Overcrowded housing – supporting families in Lambeth

A Better Start
Nicola Doal

Overcrowded housing is detrimental to children and families, causing negative effects on wellbeing, physical health and education.

For many families living in social housing, options are limited due to high rents and insecure tenancies in the private rented sector. Lambeth, including the LEAP wards, has long waiting times for social housing, with many families never moving via the housing register.

LEAP’s Overcrowded Housing Support Service provides home visits to families living in overcrowded accommodation, identified from Lambeth Council’s transfer list, and to families renting privately who are on Lambeth’s housing register.

The service provides a range of help, including:

  • Housing advice: ensuring parents know their rights and have up-to-date information.
  • Small space solutions: making personalised, family-led changes in the home. Solutions include an £800 grant for furniture or white goods and advice on decluttering.
  • Wellbeing: sharing tips on parental wellbeing and the factors that effect this.
  • Signposting: providing information on other major issues which may have an impact on the parent or the family, such as domestic abuse or finances.
  • Local resources: connecting families with activities, events and services.
  • DIY: a basic DIY course, in partnership with a local maker’s space, to give parents the skills to make changes themselves.
  • Training for professionals: training health staff and LEAP practitioners, with Lambeth’s Homelessness Prevention Team, to provide correct and consistent advice.
  • Providing 16 beds, including bunk beds, cabin beds and triple-sleeper bunk and sofa beds.
  • Increasing the housing priority of seven families
  • Improving the wellbeing of over 16 parents who reported that the service had positively impacted on their general wellbeing and contributed to a more positive atmosphere in their home.
  • Trust for London (English Housing Survey 2015-2016)
  • Poverty and Child Health: views from the frontline, May 2017
  • Child Poverty and Housing, Shelter, 2006
  • Shelter: Full House? How overcrowding affects families, 2005

Through its work with families, the service has learned important lessons about how to provide support:

Families can have unrealistic expectations about waiting times for housing. This can be because of a lack of information, conflicting advice from professionals, or not wanting to believe the facts.

Many parents no longer see their house as a home, they just want to move. Also, families can be overwhelmed with knowing where to start making changes. It helps to have a fresh pair of eyes to show opportunities and get them to love their homes again.

“I didn’t know how to use the little space that we have… Sometimes it is good when someone comes in with ideas to improve the space. You have changed our minds about the space.”

The Overcrowded Housing Support Service attempts to overcome these challenges by working intensively with a relatively small number of families, providing holistic support.

By giving families a realistic picture of their housing options they understand that they may be in their properties for a long time.

The £800 grant means that they can buy items such as bunk beds, giving children their own beds rather than sharing with siblings or parents. These small steps can make big changes. Reducing arguments at bed time can have a knock-on effect on parental wellbeing, and may allow more positive interactions between parents and their children.

However, the service offers more than just housing support. Change in the home cannot always happen if parents have other things on their mind. The service builds up a relationship with the families to allow them to recognise the obstacles they face and seek support. Each family and home is different, so we adapt our approach for each.

The Overcrowded Housing Support Service has contributed to a number of positive outcomes for local families, by:

“You have helped me so much I was so stressed… I was so happy because I bought my children's school uniform yesterday, I couldn't afford to do that before and I have somewhere to sleep now!”


About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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