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Victory for the Law Centres Network will help Cambridge House prevent homelessness

The High Court’s decision will help Law Centres across the country prevent homelessness


The Law Centres Network (LCN), of which Cambridge House is a proud member, won an important challenge to the Ministry of Justice. The High Court has ruled that the MoJ’s decision – to consolidate the 113 duty desk schemes across England and Wales into just 47 – was “one that no reasonable decision-maker could reach”.

The changes would have severely affected the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme, the system through which people at risk of losing their home receive legal advice, assistance and advocacy at court. Often marginalised and vulnerable people, the clients of these schemes face eviction and homelessness without court based support.

Consolidating the schemes would have stretched services over significantly larger areas. This would have jeopardised Cambridge House’s ability to be involved in the scheme – rather than have the support and follow upwork on their case dealt with by us, Southwark residents at risk of eviction would instead have to travel to north London for help during times of incredible emotional and financial stress. The MoJ also decided to remove fixed fees for these cases, meaning organisations that wanted to help people facing eviction would have to enter a bidding competition, which could drive down fees and harm service quality.

The Judge upheld the LCN’s claims that the MoJ made these decisions based on questionable, untested assumptions and acted without proper analysis of the decisions’ effects on people who need the service. Cambridge House are happy to see the High Court make the right call, and are ever grateful to have the Law Centres Network fighting for an accessible, fair justice system.

Peckham Cycle Club take on 100-mile cycle challenge for Cambridge House services

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Peckham Cycles Club are taking on the RideLondon 100 to raise £10,500 for Cambridge House this July.

Peckham Cycle Club, Peckham’s biggest and most inclusive cycle club, are taking on the RideLondon 100 this summer in aid of Cambridge House.

16 riders will cycle 100 miles through London and Surrey on the 29th July, following the 2012 Olympic route as part of Britain’s biggest cycling festival.

Cambridge House sought out Peckham Cycle Club’s help to respond to some of the major challenges facing the community today, including protecting the rights of Windrush citizens and supporting young people at risk of involvement in violent crime, which has soared this year. Demand for our services have increased as other local centres have closed, such as the Crossways Centre in Peckham which closed in 2015 due to funding cuts. Cambridge House Chief Executive Karin Woodley commented:

“We’ve been a community anchor in Southwark since 1889. We were set up to tackle Victorian levels of poverty, and this year we’ve seen some of the biggest challenges in our history. More and more families are struggling to make ends meet, needing specialist help to avoid homelessness and poverty. Meanwhile budgets for local services are getting thinner – that’s why we’re teaming up with Peckham Cycle Club to raise funds for our frontline services.”

Peckham Cycle Club are kicking off their fundraising campaign with an ambitious goal of £10,500. Alex Denise of Peckham Cycle Club said:

“We felt honoured to be approached by Cambridge House to partner with them to raise money to continue the invaluable work they do with South London’s underprivileged communities. As a club, we feel strongly about supporting our local area in offering services that uplift and support those that need it.

Our members have pulled their efforts together to help raise £10,500 to aid the work Cambridge House do. Each member has their own personal goal and we have a team JustGiving page tracking our progress.

Every penny pledged will help build a stronger South London community and give hope and opportunity to those what would otherwise be forgotten.”

With 4 weeks to go, Cambridge House and Peckham Cycle Club are looking to local businesses and fellow Southwark residents to help them reach their goal. Check out our progress at

Vital Windrush Day victory for Cambridge House Law Centre

In a fitting coincidence, last month’s Inaugural Windrush Day was marked at Cambridge House by some hard-earned news about a long-standing case, when a vulnerable Law Centre client was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. Mr L came to England in the early 70s on a UK passport, and worked consistently until the late 00s when his mental health broke down. Over the last decade, immigration rules left him in a situation where he was unable to work, denied benefits and regularly threatened with eviction. Faced with destitution, homelessness and deportation, Mr L’s story drives home the importance of free legal support.

Mr L has been with us since 2009, when he was first threatened with eviction, and his solicitor Stuart Herne worked for many years to keep him housed and protect his right to benefits. His case was then taken on by solicitors Gurminder Birdi and latterly Sharon Gunard, alongside pro-bono barrister Desmond Rutledge and the Migrant Legal Centre.

Last year Mr L’s benefits were stopped and he was faced with eviction again. Through Gurminder and Desmond’s work, he is now receiving Housing Benefit and a backdated payment to clear his rent arrears and keep him in his home. However, he was still left in flux by his immigration status. Gurminder and another Law Centre solicitor, Serdar Celebi, paid him a visit in the hope of convincing him to push for full rights to remain in Britain. Our Law Centre Manager Pamela Robotham arranged for the Migrant Legal Centre to approach the Home Office, and Sharon and Gurminder accompanied him to his first appointment. Mr L’s paranoia means he distrusts everyone apart from our Law Centre staff, particularly Gurminder, and only attended his Home Office appointment once we’d secured permission for her to attend as well.

Mr L has finally been given confirmation of his Indefinite Leave to Remain – with the home office waiving the usual £2,389 fee attached to Indefinite Leave to Remain applications. After a long and trying case, Mr L is staying in his home.  Sharon also got the government to pay Mr L income benefits and backdated payments, and after supporting his immigration case the Migrant Law Centre are helping Mr L go on to apply for full British Citizenship.

However, only the housing work was paid for by Legal Aid, the system that provides legal assistance to those unable to afford representation. Some of the work was funded directly by Southwark Council, and a significant amount was pro-bono. Pamela Robotham, our Law Centre Manager, said:

 “This emphasises the desperate need to restore Legal Aid for welfare benefits work, as there are clearly countless out there who cannot access the few services like ours that have alternative sources of funding or can provide expertise for free. Many have lost their homes by the time they have resolved their immigration problem.

It’s Windrush Day today. Big up to Gurminder and Sharon as without their hard work, expertise and dedication, our client would still be holed up in his flat under his blankets with no money, food, heat, light or hope. Client’s birthday is next week, his immigration status is now secure and he has money to live on. Result!!!”

How the Legal System is Failing Courteney – Safer Renting Blog

Safer Renting works with vulnerable tenants and victims of criminal landlords to help protect their rights and get justice. The Safer Renting blog from our Project Lead Roz Spencer tells the stories of the people we work with. You can learn about the project here.

I know today is Friday 13th, but the events of the day surpass anything you could call “simply bad luck”.

For hardened members of the legal profession, this story may come as no surprise. Courtenay – not her real name – is a refugee from Rwanda who has been in this country now for some 20 years. She is a Care worker on a zero hours contract, has just completed her Masters degree in Pharmacology (so things she hopes may be looking up on the employment front) and is a single mother of 3. Her middle child suffers severely with sickle cell anaemia, made worse by the poor condition of her private rented flat. The London Borough of Hounslow are prosecuting the landlord for failure to maintain the property in a safe condition. As a result of this intervention, the landlord is now seeking to evict Courtenay and her 3 children: a form of revenge for something Courtenay had no say in.

The possession proceedings the landlord is using are of questionable legality because he has not protected Courtenay’s rent deposit and failed to maintain the safety of gas appliances. Courtenay should be entitled to legal aid to defend the possession claim: the catch is that the court has not served a key document on Courtenay’s case – the landlord’s Particulars of Claim. Without this, she can’t apply for legal aid and no solicitor can prepare a proper defence.

Courtenay tried to speak to the Court office to find a way around this, but was unable to find anybody willing to discuss her situation. With the hearing scheduled for just 3 working days time, I drove Courtenay to Staines County Court hoping to get a copy of the Particulars of Claim. However the court office was shut. We then made a further 3 phone calls to HM Courts and Tribunals Service to try and find a solution. Eventually Courtenay was told she would have to write to the court, with no guarantee she would get a response in time. The alternative, to apply for an adjournment to the hearing, involved a £225 fee and no guarantee of a decision in time.

Recognising there was no hope of resolving this in time for the hearing, we tried to find out if a Duty Solicitor service was available to represent Courtenay to stand in place of full representation by a solicitor. This was also a dead-end.

Having exhausted our options for securing full legal representation, Safer Renting will attend court with Courtenay as a McKenzie friend (someone who helps a person represent themselves in court who is not a legal representative) or represent her if the judge on the day permits it.

I was struck by Courtenay’s grit and grace in the face of this hopeless farce. She talked to me during our car journey of the transformation that Rwanda has been through and just how determined the country’s leadership has been to reform the country. Our legal system must look to her as it does to me, like a badly moth-eaten jumper. As someone who has fought through genocide, studied to improve her skills, takes care of our elderly, all while bringing up a family single-handedly, she deserves so much better than this.

What is Playdagogy?

Learn how our innovative sports for social justice programme works with educators and young people to tackle discrimination.

Working as PLAY International (formerly Sports Sans Frontières)’s UK partner, our Playdagogy programme works to harness the transformative and unifying power of sport in ways that tackle the root causes of social injustice and ensure that children and young people understand and value human rights and the dignity of all human beings. Check out Playdagogy Co ordinator, Leo Schwartz, explaining how the project works with educators and young people to tackle discrimination at the recent Play International Forum in Lille, France.

Lean more about Playdagogy here.

Video Evidence – Magic IS Real! 19Plus Magic Show

Do you believe in magic? You will now – we bring you hard evidence of the existence of magic, performed last Christmas at the Amazing 19Plus Christmas Magic Show! A spectacular evening of wacky wizardy, daring-do, and mysterious magicking!

Check out their skills below:

Every year, our 19Plus arts group of adults with a learning disability put on an extraordinary and spectacular Christmas Show. The unquestionable highlight of the Cambridge House year, the event is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a great show and show your support to our users, staff, and volunteers for their awesome work this year.

For those who don’t know, 19Plus is a club for adults with learning disabilities which enables our learners to explore the arts, learn new skills, gain confidence and socialise. All the staff are practising artists.

19Plus is an important social club as well as a space for learning diverse adults to learn to live together. We run stimulating creative activities to develop independent living skills, with a focus on clear communication, comprehension, social interaction, and self expression. Everyone contributes and as a result our approach varies according to who is part of the team.

Learn more.

Can we afford to lose local authority housing?

A lack of investment in truly affordable housing means that many more Londoners will be priced out of the capital.

social housing, housing, housing and planning bill, cressingham gardens, heygate, aylesbury, estate, displacement, housing crisis, demolition, homelessness

Residents and campaigners march to Lambeth Town Hall in a bid to save their estate from planned demolition, Brixton, London. Photo credit to Susanne Hakuba,

On Wednesday George Osborne announced the doubling of the housing budget to address the UK’s housing crisis. £2billion will go straight to developers to incentivise the building of new starter homes in an attempt to realise the vision of a ‘home-owning democracy’. The proposed £450,000 price cap means however that for many the new starter homes will be prohibitively expensive. Moreover yesterday’s proposals offer no reprieve for those struggling to pay inflated rents in the capital.

Parts of London such as Southwark and Lambeth are already experiencing state-led gentrification due to a potent mix of government policy, cuts to local authority budgets and international investment. This has so far seen a reduction in social housing, increased private rental and rising rates resulting in the displacement of low-income groups.

The government is set to accelerate this. In yesterday’s autumn statement George Osborne announced his plan to pay for services by selling off local authority assets. This is in addition to current proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill to sell off local authority accommodation to pay for the right-to-buy of housing association homes at discounted rates and new ‘affordable’ builds. The loss of more local authority housing would be devastating for many and remove existing protections for the poor and ‘vulnerable’ from dispossession and homelessness.

For the moment however, council estates remain home to a large number of Londoners and offer secure and truly affordable accommodation. This autumn we carried out research looking into the role social housing and the law currently play protecting those on low incomes, as well as the experiences and circumstances of tenants and the reasons for rent arrears.

Our findings suggest that owing to cuts to benefits and services local authority housing plays an essential role ensuring basic support needs of the poor and/or disabled are met. Unlike private and some housing association landlords, a local authority cannot evict a secure tenant for rent arrears unless they can demonstrate that it is reasonable in all circumstances for a possession order to be made. Even then, so long as the tenant agrees to make regular payments towards the debt, they will not be evicted from their homes.

This safeguard is essential for those on low incomes and/or benefits. For those already short of money, a sudden change in personal circumstances such as a relationship breaking down, bereavement or illness can quickly lead to rent arrears. Without the protection provided by local authority housing and the law many would find themselves destitute and unable to enter the private rental sector.

We also found that work doesn’t necessarily pay. Sixty-seven per cent of those we observed facing a possession order in court were in full or part-time work.  Of those in full employment, particularly in care and service industries such as nursery nurses, teaching assistants, and cleaners, it was apparent that they were not paid enough to cover council tax, utility bills, food, travel and rent even when living in subsidised housing. Those on part-time or zero hours contracts also reported struggling to budget and manage rent payments due to precarious working conditions and inconsistent hours, while delays in housing benefit payments for over 50% of those observed were the original cause of rent arrears.

The research underlines the importance of retaining council housing. This is important for the UK as a whole, but especially important in the context of London where property prices and rents are some of the highest in the world, and where council estates are being demolished and regenerated for a new class of resident. If we believe that London and other British cities should be sustainable for all social groups then the government’s plans to sell off social housing as a short term fix to address the deficit should be fought at all costs.

Read the research report here: Why We Can’t Afford to Lose it: Local Authority Housing in London Protects the Poor from Homelessness 

For more information about the project please contact Dr H White and Professor Loretta Lees.

Government plan to close Lambeth County Court will leave court users struggling to get justice

  • Government proposal to close Lambeth County Court will make it harder for those facing eviction to mount an effective legal challenge.
  • Proposal to close courts is based on ‘wildly optimistic’ estimates of journey times for court users.


People battling eviction proceedings in South London will face greater hurdles to keeping their homes if government plans to close down courts and tribunals in London go ahead.

Credit to secretlondon123. Used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lambeth County Court, London

Lambeth County Court, one of the country’s  busiest courts when it comes to housing possession cases  and evictions, is among 10 courts and tribunals in London slated for closure under the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) ‘Estate Reform Programme’.

Under the MoJ’s proposal Lambeth County Court’s workload will be moved to Wandsworth County Court, leaving those who would attend proceedings at Lambeth facing longer journey times, and putting a greater strain on resources at Wandsworth. The proposal also fails to take into account the true length of time it would take those using Lambeth County Court to attend Wandsworth.

Stuart Hearne, the manager of the Cambridge House Law Centre in Camberwell, said:  “Taking someone’s home away from them is a serious legal sanction and anyone facing eviction deserves to be able to put their case forward and have a fair hearing.

“The current system is already under strain and closing Lambeth County Court will seriously affect access to justice for people in the local area. It will mean anyone who has to go to court to challenge an eviction order will have to travel further and face a court that is even more overloaded.

“The government’s proposal seems to suggest that closing Lambeth will only marginally affect court users, but in fact it will increase journey times quite considerably and make it more difficult for people to attend hearings that can dramatically affect their lives. The government’s estimates of how long it would take court users to attend Wandsworth County Court instead of Lambeth seem to me to be wildly optimistic.”

The government says court users will be only marginally affected by its proposed closures because London’s public transport system makes it relatively easy for people get to a different court.

But data compiled by Cambridge House – using the postcodes of court users, rather than the generalised data used by the MoJ – shows this to be an inaccurate assessment. For example:

  • A journey from SE1 5RB in Bermondsey that currently takes 44 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 36 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE15 6AX in Peckham that currently takes 39 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 45 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE16 2XH in Rotherhithe that currently takes 53 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 49 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court;
  • A journey from SE21 8HS that currently takes 40 minutes by bus one way to Lambeth County Court, would take 1 hour 15 minutes one way to Wandsworth County Court.

The concern is that the closure of Lambeth County Court will lead to an increase in evictions and homelessness putting an even greater strain on already stretched resources.


Cambridge House Law Centre

Cambridge House is a south London charity based in the heart of the borough of Southwark. Since 1889, Cambridge House has stood up for those who lack the ability and capacity to protect their own rights. By offering free expert legal advice and professional advocacy services we ‘give voice’ to the most vulnerable people in our society, increase access to justice for those without the means to pay, promote social inclusion, tackle inequality and address gaps in statutory provision.

The MoJ’s proposal

The MoJ’s proposal documents for its Estate Reform Programme can be found here.

London’s Dispossessed: Local authority possession orders and homelessness in South London

Cambridge House receives funding from Leicester University to carry out research on housing in South London

The London housing crisis shows no sign of abating. Average property prices have reached nearly half a million while increasing numbers of people are being priced out of the rental market. At the same time social housing is in decline, and Government ‘reforms’ intended to cut the welfare bill such as the bedroom tax, benefits cap and recent withdrawal of tax credits have hit the poorest hardest. This has seen rising homelessness, displacement and overcrowding with central London becoming, according to Matthew Taylor in last weekend’s Observer, a no-go zone for below average income households.

Cambridge House image

Aylesbury Estate, London Borough of Southwark

Southwark where Cambridge House is based, is also undergoing rapid transformation as a result of Government policy and foreign investment. For the moment it remains polarised with areas of extreme wealth and poverty. The most deprived wards (Camberwell, Faraday, Peckham and Livesey) sit sandwiched between the recently regenerated south bank of the Thames (City Hall) and the leafy suburbs to the South. This however is set to change. Southwark Council one of the largest social landlords in the UK has been selling off run-down accommodation it can no longer afford to maintain. This has seen developers moving in to take advantage of the investment opportunities presented by estates such as the Heygate and Aylesbury situated less than a mile away from the river.

There is an emergent academic literature examining how the ‘new’ urban renewal is encouraging the gentrification of previously devalued council estates and its impact (Hyra 2008; Watt 2009; Lees 2014). However, less is known about who is at threat from eviction or homelessness or the effects on the individual. Further, there has been little investigation into how service providers should respond in order to best support vulnerable residents and adapt services to the challenges and requirements of living (or attempting to stay) in the capital.

Cambridge House is pleased to announce that it has recently received funding from the University of Leicester to help plug this gap. Working with Professor Loretta Lees an urban geographer who specialises in gentrification and urban regeneration and supported by Cambridge House Law Centre, the research will provide in depth insight into the experiences and circumstances of those facing the threat of eviction or who are already homeless in South London.

The research objectives are as follows:

  • To establish who is vulnerable from eviction and/or homelessness and why
  • To examine the personal impact of possession orders and homelessness on the individual
  • To determine in what ways service providers can better support those at threat from, or who are already, homeless

If you wish to find out more about the research or would like to be involved please contact

Can the Supreme Court stop austerity hitting the vulnerable hardest?

Credit to Rob Young. Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Supreme Court

Last month the Supreme Court delivered a land mark ruling in homelessness law. The case of Mr Kanu, demonstrates how far some cash strapped Council’s had squeezed the definition of vulnerability in order to avoid treating those with a physical disability or mental health issues as having priority need. With a further 12 billion in benefit cuts on the horizon, widening inequality and rising homelessness we ask: can we rely on the law to protect our most vulnerable?

Under the Cameron administration, homelessness has now reached crisis point. Crisis and Shelter, report that rough sleeping has increased by 37% over the last three years, and last year more than 130,000 people approached their local authority as homeless (equivalent to the population of Cambridge).

Under the Housing Act 1996, local authorities have a duty to ensure accommodation for people who are homeless and in ‘priority need’. However housing shortages and spending restrictions have meant that the definition of ‘priority need’ had become the critical factor in determining who is entitled.

From 1998 a precedent referred to as the ‘Pereira Test’ had been used to assess an individual’s circumstances. Lady Brenda Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, summed this up: “We had reached the point where decision–makers were saying, of people who clearly had serious mental or physical disabilities, that ‘you are not vulnerable, because you are no more vulnerable than the usual run of street homeless people in our locality’”.

Last month’s judgement throws the state’s failure to protect its most vulnerable citizens into stark relief. In early 2011, an eviction notice was served to Mr Patrick Kanu (the successful appellant) and his family. Mr Kanu was already facing debilitating health issues, including mental health concerns. He initially sought support, but was rejected by the local authority. Later that year, Mr Kanu applied again when facing street homelessness. The Local Authority refused his application on the basis that he was not considered “in priority need”.

Mr Kanu approached Cambridge House, who provided Mr Kanu, with legal advice and representation.  By this time, Mr Kanu’s health was seriously deteriorating, suffering from chronic pain, hepatitis B, and levels of hypertension flagged by his GP as “dangerous”. Even more troublingly, Mr Kanu was experiencing severe mental health issues, including bouts of psychosis, attempted self-harm (often only prevented by Mr Kanu’s wife), and suicidal thoughts. Despite the Local Authority’s own Medical Assessment Service recommending his categorisation as in “priority need”, it decided that he was not sufficiently ‘vulnerable’ to be eligible for housing. The reason given was that Mr Kanu could cope with the effects of homelessness and in any event because he was married his wife could assist him.

The Housing Act 1996 states that Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that vulnerable homeless people who are not intentionally homeless are supported into housing. In Mr Kanu’s case this vulnerability was clearly significant. Yet, it was only after four years and against a backdrop of increasingly severe health issues that Mr Kanu’s won his appeal in the Supreme Court.  Sadly, the extent of Mr Kanu’s vulnerability became clear shortly after the Supreme Court judgement. Only 3 days later, Mr Kanu died aged 48 provoking the question: ‘How vulnerable is vulnerable enough?’

Under the new ruling, the Supreme Court has done away with the previous case law, including the Pereira Test, and specifically rejected some of the expressions used in homelessness cases such as “street homelessness” and “fend for oneself”. They have also abolished the use of statistics (a particularly blunt way of establishing ‘ordinary’ levels of vulnerability), and re-established the intended meaning of a “person who is vulnerable” under the Housing Act 1996. Critically, as Lady Hale commented, this means that vulnerability will now be established in comparison “with ordinary people generally”, not “ordinary homeless people”.

Despite the positive precedent established on May 13th, as local authorities brace themselves for the £12bn in welfare cuts stories like Mr Kanu’s are likely to become more rather than less common. The disturbing possibility is that, in the face of single-minded austerity, the law will not protect the most vulnerable. Either the government must accept the cost of caring or the stark reality of the cost of cutting – for our most vulnerable the threat of deprivation and destitution.