Here is a tale of both reprehensible treatment of a disabled single mother and her family; and of heartwarming cheer and the kindness of strangers.
In the week when Channel 4 gave us Dispatches: Landlords from hell and showed us the state of housing that landlords are prepared to leave their tenants in, and that councils were prepared to pay for, it is not that suprising to hear another story of a landlord leaving a family in run-down damp and mouldy accommodation. But you wouldn’t expect that landlord to be the council itself. Well, it seems that Arun district council have not only left a woman and her five young children in such a house, but they even knew about the damp problem before she moved in.
The story gets worse though. Becki, who blogs at Broken Single Mum, suffers from chronic pain as a result of injury caused by pregnancy with her fifth child. She has to use a wheelchair to get around but since her house is not adapted for such a wheelchair, she is forced to use crutches indoors. She is no longer able to manage stairs or her own front door. Because of this she has been sleeping and living downstairs on the sofa, itself mouldy because of the state of the house, and all the while looking after her children. She has to wash in the kitchen sink and use a commode with no privacy. Becki is on the waiting list for a new council house and not surprisingly has the support of three social workers, a health visitor and a disability advocate to help convince the council to make her a priority for a more suitable home. To her surprise, however, when Becki bid on a suitable house the council turned her down. One of the considerations which affected the decision was the state of her house. Apparently the council likes tenants to have their house in “pristine condition” before they move to keep the costs down for the council, but in this case that is an absurd expectation – the house was a wreck to begin with. Becki acquired the house in a council house exchange but there were problems and the family were not able to move in to the house for many months. In that time the condition of the house deteriorated rapidly. In Becki’s words,
When I moved in to this property there was no ceiling in the hallway from the front door to close to the stairs. There were floor boards screwed on to brick walls. There was a hole in the floor of the main bedroom (ok, that is still there, that one has stumped me). The walls were pitted and scarred. The back garden was in such a state that a guy from the council came out and declared it unfit for use! That’s right, they told me it was too dangerous to let my children play out there, that was the state of it. The kitchen consisted of two double cupboards and one single, and a long surface that wasn’t attached to anything.
Unfortunately when Becki turned to the council for help in restoring the house to the state that it had been when she agreed to the exchange, the council refused and quoted a clause in the exchange contract which exempted the council from repairs for several years.
So we have a situation where the tenant dramatically improved a council house at her own expense, put up with all the health problems associated with mould caused by damp which the council knew about and did not fix, desperately needs to move to a house with more bedrooms for her children and a bed and a bathroom that she can actually get to, has the support of multiple support workers, and yet has been refused an available and suitable house because her paintwork wasn’t sparkling clean. And then, to cap it all, when Becki found a suitable private property and requested help from the council to raise the necessary deposit under their deposit bond scheme, they informed her that they would not help because she was currently in “secure” housing.
From here the story takes a turn for the better. Persuaded by her friends through Twitter, Becki set up a page at the fundraising website GoFundMe to allow people to donate towards her costs of moving. Within hours that fundraiser has already reached £764, more than half of the £1350 deposit needed to allow Becki and her family to move house and get out of the mess that she is in. It really is heartwarming to see that generosity coming from strangers on the internet, helping to do what the council seem unwilling to do. Even after the house deposit is covered the family need to purchase new beds and a sofa and so I’ll finish with a plea. Please, go and add a little bit to that fund and let Becki get her family to safe, secure accommodation for Christmas. You’ll feel better for helping.
Thanks to some wonderful people Becki now has enough to cover the house deposit, has a guarantor and has sorted out the rental agent, but due to the way housing benefit is paid she still needs to raise a month’s rent in advance.