We carry out research, pilot new ways to deliver services and share our expertise in order to develop understanding of key social trends
Our in-house research team are experts in qualitative and quantitative methods and evaluation. We place particular emphasis on co-production and participatory action methods partnering up with academics to deliver projects and provide training to community researchers.
London’s Dispossessed: Local authority possession orders and homelessness
Working with Professor Loretta Lees an urban geographer who specialises in gentrification and urban regeneration and supported by Cambridge House Law Centre, our research examined the experiences and circumstances of those facing the threat of eviction or who are already homeless in South London.
Social housing in London is in decline and under threat of privatization as property developers move in to take advantage of real estate opportunities (Dorling 2014). At the same time ‘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. The likely consequence for the capital’s least well off is increased private rental (insecure and expensive), displacement and in the worst-case scenario homelessness.
There is an emerging academic literature examining how this ‘new’ urban renewal is encouraging the gentrification of previously devalued council estates and its impact (Hyra 2008; Watt 2009; Lees 2014). Despite this, relatively little 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 support best vulnerable residents and adapt services to the changing demographics and requirements of living in the capital.
The proposed research set out to address current gaps in understanding by examining how the ‘new’ urban renewal is impacting residents in Southwark. In particular, through interviews with clients of the Law Centre the research offers in depth insight into the experiences and circumstances of those facing the threat of eviction or who are already homeless in the area.
The research objectives were 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 homeles
Findings: Research by Cambridge House and the University of Leicester reveals importance of social housing in protecting vulnerable people
The report, Why We Can’t Afford to Lose it: Local Authority Housing London Protects the Poor from Homelessness, produced the following key findings:
- Local authority housing plays an essential role in protecting those who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or physical disability, as well as those on low incomes, from homelessness.
- Local authority tenants with a secure tenancy are better protected than housing association or private tenants.
- The Pre-action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords protects both local authority and housing association tenants. Housing associations, unlike local authorities, however, can seek possession of a property using a Ground 8, Section 8 Notice. In this instance if the tenant owes more than 8 weeks rent on the day of the hearing the court has no mandate to intervene.
- Disproportionately represented among those at risk of eviction in South London are women with dependants and ethnic minorities.
- Work does not necessarily pay – over two-thirds of those observed defending a possession order were either in full or part time work and yet still struggled to pay their rent.
- Housing Benefit delays or mistakes are a primary cause of rent arrears.
- It is not just social housing under threat due to the proposed Housing and Planning Bill, currently Lambeth County Court and funding for legal aid are also at risk and the rolling out of universal credit will see a reduction in many people’s weekly budgets.
The research report also produced the following recommendations for the proposed Housing & Planning Bill currently being considered by a Public Bill Committee:
- Plans to sell off high value council accommodation to subsidise the right to buy of housing association properties should be scrapped. In the short term the current proposals will increase the financial burden on local authorities and in the long term significantly reduce their capital assets.
- Greater safeguards should be introduced for private tenants including rent controls, more secure tenancies and greater protection from possession claims.
- Local authorities must retain affordable planning controls, while welfare reforms need to be reconsidered to protect tenants from forced dispersal and to save money. This should include:
- A review of the bedroom tax and benefit cap, both notable causes of debt and rent arrears
- Greater effort should be made to rehouse bedroom tax tenants in properties with fewer bedrooms
- Discretionary housing payments should be made available to help tenants pay off debts in cases where rent arrears are the result of a housing benefit error
- Measures should be put in place to stop rent arrears cases owing to a housing benefit error coming to court
Read the research report here.