Started in 2019, our ever-growing housing action group emerged from discussions around housing in one of our classes in Southwark.
The group was set up following a workshop on housing rights, run by Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL).
The students wanted a space dedicated to looking at common housing problems ESOL students face, and where they could go to get support with them. The group now meets monthly.
The meetings are co-run by EFA and HASL, and so far we’ve taken action on overcrowded housing in Southwark and nationally, as well as highlighted the impact of long waits in temporary accommodation.
Since its inception, nearly 250 students have attended our monthly Housing Action meetings. This has resulted in:
1) Meaningful gains in securing decent housing. In the last 12 months, over 110 students and community members have brought their housing concerns forward and over 45 students reported that they have resolved some or all of their housing concern after joining the Housing Action group — One student, Fatou, was living in an overcrowded studio flat in Southwark with her two children when she first attended a HASL group meeting. She expressed her concerns about her children’s wellbeing, and with the help of HASL and the Housing Action group, she was informed about how she might qualify for Band 1 priority for housing. With the support of her ESOL teacher, she was able to communicate her case to the council and secure this status.
In addition, through the EFA/HASL meetings, over 100 students have received legal advice from HASL’s advisers or legal experts, and a further 48 students have been referred to other local support services.
2) A better-informed student group. Six of our 2022-2023 ESOL courses in Southwark and Lambeth covered housing rights and language in-depth in six-week curricula. In addition, we held 11 Housing Action group meetings with the support of HASL and extracurricular informational sessions on housing and benefits, like a session on Universal Credit. Since 2019, approximately 380 students have been informed of their housing rights in class. Another of our students, Noua, expressed her gratitude for a session on the Southwark Council’s council housing, in which she learned for the first time about the ‘stars’ system the council uses to determine priority on its waiting list. With support, she received her three priority stars shortly thereafter.
3) Participants with higher levels of English and boosted confidence, who feel empowered to negotiate their own housing appeals or processes. At the end of the 2022-2023 academic year, 95% of the 411 EFA students in regular attendance agreed they had improved their English skills during their course, and approximately 40 Housing Action group attendees felt empowered to advocate for themselves to their council, housing association, or landlord.