NEWS: Jennifer moved into a new flat this week!

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

Photo by Jen Wilton (@GuerillaGrrl)

This week Jennifer – the former Sweets Way mum we organised around last month – and her two boys moved into a lovely new build flat, near her work and the boys’ school. They will be the first family to live in the housing association new build, with social levels of rent, and a fairly secure tenancy. The flat is spacious, the price is right and the location is good, even if it is just outside of the borough.

This is more than any other family from Sweets Way has been able to say so far, and Jennifer, having been through so much already, is in equal parts thrilled and relieved.

This week, she went from being one of the people treated worst by Barnet Council, to having the best living arrangements of any former Sweets Way residents. After all she’s been through, everyone in the campaign is incredibly happy for her and glad she will be able to return to a life less shaped by inconvenience, insecurity, and fear.

However, we also need to be clear: Barnet Council and Barnet Homes failed Jennifer, repeatedly – even up to the previous Friday when they had another opportunity to support her when she declared herself homeless, and was rejected. Even just this past week when an email from Barnet Homes arrived reiterating their initial decisions, and arguing that Jennifer had not provided enough evidence of threat of domestic violence, and that threats online were not dependent on where she was living, and were thus inconsequential!

The institutions that were meant to support Jennifer failed abjectly, just as they have so many others from the estate and beyond. Particularly given the violence Jennifer had experienced, the failure of the council was particularly stark.

What succeeded in getting Jennifer a good place to live was the proactive good will of Alison Cornelius, Barnet Councillor and wife of Richard Cornelius, the leader of Barnet Council. Alison found the flat, arranged the details and went with Jennifer to sign the paperwork.

We were all amazed by the lengths she went to support her. This was clearly well above-and-beyond her duties as a member of Council, and has made an immeasurable difference in Jennifer’s life.

However, Alison Cornelius, no matter how kind a person, is not able to solve the housing crisis at Sweets Way, or across Barnet, through acts of charitable kindness alone.

This is because there are too many people, facing too many housing problems. Therefore, even with the best intent, the solution needs to be collective, not individual. Otherwise, we are left with a system in which those have been able to connect personally with those with more money and influence are more able to get the homes that they need. Everyone else still suffers. And there are a lot of us still suffering because of the Council’s neglectful decision to approve the demolition of Sweets Way at a time where the borough constantly reminds us that there is a shortage of affordable housing.

That said, we are very appreciative of the efforts Alison made after we had gone to great lengths to highlight the importance of Jennifer’s situation. Now Jennifer is settling in to her new home and that’s good news for all of us. We just feel there is a great need to change the policies and practices that led to a situation where Alison Cornelius needed to step up in this way at all. Jennifer’s situation should never have reached the point it did. Barnet had chance-after-chance to do the right thing, and refused. That it did is an indication that something is fundamentally broken in Barnet’s housing system, and has yet to be repaired.

We are writing this to be clear – we will continue to campaign to make sure homes are available to those who need them in Barnet. We are incredibly appreciative of the lengths Alison Cornelius has gone to for Jennifer, and out of that same sense of empathy and compassion that led her to take the steps she did, we will continue to campaign to ensure that no one else is ever left in the terrifying position that Barnet Council left Jennifer in.

Barnet Council hits a new low as Jennifer is set to be made homeless

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Domestic violence vigil at the front of Barnet Homes

Today Barnet Homes and Barnet Council acted with utter contempt for ex-Sweets Way resident and domestic violence survivor, Jennifer, telling them they will not offer her any support, and leaving her with a letter suggesting she contact Shelter and find her own solicitor before she becomes homeless on the 2nd of June.

This is truly disgusting and an absolute lack of respect for both Jennifer’s circumstances and for the rules of local government in these situations.

Following the meeting, we blockaded the front of the Barnet Homes office for several hours in protest, and left candles (pictured above) in memory of the many women who have lost their lives to domestic violence.

Barnet completely denied any wrong doing, refusing to address the many specific issues we raised with them, in previous letters and in person. The Barnet Homes’ website released a strongly-worded, but largely empty statement about not tolerating domestic violence. The statement also said “it is essential that we are provided with the evidence in support of domestic violence claims”, a practice that raises major concerns, given the sensitive nature of the issues, and in Jennifer’s case, ignores the irrefutable evidence previously provided.

At this stage, Jennifer and her children will become homeless because she refused to live in fear of abuse. And responsibility for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Barnet Council and Barnet Homes. We will continue to bring this story to light, until justice is done.

We will be taking legal action immediately and appreciate any support from housing solicitors that are willing and able to work for free. The way Jennifer has been treated is a travesty; we are asking for the support of solicitors or barristers who are as committed as we are to preventing local authorities from taking such inhumane actions in the future.

If you think you might be able to help, please email us at sweetswayresists@gmail.com

It would be a lie to say we are not all deeply saddened by today’s result, but our resolve to fight these injustices is only reaffirmed by the Council’s disregard and neglect for one of their own residents. Join us to help make days like today a relic of the past. Our collective strength is infinite. We will see each other through this and rebuild the Sweets Way community that Barnet and Annington seem so intent on destroying.

Come to our weekly Saturday street stall in front of the Whetstone Waitrose, 12-2pm, or come along to our next public meeting on Tuesday, 6pm, at the community house, 76 Oakleigh Road North, to get involved.

UPDATE: House Jennifer NOW!

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So since Wednesday’s blog became the most-ever shared post on our site, by a factor of at least double, Barnet Homes have slightly changed their tune with Jennifer. Unfortunately, rather than admit that they had been caught out neglecting their duties under the Homelessness Act 2002, they tried to delay Jennifer’s meeting this morning, telling her they wouldn’t be able to tell her anything new, until she had submitted more ‘evidence’ of domestic violence. Along with this claim, they offered to keep her housed for a few more weeks, just long enough, they probably reckoned, for all the outrage and Tweets and letters to MPs and Councillors to die down.

But Jennifer won’t accept that. We know that Barnet have neglected their duties as a local authority, and have reinforced that neglect with each letter they have sent Jennifer since late January, upholding their initial decision.

Barnet Homes have police records of physical violence and statements of threatened violence acknowledged in their letters, so requiring further information from Jennifer is simply a delay tactic. It is also out-of-line with local government guidance, which rightly suggests that forcing a survivor to repeatedly dig up old trauma is unfair and abusive in itself and should not be the approach of a local authority.

We have replied to this latest letter with point-by-point citations of the relevant clauses of the 2002 Homelessness Act’s Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, highlighting the many ways in which Barnet has failed to live up to its statutory duties to Jennifer and her children.

When we arrive at Barnet Homes this morning for a silent vigil for all the women in the UK who have been killed by domestic violence in the past year, we expect Barnet Homes to once again accept their responsibility to support Jennifer into safe and appropriate accommodation in the area, where she is able to find community support and live free of fear.

We will not be dismissed. There is absolutely no justification for a situation in which a domestic violence survivor should be forced to choose between a fear of future violence, and a fear of homelessness. Yet this is the position Jennifer has been forced into, and we need a strong presence outside Barnet Homes to make perfectly clear that this is completely unacceptable.

We hope to see you there. Please bring candles and stories you are comfortable to share with others. Together we are strong!

JOIN THE FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/668825379890589/

TWEET BARNET COUNCIL NOW: http://bit.ly/1ejnUSK

TAKE ACTION: Living in fear of violence is not ‘suitable’ for a family!

Jennifer is facing homelessness with her two young boys because she wouldn’t move into the same area as the family of her violently abusive ex-husband. Take action (below) to tell Barnet Council that protecting your family from the threat of violence should not leave you at risk of homelessness!

A letter by one of Jennifer's sons.

A letter by one of Jennifer’s sons.

When Jennifer and her two sons, recently evicted from Sweets Way, were offered accommodation in the same post code as her violent ex-husband’s sister, she asked Barnet Homes to review the offer. The thought of crossing paths with him was too much. She couldn’t live with that possibility.

Barnet Homes, however, operate a single offer policy, which means that if you don’t accept one offer of ‘suitable’ housing, you can be discharged from their housing list for two years. Which is exactly what they did to Jennifer and her sons.

She appealed the decision, but had it turned down again, and received an extensive letter from Barnet last week which told her the only recourse she had left was to go to the courts, or present herself and her children to Shelter or another homelessness charity.

Even after having been initially moved to Waltham Forest, nearly 10 miles from Sweets Way, her work, and the boys’ school, Barnet Council have informed Jennifer that she will need to vacate her temporary accommodation by the 2nd of June. But like so many others, she has not been able to find anywhere to rent privately within her budget.

Barnet Homes dismissed Jennifer’s concerns about seeing her abusive ex-husband because his more recent threats had ‘only’ been via Facebook and email. As a result, they claim there is no reason to worry about her or her children’s safety! (“…the only threat ]since August 2013] you have received from them as been in form of e-mails and Facebook, these are threats that are not related to areas as they are online threats and can be experienced anywhere.”) However, Local government guidance on dealing with homelessness and domestic violence states unequivocally: “there must be no risk of domestic violence (actual or threatened) in the other district [where a family is to be moved]…” This criteria has clearly not been satisfied, even by Barnet Homes’ own admission.

This is totally unacceptable, a neglect of the Council’s duty to Jennifer’s children and an insult to every family that has experienced domestic violence.

Can you take any of the actions below to support Jennifer and hold Barnet to account?

  • Join us outside of Barnet Homes, 11am on Friday (May 22), as Jennifer meets with them inside, to send a clear message that a home which increases the threat of violence is not ‘suitable’ for a family. [http://on.fb.me/1EiLSlL]
  • Tweet Barnet Council [http://bit.ly/1R2teYK] or write on their Facebook page [http://on.fb.me/1Hrkeb6] and tell them what you think of this kind of dismissive treatment of family who has already been through so much hardship.
  • Send an email to Ward Councillor Richard Cornelius and MP Theresa Villiers, asking them to ensure Barnet Homes take Jennifer’s concerns seriously, and that they provide her and her sons with appropriate accommodation in Barnet. A template letter and contact details are below.

Jennifer is not alone in all of this. We are standing together with her and we will do whatever is needed to ensure a decent home for her family. It is exactly Barnet’s dismissive treatment of the issue of domestic violence that allows it to remain the epidemic that it is.

We all have a right to a home that is free from the fear of violence.

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Here are the contact details for Richard Cornelius and Theresa Villiers, and a template letter you can adapt and send them. (Be sure to mention if you are from their constituency, as they have an obligation to respond to you then).

MP Theresa Villiers
0208 449 7345
theresa@theresavilliers.co.uk 

Councillor Richard Cornelius
0208 359 2059
cllr.r.cornelius@barnet.gov.uk


SUBJECT: Barnet Council’s responsibility re: domestic violence and housing

 

Dear Cllr Cornelius / Ms Villiers,

I am writing in regards to Jennifer and her two sons, formerly of the Sweets Way estate.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities to the 2002 Homelessness Act states that:

“A high standard of proof of actual [domestic] violence in the past should not be imposed. The threshold [for suitable accommodation] is that there must be:

no risk of domestic violence (actual or threatened) in the other district [where the family is being moved]…”

As elected representatives for Jennifer’s local area, you have a legal duty to provide her and her children with suitable accommodation where she can feel safe from both actual and threatened violence. Barnet Homes’ decision to discharge duties towards her and her kids will leave them homeless, because they chose to avoid the potential risk of abuse.

As you know, according to the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Act 2002, the priority should always be for a client to be and to feel safe. Current treatment from the local authority has failed to meet this criteria.

I ask that you urgently review Barnet Homes’ decision and rehouse Jennifer and her children with suitable local accommodation, free from the kinds of threats described above.

I also expect that any future cases will be treated with the same care outlined above.

Thank you,

A concerned constituent