Trace Newton’s response to Cllr Matthew Bennett’s briefing to Labour councillors

Responses in bold.
Original briefing in italics.

Hi all,

You will have received a number of emails, tweets etc from the Shortlife campaign and those who support them about a repossession in Clapham Town. Ward councillors are aware of the details but I wanted to share these more widely in case any of you have questions or concerns about what is happening.

First, a formal eviction is always the last resort – the vast majority of the Shortlife programme has been resolved amicably with residents accepting rehousing without the need for any formal action, and nobody has been made homeless.

It’s a fallacy to say this.

As soon as the council started legal action they had members of the ‘shortlife’ community on the backfoot because of the punitive legal fees they were threatening (5 times what their own solicitors were charging plus the threat of ‘use & occupation charges’ of tens of thousands of pounds).

Many took out legal cases and many qualified for legal aid until it was cut and this clearly signified the opposition they felt to the council taking their homes.

The idea of an ‘amicable handback is simply a piece of doublethink terminology applied to the process. To give an illustration of this, one co-op member who had held out for as long as possible and was a highly vocal critic of the council was called by a ‘shortlife’ officer last week to check on the “amicable handback process”. The ‘handback’ has never been amicable in this case, but this is the convenient label that the council seeks to apply.

Many Shortlife residents have been intimidated into accepting rehousing they didn’t want, or like, because they feared eviction and homelessness. Ex Cllr, Pete Robbins, and Peter Drake, tried to canvas positive feedback from many ‘shortlife’ residents who had been forced to move, for a BBC programme, but couldn’t find anybody.

Meanwhile, there are three cases that I, personally, know of people who were made homeless, including a mother and her child, another was a vulnerable man with serious mental health issues.

We are now near the end of this programme with a handful of the most difficult cases remaining, where they have not responded to the council’s offer of a secure council home over the past few years.

‘Most difficult’ meaning residents who had been in their homes the longest and who have cared for their homes the most.

In this case, the resident was given the ability to bid for a council home in 2011 and was shortlisted for a property she bid for in SW16 in 2012 but didn’t attend the viewing.

I have no idea what this bid on a property in SW16 is referring to. I think this has been made up.

Subsequently a direct offer of a suitable street property, with a garden, was made in 2013 to this resident in SW2 – and has been held vacant for them until now, denying someone else from the waiting list the chance to secure a home of their own.

Lambeth have been repeatedly told that the offer is unsuitable, so they have no one else to blame but themselves for holding it open and ‘denying’ it to anyone else.

This is a 1 bed property. I had requested a 2 bed property so that my carer can sleep over, but Lambeth initially denied I have any medical needs. After a Lambeth Social Services assessment, as requested by Lambeth Council, I was assessed as having ‘substantial care’ needs. Lambeth then redesignated the living room as a bedroom for my carer, now terming the flat a 2 bed property, with ‘bedroom tax’. This means the flat no longer has a living room that I can keep my doctor-advised exercise equipment in.

I have mobility problems and the nearest shops and transport are further away than I can manage to walk. The flat is on a long hill but I can’t walk either up or down a hill. I don’t know the area and have no friends or acquaintances in this part of the borough. I currently rely on my local friends and neighbours for support. I am very dependant on my current GP as my health issues are very complicated. If I move from the area I’m currently in, I will no longer be in my GP’s catchment area.

Also, as a result of a recent Social Services assessment, Lambeth provided me with a pendant care alarm which is connected to my phone line. This means Lambeth are simultaneously denying my care needs and providing the care alarm because I have been assessed as needing this for medical emergencies. Social Services also said that, if I moved from my present home, Lambeth would have to provide the care and support my friends and neighbours currently provide.

Re: flat offered.

Internal refurbishment was carried out. But, as far as I’m aware, no external repairs were undertaken.

On my first visit, there were issues with damp throughout the flat, both from the flat above and from external repairs that needed doing. Simon Matthews wouldn’t let me see the rear of the house on my second visit to the property. There had previously been a very large puddle of grey water and soap scum that covered most of the ground outside the back door, presumably from overflowing drains. I don’t believe this had been sorted out because there were damp stains coming through the new paint on some walls.

I drove past the property a couple of weeks ago, there was extensive damage to the front window ledge, invariably this must be causing damp problems inside. I couldn’t see the inside of the flat.

The case has been repeatedly delayed due to the resident’s reported ill-health but she has declined to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist.

The use of the word ‘reported’ here is loaded. One of the delays was because I had to undego major surgery very close to the court date, another delay was due to the complications following that operation and yet another delay was the judge’s decision.

I have been assessed twice by Lambeth Social Services and once by Lambeth Occupational Therapy. A second visit from an Occupational Therapist was requested by Lambeth. Initially he intended assessing me at the same time the Social Services person was doing her assessment. I asked for the two assessments be done separately. When I tried to make a new appointment for the Occupational Therapist, I was told he was about to leave his post, my case would be passed on to another O.T. Who would be in contact. I haven’t been contacted by anyone again.

Her lawyers have submitted medical evidence at the court where the judge ruled that the rehousing should go ahead and again submitted medical evidence to a second judge who refused her appeal earlier this week. Neither court has concluded that there are any medical grounds that should prevent possession being secured and she has no legal right to remain in the property.

I have not been allowed the right to appeal.

The possession was blocked by protests including Shortlife activists with our Green councillor directing the protest from within the property.

The idea that Cllr Ainslie was directing the protests is in no way accurate, or indeed relevant. The protest was joined and supported by people who are members of all the four main parties and of various campaigning groups. A number of people spoke from the window of the property and the attending Lambeth Council officers from the press department and the ‘shortlife’ department were given the opportunity to defend the action, both declined.

On police advice the council could not move forward and so the action was cancelled. We are therefore left with no alternative but to seek the support of the high court, which has been granted, and they, rather than the council, will now be responsible for securing possession of the property.

Left with no alternative? Alternatives have been advanced by our campaign for three years. The alternative is not to sell off the house so that a developer can buy it and charge huge rents, or so that it can simply be left empty for ages, then sold on. The alternative is to give me, a long-term resident, a tenancy in my current home, rather than use another one on the waiting list that would mean “denying someone else from the waiting list the chance to secure a home of their own.”

As I said earlier, this really is the last resort after almost four years of trying to resolve this amicably and having had all facts aired in court on two occasions – and this is unfortunately just the process that has to be followed.

There has been nothing amicable about the process, legal coercion, intimidation by officers overstepping the mark and risking being prejudicial to the legal cases and a bitter propaganda war where the council lied shamelessly about the history of the co-ops.

The council flat that has been held vacant for the last two years remains vacant and the keys ready for her to collect at any time and will still be available to her after possession is secured.

If you have any questions about this case or the Shortlife programme more broadly please get in touch with me and I’ll do my best to answer them.

I am very happy to answer any questions, and to provide any evidence, regarding all the things I’ve said above.

Best wishes,

Trace Newton

One Response to Trace Newton’s response to Cllr Matthew Bennett’s briefing to Labour councillors

  1. Ian Townson says:

    Well done Trace for sticking it out. I will arrange a time to come over and spend time with you. I’m sure we can find things to talk about – favourite books, state of the world. Lambeth Council must go down in history as the most bloody-minded, incompetent, uncaring and nasty council yet to disgrace the planet. Let me know if you need anything. I looked at Bill P’s list of stuff. Do you like chocolate biscuits?

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