South London parents and 3 kids living in one room for 10 years finally get new home

South London parents and 3 kids living in one room for 10 years finally get new home

A mum who was facing eviction, and was asked by a Southwark Council housing employee if she had considered returning to Peru with her family, has finally been given a place to stay.

The woman and her family have signed the lease for a three-bedroom social housing property in Camberwell, which they only secured after a person ahead of them on the waiting list rejected the property.

In December, Vice News reported that a council housing officer had asked the woman if she would consider “going back to Peru” during a visit to her home to see if she and her family could be given emergency social housing.

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The woman and her husband had moved to the UK in 2004. All three of their children were born in the UK and have British passports. The family of five had been living, working and sleeping in a cramped single room while sharing the kitchen and bathroom with other tenants in the same house in Walworth for 10 years.

According to the report, the housing officer can be heard in an audio recording from a meeting with the resident that took place on November 22 asking: “Have you ever thought about going back to Peru?”

The woman, who could be heard speaking through a translator, replied that she hasn’t because her children are used to living in the UK and the family wouldn’t adapt to life in the South American nation.

Speaking to MyLondon, the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was upset by the council employee’s question.

She said: “I obviously felt bad because the council did not take into account the feelings of my children who were born and raised in this country.

“They will soon turn 17, 15, nine years old respectively and my husband and I will be living here half our lives.

“They are strong feelings that unite us and root us in this England country that we learned to love.”

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Council denies question was ‘racist’

Southwark Council has denied accusations from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), a South London-based housing charity standing up for the family, of racism.

In a correspondence with a Local Democracy Reporter for MyLondon a spokesperson for Southwark Council said: “The question posed to the resident, and translated, was: ‘Are you thinking of returning to Peru?’

“This type of question would be asked of anyone making a homelessness application, whether their family was originally from Lewisham, Scotland or Peru – we need to know their options, background, family responsibilities, past, present and future housing situation or plans in order to make fair judgement alongside the thousands of others who go through the same process.

“It is part of a huge range of detailed questions asked, quite reasonably, of someone who may need our help, when that resource is paid for from the public purse – it allows us to move the conversation and application forward to that person’s next steps in life.”

The spokesperson added: “Ascertaining if someone is homeless is a statutory process carried out with great empathy from officers for those who find themselves in such difficult circumstances.

“With 16,000 households on our waiting list and very limited supply, we have to be very thorough. We face unprecedented demand and lack of resources for our housing services after years of Government austerity.”

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council homes and homelessness in Southwark, had previously described the case of the family as being “complex”.

Defending the questioning of the council worker, the councillor said: “Our staff are meticulous in their questions to ensure fairness of outcome in the result.”

But HASL was unsatisfied with the Council’s explanation.

“We’re really appalled that Cllr Stephanie Cryan and Southwark council are defending and justifying this racist treatment of our member and seem happy to allow this toxic culture to continue in the housing office,” Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL told MyLondon.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that vulnerable residents looking for help from the housing office are instead met with racism and hostility. It is sickening that Cllr Cryan thinks that such a question is somehow ‘fair’.”

Family were denied priority

Prior to being offered accommodation on December 15, the woman said the Council had denied her and her family priority on band 1.

She said the Council had treated them as if they wanted to live in the overcrowded conditions they were living in.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” she said. “My children when we were little, we all lived happily together, they were the circumstances that we ended up living like this, because we tried to find a bigger home but the lack of legal documents to live in the UK did not allow us to sign any contract.

“After many years when we obtained legality in the UK, my children were already grown, we were already 5 people and they did not accept us in a 2-bedroom flat, which was the only thing that with much effort we could pay, because a 3-bedroom flat was impossible economically.

“That is why I say that the circumstances of life led us to live like this”.

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