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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.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

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  hwhite@ch1889.org

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