instructed to make a new claim.
Without support or advice this can be the first point of crisis leading to benefit entitlements being lost, arrears accruing, and people forced to resort to money lenders or foodbanks.
Clavia found herself caught in this all-too familiar and debilitating cycle. Trying to convince the council that her benefits were being calculated incorrectly but being given the run around.
The council saying letters were sent, which Clavia never received. Evidence of wages and childcare costs submitted but not being acknowledged. No council records of Clavia’s phone calls or her requests to meet with housing officers.
When Clavia was brought to court for eviction proceedings she contacted a private solicitor and they requested her housing benefit records from Lambeth council.
These were not supplied and the solicitor, with no defence case to present, said that they could not apply to be paid through legal aid so they declined to represent her in court.
Advice services in Lambeth, as everywhere, have been decimated in recent years and cuts to legal aid have forced solicitors to severely limit the number of cases they can take on.
Clavia mistakenly believed that because she had not defrauded anyone, or hidden any income, or committed any crime, that she would still be entitled to help from the council.
When she was evicted she went straight to the council to ask for help. However, the law allows for a person who has rent arrears to be considered ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore without any legal entitlement to housing. This is how Lambeth council chose to categorise Clavia.
Councils have to show in court that they have made every effort to support tenants to stay in their homes before they can be granted an order to evict someone. But that does not mean actually helping them or properly informing them of the process, only that they be seen to have done so.
No advice agencies were able to represent Clavia and as a last ditch effort, a volunteer she met at the foodbank went with her to the council in the days before her eviction, but Lambeth council simply refused to discuss her case because they did not legally have to do so.
Lambeth council maintain that Clavia is being ‘used’ by campaigners for some political vendetta. Lambeth council, it seems, is the victim here. Like so much in this case, this is a grotesque distortion of reality.
Clavia’s case is the reality for thousands who do not have the support or the stamina to fight arbitrary decisions from councils across the country. Many end up going under. With Universal Credit coming in, this kind of mishandling of claims is a recipe for disaster.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.