Accessing Housing Support
For those of you who read part one and stuck around, hello, and for those who are new here why not check out part one!
Now, allow me to provide an insight into the battle that is my housing situation.
I have been residing in a shared private-rented property in Wood Green, London for over 15 years. The landlord, I’ll refer to him as TF, has been operating as one of the worst rogue landlords in Haringey and is successfully managing to circumvent all housing regulations! If I recall correctly, there was one Environmental Health Officer from Haringey Council, who visited the mentioned property at least 12 years ago who stated the property ‘did not comply’ with the regulations due to failing to provide toilet facilities (the only toilet was located in an external extension) -15 years later nothing has changed!
Did the Council honour their responsibility to ensure landlords are held accountable? Well, who Cares! Right?
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
The boiler at the property was condemned by British Gas for failing to meet the safety standards. Each time we complained, the landlord would threaten us with evictions (and at times bailiffs). Our gas supply was then cut off last July 2020 due to a gas leak and high level of CO2’s from the cooker – both still unresolved resolved.
Some of the tenants did make a formal complaint to Haringey Council, but I didn’t involve myself due to fear of eviction. Apparently, the case was closed! I have no idea how the Council came to this conclusion. 10 years without hot water or central heating and I decided enough was enough and reported the landlord to the Haringey Council myself (with assistance from Connected Communities and other organisations).
We can all guess what came next… Sure enough harassment and eviction threats from the landlord followed, it was becoming quite routine for me! The landlord has issued me with section 21 notices (downloaded from the Internet) on numerous occasions (sometimes via messages, recorded delivery and even leaving notices on my bedroom door – which I have reported to the Police).
What I don’t understand is how this landlord can continue to operate without an HMO licence, without being held accountable and continue to move new tenants into the property? How is he being given a free pass to abuse tenants? The property is no longer fit for purpose. Mould, dampness, disrepair, fire and electrical hazards – you name it – this property will surely score 100% in failing to meet even the basic requirements for housing. Yet the situation continues.
Being vulnerable enough
I am often asked questions regarding my mental health conditions (see part one!). I am currently being supported by at least 10 professionals, at least 7 different support organisations and on waiting-list for so many more. Yet I am being treated with zero empathy or compassion. It has been a never-ending battle with Homes for Haringey and I am still living in these extremely uninhabitable conditions. Without even having a telephone assessment with me they had decided that they knew best about my health needs. I had to constantly chase them for updates and the response I received was usually – I was on leave, I have passed it on for approval ………and so on.
Why do I need to be put through this kind of trauma? Why does this have to be at the expense of my well-being?
When I complained about the lack of support I received I was told that even if I had been ‘diagnosed’ with a mental health problem I was not considered to be vulnerable enough. Apparently, it would need to be investigated as I have shown I can contact the appropriate people when I want to and write my own emails ……..What!
Are they undermining the doctors/professionals who have been supporting me? One thing is for sure, mental health does not pick and choose, no matter your colour, race, ethnicity, background, age, gender, marital status (single or not!), how many degrees you hold, high profile people, celebrities, rich, poor… mental health does not discriminate! I believe dealing with poor mental health can be worse than cancer. With the latter, there is often compassion and hope, whereas I have found mental health problems are often ignored, remain undiagnosed and you don’t know its severity until it’s too late. It can come in waves. 23 hours of the day you can be fine and then suddenly in that last hour you can lose everything.
I have been working within the Social Care sector with people suffering from Dementia for almost 10 years and I was privileged to have been nominated for an Outstanding Service for working for this Council. Over the years I have found if you do not genuinely care you just cannot support someone. Without caring all you will end up doing is looking for a temporary fix for the problem and not seeing the person as a whole, as someone with individual needs. So far, all I have experienced from mental health and housing services is being seen as a problem that needs to be fixed (or ignored).
Here are some of the ‘interesting’ responses I have received from various Departments in Haringey Council:
You are subject to a benefit cap as you are not on any benefits. Yet I have recently been awarded the highest rate for the Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity (which can take at least 12 weeks to process), so the benefit cap does not apply now.
Still, you are not vulnerable enough to be on the priority list to qualify for social housing. Each time I meet the criteria, somehow another one is added to my list!
Sorry, we have only just given this case. Oh really? So, what does this mean? Should I continue to suffer?
We do not want to clash with them (another provider) as we need to maintain a good working relationship for other service user. I have no words for this one!
There is a process to follow, before we can issue penalties or take legal actions. Wow, I was not aware that it takes at least 15 years for this process?
Between a rock and a hard place
Whenever I have complained, stood up for my rights or fought for the right thing to be done, I have been met with a negative response. It sometimes feels like I am being given an ultimatum. If I challenge their response I am threatened that if I don’t agree the council will no longer have a duty of care. Why do I have to choose between accepting something and my well-being?
One recent example occurred a few months ago. I was advised to view a property – this was the only time I have been asked to do this and it occurred the day after I emailed a complaint copying in an MP… go figure! So, the next day I was sent to view this property, a studio flat, a form of accommodation is a major trigger for me and extremely detrimental to my mental health – all included in my housing plan, where it also states that the property has to be suitable for me.
It’s hard to explain, but my current living conditions make me feel like I am living in a ‘burning building’. The Council want to move me to another place, somewhere safer. But with a studio flat with everything confined to one space there is still that fear of fire. Am I just meant to tell myself it might not spread through the whole building, I might be okay? In order to justify my not wanting to live in the offered studio flat, I’m having to obtain additional letters and medical reports from my GP to evidence the negative impact that living in a studio flat would have on me.
On top of this, both my psychotherapy and Individual Placement and Support programme have been suspended as the housing issues have been identified as a major source of distress. So basically, I am unable to start my therapy/health recovery until the housing issue is resolved. It feels like this will only happen in the next lifetime!
I often get ‘conflicting’ information from different people when I have asked for emails regarding my housing issues. Being told that the emails contain other information from other professionals and it cannot be sent to me by one person, to being told these emails are not saved and no longer exist by another. It feels like an impossible task.
I have so much more to share, but it does get to a traumatic phase for me. Despite this, I want to share my story to bring change and help other people avoid going through similar trauma. My fight is not over yet, I will continue to challenge and fight for what is right all the way till the end!