Betiel Mahari was a resident of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton who paid social rent on her flat. Despite living there for 10 years, Beti was kept on an assured shorthold tenancy by the housing association, who never gave her security of tenure. So when the Guinness Partnership demolished her home in 2015 and moved her into another of their properties in Kennington, they were able to change her tenancy from ‘social’ to ‘affordable’, and raise her rent from £109 per week to £265 per week for a two-bedroom flat – a 240 per cent increase.
As a result of this enforced eviction and relocation of her family, Beti lost her full-time employment as the manager of Brixton’s Art Nouveau restaurant. Although she subsequently found work as a waitress on a zero-hours contract, Beti is now reliant on benefits to pay her increased rent and support herself and her two children on a salary far less than she earned before. To make matters worse, while the Department of Work and Pensions worked out how much of her part-time salary she can keep while claiming benefits, they suspended all their payments to her for three months. Not only that, but because her employment hours change every week, her benefits have to be re-assessed every three months. As a result, Beti has fallen into arrears with her rent, and the Guinness Partnership is now trying to evict her from her home for the second time. Beti is on an agreed instalment plan for the rent arrears, but the Guinness Partnership wants to increase her payments still further. Her court hearing is on 7 March, 2017.
Last September Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, based on the report by the government inspector, Lesley Coffey, refused Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the homes of leaseholders on the first development site of the Aylesbury Estate demolition. Some of that decision was based on the leaseholders not being offered enough compensation by the council to buy a new home in the same area, so that doesn’t apply to Beti as a tenant. However, two key reasons for his decision were based on residents’ rights, whether or not they own their home or not, and these rulings by the Secretary of State are applicable to Beti’s situation, and therefore her appeal against the eviction of her family from their home by the Guinness Partnership.
Human Right to Respect for Family Life and Home
The first of these rulings was based on the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone has ‘the right to respect for her private and family life, her home’ (Article 8). This is distinct from Protocol 1, which Sajid Javid also cited, which says that everyone ‘is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of her possessions’, and which is only applicable to leaseholders. A home, however, is a home, whether the resident owns it or not, and Beti’s was taken away from her when Guinness demolished her flat on Loughborough Park Estate and then failed to replace it with one she could afford to live in. It’s quite clear that they failed to do so, as she has fallen into arrears and is now facing eviction by the housing association that raised her rent by 240 per cent.
If Beti had refused this new tenancy, she would have been deemed by Lambeth Labour Council to have made herself ‘intentionally homeless’, at which point, under the 2011 Localism Act, their duty of care to re-house her would have been discharged. The Guinness Partnership, however, would still have a duty to re-house her children, and they have already threatened Beti that under such circumstances, Social Services will take her children from her.
By effectively forcing Beti into this unaffordable tenancy, therefore, the Guinness Partnership has clearly violated Beti’s human right, under British Law, ‘to respect for her private and family life, her home.’ The Guinness Partnership may not be legally obliged to re-house her – as they failed to re-house so many other Loughborough Park Estate tenants whose homes they demolished – but that does not mean they have the right to violate her human rights. In Beti’s case, this means:
1) Respect for her private and family life – which, given that her family is now facing eviction for the second time at their hands, the Guinness Partnership has clearly shown a complete lack of respect for; and
2) Respect for her home – which they first demolished, and are now seeking to evict her from for the second time.
It is the Guinness Partnership, not Beti, that has pushed her family into their present situation: first by demolishing the home in which they lived a financially independent life for ten years; and second by replacing it with an unaffordable home whose increased rent has driven them into benefit dependency and – if the eviction hearing goes against them – homelessness. It is the Guinness Partnership, therefore, that is guilty of violating their human rights.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The second aspect of the Secretary of State’s decision relates to Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, from which a ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ arises. In quoting this duty as a reason for refusing the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate, the Secretary of State made particular reference to the ethnicity of the leaseholders and the disproportionately negative effects the CPO would have on residents unable to afford to remain in the area. He found that, under the Equality Act, this discriminated against two protected groups: 1) children forced to move to new schools and the damage this would have on their schooling; and 2) residents from black and ethnic minorities separated from their communities. These considerations made up by far the largest section of the Secretary of State’s letter explaining the grounds for his refusal, and they have the greatest potential application to all residents’ rights, including those of Beti.
By forcing Beti away from her former place of employment – which together with the stress and upheaval of being evicted led to her losing her job – and by re-housing her in a tenancy whose rent she cannot afford to pay, the Guinness Partnership has already discriminated against Beti economically. This will only be compounded if she is evicted from her replacement home and forced into London’s private rental market. However, economic discrimination – strange as this may seem – is not covered under the Equality Act. But it does legislate against discrimination based on age and race.
1) In paragraph 28 of the Secretary of State’s refusal of the CPO on the homes of Aylesbury Estate residents, it says:
‘The impact on children’s schooling may result in adverse impact on the child’s exam performance and their school reports. This is in turn likely to result in a lower level of achievement than otherwise might have been the case, which is likely to result in a lower level of opportunity for the affected child in terms of their ability to apply successfully for jobs (thus adversely affecting equality of opportunity) and – in terms of uprooting them at a vulnerable stage in their development – a negative impact on the affected child’s good relations with their family and extended social contacts (they are likely to go through a period of isolation as a result of being uprooted from the social networks they had established at their previous home).’
Whatever damage and interruption to her children’s education the Guinness Partnership has already caused by demolishing their home of 10 years and forcing their family away from Brixton, that education will undoubtedly be further and far worse disrupted by evicting them a second time from their current premises. If the Guinness Partnership is successful in their eviction, whatever duty they had to re-house Beti will be discharged, and she will be forced into the private rental sector. In order to afford London’s rocketing rents, Beti’s family will have to move many miles away from where they live now, even further away from their Brixton community, to the outer suburbs of London or outside the capital altogether. This will certainly mean her children having to enroll in another school, not to mention the further disruption and mental stress that comes with being evicted for the second time in two years. The very worst scenario is that Beti is unable to find accommodation and the Guinness Partnership is obliged to re-house her children, which will mean them being taken away by Social Services. It’s hard to imagine the devastating and lasting effects this will have on their lives.
2) In paragraph 32 of the same letter it says:
‘If, in practice, the cultural and/or ethnic make-up of those resident at the Estate, who are unlikely to be able to remain there, is pre-dominantly those of one or more particular ethnic/cultural origins, then their cultural life is likely to be disproportionately affected by a decision to confirm the [compulsory purchase] Order. There is also likely to be a negative impact on their ability to retain their cultural ties, undermining their equality of opportunity with other ethnic groups (such as white British) who may not be so disproportionately affected. This is particularly so, in that white British culture is more widely-established across the UK, including at housing sites to which residents may be moved, whereas minority cultural centres are often less widespread, which is likely to make cultural integration harder for those of BME origin who are forced to move than those of a white British origin.’
Forcing Beti and her two children away from their ethnic and cultural community – already partially inflicted when they were moved out of Brixton – will have further negative effects on their already disrupted lives. Beti has already lost her job when she was forced out of her neighbourhood, especially since her running of the café was founded on being a part of the Brixton community. If she is forced into private rental accommodation on the edge of Greater London, Beti will lose all of the support network from friends and family that is so necessary to the survival of a single mother struggling to raise her two children. That will undoubtedly have serious and perhaps irreversible consequences for the likelihood of her finding further employment in the field in which she has worked all her life. All of this, it needs keeping in mind, is because the Guinness Partnership wants its pound of flesh.
In summary, an Equality Impact Assessment of the actions of the Guinness Partnership would find that by making it financially impossible for Beti to remain in the area in which she worked and lived, in interrupting her children’s schooling and development, and in separating her family from their ethnic and cultural community, the Guinness Partnership is guilty of discriminating against them according to the protected groups of age and race, and contrary to the Equalities Act. Although they are not a local authority, as a housing association and registered social landlord responsible for the housing of tenants, the Guinness Partnership have neglected their Public Sector Equality Duty to Beti under Section 149 of this Act.
Appeal to the Guinness Partnership
Beti is not alone. There were 100 assured shorthold tenancies on the demolished Loughborough Park Estate, and the Guinness Partnership has announced its intention to demolish the Northwold Estate in Hackney. What is happening to Beti now will happen to every one of their tenants – even those lucky enough to be re-housed. Between 2010 and 2015, housing associations in Britain made an extra £2.6 billion from tenants claiming housing benefit, which now make up 63 per cent of their 2.86 million households. And in the three years leading up to 2015, the number of housing association properties for ‘affordable’ rent increased from 7,350 to 123,260, with 76,259 of these being converted from homes for social rent. The Guinness Partnership is making millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money from charging tenants like Beti these so-called ‘affordable’ rents – which means anything up to 80 percent of market price.
According to their own Financial Review of 2016, the Guinness Partnership increased their income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent. Beti’s current rent of £1,149 per month is the maximum she can claim in Housing Benefit for a single mother with two children living in a 2-bedroom flat in Southwark. But every last penny of that money is going straight into the pockets of the Guinness Partnership. In contrast, another tenant from the demolished Loughborough Estate, re-housed in the same block as Beti, is paying £175 per week for the same size flat – the reason being that, although she is allowed to work in the UK, she cannot claim benefits. What this shows is that Beti’s unaffordable rent has nothing to do with the cost of housing her family, but is purely set by how much the Guinness Partnership can take from the public’s pocket.
We call on the Guinness Partnership to cease legal proceedings to have Betiel Mahari and her family evicted from their home, and to give her a secure tenancy for social rent, so that she and her two boys can begin to rebuild the lives their actions have torn apart.
We call on the Guinness Partnership, a housing association with charity status, to stop, immediately, this callous and inhumane persecution of a single mother and her two young boys – which, if pursued further, will have potentially catastrophic consequences for their futures.
We call on the Guinness Partnership to recognise Betiel Mahari’s human right to respect for a family life and home, and to treat her and her children with the justice and equality they deserve under British law.
Campaign for Beti
Beti is a much-loved figure in the Brixton community, and under her management the Art Nouveau restaurant became one of the area’s meeting points. She was one of the main figures in the resident campaign fighting the demolition of the Loughborough Park Estate by the Guinness Partnership. She is also part of the campaign to save the Dexter Road and other adventure playgrounds from closure by Lambeth Labour Council. And even now, when faced with homelessness, she is supporting the campaign by residents to save the Northwold Estate in Hackney from demolition by the Guinness Partnership. Now she needs our help.
What can we do?
1) Please sign Beti’s petition, and share it and this blog post on your Facebook page, Twitter account and other social networks.
2) Support our campaign to stop Beti being made homeless by helping us to publicise what the Guinness Partnership are doing to her and thousands like her.
3) Write to the London Mayor and tell him why his Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which will turn council and social housing into ‘affordable’ housing, will lead to millions of tenants like Beti being threatened with homelessness.
4) Turn up to our demonstration at Beti’s court hearing at 9.30am on Tuesday, 7 March in Lambeth County Court, Cleaver Street, London, SE11 4DZ.
5) If anyone can give Beti legal advice on how to defend herself, or can legally represent Beti in court, please get in contact with us on the ASH Facebook page.
An injury to one is an injury to all.
Architects for Social Housing
Coverage of the Campaign
Wainwright & Cummins LLP Solicitors