Charlotte* (*not her real name) recently emailed to tell us about the following situation.
I’m emailing on behalf of my mum. She has a serious case of black mould in one of her bedrooms that can’t be used now, and in her bathroom. She was told by the council that it’s due to overcrowding but they refuse to do anything about it told her it’s down to her to remove it. My mum has a respiratory disease which she has had surgeries for, I am asthmatic, and my daughter was born with a heart and lung defect – we shouldn’t be living in a home like this one.
She has been in touch with councillors [x and y] about this who sent someone round 5 weeks ago who said they would be in touch but no one has. She has been emailing everyone but no one has replied to her. She also went to speak to a councillor [z] this morning and he was very rude and unprofessional. He discussed her issue in front of everybody and told her she hasn’t got a damp issue. My mum asked him to come and look for himself and he told her he hasn’t got time for that. She then explained she was waiting for councillor [x] to get in touch with her and he replied there is no councillor [x].
I feel she is being given the run around, this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with A.S.A.P I would be very grateful if you could look into this for me.
Charlotte* talks about the health conditions affecting her and her family.
Respiratory diseases are common in Newham; asthma is one of most prevalent diseases after diabetes (Newham NHS Needs Report).
There are proven links between poor housing and ill-health. Poor housing conditions increase the risk of severe ill-health or disability by up to 25 per cent during childhood and early adulthood (Shelter, Chance of a Lifetime, 2006).
Charlotte* is understandably concerned about the impact of her housing on her family’s health – mould is a known trigger for health conditions such as asthma.
Louise* (*not her real name) lives in a small two bedroom property with her daughters.
Currently, only the living room and bedrooms have heating. The family are relying on fan heaters for the kitchen and outside lean-to – which contains the only toilet. This means her heating and gas bills are extraordinarily high.
She knew the property had no central heating when she viewed it, but the Council promised to repair this by the time she moved.
When you view a property you don’t have much time, so I felt pressure to accept. It took the Council 2 years to install heating after we moved, and this is still only in the living room and bedrooms.
There are lots of other problems, like damp and dust from the layers of wallpaper. One of my daughters has fractured her ankle because there is no stair-rail. I struggle to cook because there is not much kitchen space.
I don’t invite anyone to our house. I slap on a smile and keep it all in when people are around.
Mostly I don’t feel like I’m living, I’m just existing.
Louise* mentions viewing a property and the pressure she felt to accept the offer. Viewings often aren’t very long – Louise* says hers was about 10 minutes.
When people are given an offer of a property by the Council, they are advised always to accept the offer. This is because not doing so may result in them being deemed ‘intentionally homeless‘. In such a case, the Council can discharge their duty to house someone and they can be removed from the housing register.
This can put families under a lot of stress when they are offered housing that is outside of the area (it is not uncommon for housing to be over an hour away from a family’s work or school) or even the city.
In 2017/2018, 103 homelessness applications in Newham were rejected on the basis of intentional homelessness (Local Authority Homelessness Statistics).
Susie* lives in a one bedroom flat with her two children. Her son Aidan*
(*all names changed) suffers with focal epilepsy and nocturnal seizures. These seizures mean he is also doubly incontinent.
“Every night Aidan has seizures in his sleep, which means every night, I am awake to help him and change the bed-sheets. Every night I am scared, I am worried about Aidan hitting his head on the wall, and I have been told by doctors it is possible he could die while he is asleep.
Because we are all in one room, my daughter Kayla* also wakes multiple times in the night, and her school is worried because she can’t concentrate well in the day.
Doctors have given us special medical equipment to install in the flat for Aidan, but there isn’t enough space. At the moment my kids share a bunk bed and my bed is placed immediately next to theirs.
We applied for medical priority on the housing register in October, but this was rejected on the grounds that our housing is not having a ‘direct impact’ on Aidan‘s health.
Everything feels like a fight. I feel responsible for my children but don’t feel able to even keep them safe and healthy.”
Susie talks about applying for medical priority.
Under the current Housing Allocation Policy of the London Borough of Newham, applicants can move up the housing register with either “transfer/priority homeseeker status” (which Susie’s family are eligible for on medical grounds) and/or “additional employment priority“.
To receive additional employment status an applicant must be:
- In employment of at least 16 hours per week and have been in employment 9 out of the last 12 months.
- Self employed and have proof that they have submitted their last 3 years tax return.
- In receipt of the support element of the Employment Support Allowance.
- Receiving carers allowance for looking after a child or an elderly person who is not their partner.
Susie is eligible for additional employment status because she is also unwell and receives the support element of ESA. She is currently in the process of applying.
It is up to the Council (also called the Local Authority) to determine their own housing allocation policy. According to a 2018 FOI request, 64% applicants were listed under the type “Homeseeker with Priority” or under the “Priority Homeseeker” band.