Liberty, the human rights organisation, has written to Transport for London (TfL) and Camden Council warning that recent threats issued to rough sleepers may breach human rights laws.
In a letter sent this month, Liberty, on behalf of homeless support group Streets Kitchen, said notices placed outside Warren Street station and other parts of Camden in central London unlawfully threatened people sleeping rough with removal by police or bailiffs.
Streets Kitchen, a grassroots group that works to help anyone experiencing homelessness, said the notices – posted by TfL – were placed next to people sleeping rough in Camden at the end of May.
The notices warned that if the people did not leave the area they would be forcibly removed by police or bailiffs, citing anti-social behaviour laws.
In the letter, Liberty lawyers said that the relevant legal requirements, such as the landowner (TfL) giving people notice before directing them to leave, and the requirement to show evidence of anti-social behaviour, were ignored.
A large proportion of the people targeted were from the Roma community and did not speak English, but the notices were only in English and not explained to them.
In correspondence with Streets Kitchen, Camden Council also said that around the same time people sleeping rough were dispersed under anti-social behaviour powers, though failed to cite any anti-social behaviour.
Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten said: ‘If you’re homeless or sleeping rough, local authorities should be there to provide help and support; they should treat you with dignity, not with threats and intimidation.
‘This is a shocking way of dealing with an issue that is only likely to become more severe now that the “Everyone In” scheme has closed.
‘The pandemic has put many more people at risk of homelessness, and heightened the risks faced by people already sleeping rough.
‘It’s time the Government and local authorities stopped treating homelessness as a crime, and ensured people get the support they need.’
A spokesperson for Streets Kitchen said: ‘In the seven years that Streets Kitchen has been operating around Camden, we have never seen such a growing predictable crisis on our streets locally and across London.
‘Such harsh illegal enforcement policies proposed by TFL and encouraged by Camden Council only serve to highlight the complete failure of the local council and their commissioned homeless services in addressing the growing numbers of people arriving on the streets.
‘Such cruel enforcement policies can never be acceptable.
‘It can never be made a crime to have to sleep on the streets, that blame lies with the central government.
‘Already we have a complete lack of trust with commissioned homeless services and those they are meant to serve through their relationship with the home office.
‘TFL need to be reminded they do not control the streets and should get back into their stations.
‘We need Camden Council to be very clear on their current relationship with the home office & cease this with immediate effect with a clear commitment not to criminalise those experiencing homelessness as is occurring much too often in the borough.
‘Homelessness should never be a crime, the fact it exists should be.’
Liberty has campaigned for an end to laws and regulations that criminalise homelessness and rough sleeping.
In 2020 Liberty successfully ended a case against Bournemouth Poole and Christchurch Council after the council agreed to scrap parts of a Public Spaces protection Order that targeted people who were rough sleeping and begging.
The human rights group has also campaigned for the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act, to be scrapped, and welcomed a statement from the Housing Minister earlier this year supporting that call.
• ‘Hundreds’ of people could be forced from their homes after the ban on evictions comes to an end this week.
Shelter Cymru said Wales’ system ‘won’t cope’ with the fresh demand that may be placed on it after 30 June.
The evictions ban in Wales came into force in December ‘to protect public health and support Welsh tenants’.
The Welsh government said the decision had been made to lift the measure, in line with easing other Covid restrictions.
The ban on evictions initially ran to the end of March, but was then extended.
Ministers have now confirmed the ban would not be extended further ‘in line with the lifting of other restrictions as we are in alert level one’.
A similar ban in England ended on 31 May.
Landlords will still have to give tenants six months’ notice before evicting them.
Shelter Cymru campaigns head, Jennie Bibbings, said suspending evictions ‘saved lives’, saying the numbers that could be affected were ‘likely to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands’.
She said: ‘It’s not just about the ones that are already in the system, it’s about all of the new evictions that are going to start coming through once landlords get the message that the ban is lifted.’
Sarah Davies, who lives in Ynyswen, Powys, with her five-year-old daughter, is facing eviction.
She said she stopped paying rent after her landlord ignored requests for maintenance work to be carried out on the house.
Now, she is waiting for a knock on the door.
‘I’m kind of half-prepared for it. Obviously, I don’t want to get my daughter too upset, so I’ve got friends in place if that does happen and they can come and grab her away so she doesn’t have to go through that trauma.
‘It would just be nice to have some more time.’
She said the Welsh government needed to ‘look at the bigger picture’.
‘If everything goes into lockdown again and the B&Bs shut again, what are you going to do?
‘We’ll all be out on the street.’
Jennie Bibbings said a third wave of the virus could mean the eviction ban has to be reintroduced.
‘We’ve all just got to hope that not too much damage has been done in the meantime,’ she said.
‘Our system in Wales won’t cope with a new wave of homelessness.’
The National Residential Landlords Association said the announcement did ‘provide some more stability’ for landlords, but warned the sector’s rent arrears crisis was ‘not going away’.
The Welsh government said a scheme to help people ‘struggling to pay their rent due to financial hardship caused directly by the pandemic’ would be announced this week.
A spokeswoman said: ‘In the meantime, we continue to urge anybody experiencing problems to speak to their landlord and contact Citizen’s Advice Cymru or Shelter Cymru for further advice and support.’
- Councils across England are placing increasing numbers of homeless households in temporary accommodation outside of their areas, in some cases more than 200 miles away, analysis has found.
More than one in four households living in temporary accommodation are now being moved to other areas, the analysis revealed.
Around 55,000 people at any one time are living in out-of-area temporary accommodation provided by London local authorities.
The analysis was carried out by the London Labour Housing Group and is based on Freedom of Information Act requests and publicly available data.
Barnet and Bexley councils have housed homeless people as far away as Manchester, while Barking & Dagenham Council has placed households in Bradford – both cities are around 200 miles away from the capital.
Last summer, Merton Council was censured by the Local Government Ombudsman after a man the local authority had placed in temporary accommodation in Birmingham was forced to quit his job due to the three-hour commute.
The use of out-of-area temporary accommodation by local authorities in the rest of England is also becoming more prevalent.
When the coalition government came to power in 2010, around 10% of households in temporary accommodation across the country were placed out of their area.
By 2020, that percentage had increased to around 27%, alongside a well-documented surge overall in temporary accommodation use.
Between 2015/16 and 2020/21, the proportion of out-of-area temporary accommodation placements by London councils as a percentage of the nationwide total shrank from 92% to 84%.
The number of out-of-area placements across England is now 161% higher than when overall temporary accommodation use peaked in 2004.
London’s Labour Housing Group said that at the current rate of increase, a third of all out-of-area placements will be by non-London councils within a decade.
The group is calling for the government to increase Local Housing Allowance rates, which dictate how much benefit private renters can claim to help with their housing costs, and to give councils more funding to tackle homelessness.
Jack Shaw, author of the research, said: ‘This is a perfect storm. Cuts to housing benefit and local authority budgets, as well as the failure to build the homes needed, are forcing councils to rehome families elsewhere.
‘At the same time, there is real concern about the well-being of placing families – as many as a third of them vulnerable – up to hundreds of miles from their support networks, doctors and children’s schools.
‘The government urgently needs to act to protect families by properly funding homelessness provision in London and increasing the Local Housing Allowance.
‘Out-of-area temporary accommodation has already been dubbed by homeless households as social cleansing by stealth. This could be the next cladding scandal waiting to happen if the government doesn’t act.’