‘Too Long in Temporary’ housing protest

Members of the housing campaign HASL today (31 May) protested outside Lambeth town hall in Brixton over the plight of a homeless cancer patient and his family.

The protesters said the council had called the police after refusing to allow then to enter the town hall or speak to them.

HASL said the “Too Long in Temporary” protest highlighted how Lambeth families are trapped for years in dilapidated and dangerous temporary accommodation.

Lambeth council said that there are more than 30,000 households on its housing register, and more than 3,200 households in temporary accommodation, because of the huge gap demand and supply of housing.

HASL member Janeth and her family have lived in five different temporary accommodations over the last eight years.

Last December Janeth’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. He is immune-compromised and infections could be life-threatening. 

HASL said the long-term mould and damp of his temporary accommodation, as well a boiler which regularly breaks, are a serious risk to his health.

It added that the insecurity of temporary accommodation – the family can be asked to leave at any moment for alternative temporary accommodation – is causing additional stress.

HASL said it was shocked that Lambeth council’s medical assessor had decided that Janeth’s husband has a “less urgent” medical need – meaning that the family will remain at the bottom of the housing waiting list with no hope of secure social housing.

NHS staff have stated that he has “a serious, long-term … life-threatening condition”.

woman and children with protest banner
Janeth and her family last year

His hospital doctor has requested “urgent re-housing” from the council and said he should be “kept away from any damp and mould”.

HASL said: “We do not know if this decision was made by Lambeth council staff or by the infamous Now Medical company – a private medical company that makes medical assessments without ever meeting the patient.

The campaign said that a Freedom of Information Act request to Lambeth council in 2020 about its use of Now Medical returned only “vague information”.

HASL said the use of Now Medical evidence has been repeatedly questioned by the courts.

Even before the cancer diagnosis, the young family’s health had been suffering from years of poor quality, mouldy and overcrowded housing and frequent moves across London, HASL said.

The children have developed coughs, asthma, skin rashes and anxiety.

Janeth’s oldest son, 10, has lived more tha half his life in temporary accommodation and her three other children, seven, six, and four, have lived all their lives in temporary accommodation.

HASL is calling for the family to be given the secure social housing they need immediately.

Elizabeth Wyatt, a member of HASL, said: “Receiving Lambeth council’s decision that cancer is deemed a ‘less urgent medical need’ has been shocking and devastating for the family.

“Janeth’s husband is suffering from a life-threatening and life-changing illness.

“As an absolute minimum, this family need permanent social housing where her husband can rest and recover with comfort and security from the aggressive cancer treatment he is receiving.

“It is totally unacceptable for the family to be trapped in insecure and dilapidated temporary accommodation.”

HASL said Lambeth council’s housing waiting list rules mean that thousands of families in temporary accommodation are at the bottom of the housing waiting list with no hope of permanent council housing.

Janeth (left) explains her housing problems at a HASL event in 2020

“This is a political choice by Lambeth council to de-prioritise and demote homeless families on the waiting list,” HASL said.

“As well as ensuring that homeless families with serious health conditions are correctly assessed and prioritised on the housing waiting list, Lambeth council must make urgent changes to their waiting list rules so that homeless families are not stuck indefinitely in temporary accommodation.”

A Lambeth council spokesperson said: “There are more than 2,700 homeless families from Lambeth living in temporary accommodation who need a two-bedroom, or bigger, home. 

“There are also more than 30,000 households on the housing register, and more than 3,200 households living in temporary accommodation, because of the huge gap between the level of demand for accommodation and the housing supply.

“The council understands and is sympathetic to Janeth’s concerns. We are aware she is seeking a permanent council house and have reviewed her case, but the significant shortage of this type of housing means we are unable to say when one might be available.

“The council is determined to build new social housing via its wholly owned housing company, Homes for Lambeth, and its programme of estate regeneration.

“But we will still struggle to meet all demand which, in part, is due to a long-term lack of government investment in social housing.”

HASL said that, across London, “temporary accommodation” has lost its meaning with tens of thousands of households stuck in often squalid conditions for years and even more than a decade.

“We need a council housing revolution to ensure that everyone has the high-quality council housing they need and deserve, with a particular focus on three-, four-, five- bed family sized homes,” the campaign said.

HASL is a community group of homeless households, families living in overcrowded housing and others facing housing problems.

“We support each other with our housing problems and fight together for the high quality, safe, secure council homes we all need and deserve,” it says.