Single mum takes on Waltham Forest Council at Court of Appeal over move 170 miles away

A homeless Walthamstow mother who was moved more than 170 miles away by Waltham Forest Council has taken her case to the Court of Appeal.

Mother-of-three Katie-Leigh Webb-Harnden was two days away from eviction and unable to afford a new home in September 2021 when the council offered to house her in Walsall, West Midlands.

To avoid homelessness she accepted the offer and moved to the new home, but has been challenging the decision in the courts for the past two years.

At the Court of Appeal today, her legal team argued the council failed to consider the discrimination of moving Katie-Leigh’s family “very, very, very many miles away” from her home and support network.

Karon Monaghan KC said the council had not taken into account the adverse impact that the benefit cap has on single mothers, who are “frankly, more likely to be poor” because they usually need to look after their children.

She added that Waltham Forest Council could have held on to see if it could find her suitable accommodation closer to the borough.

A ruling by the appeal judges I expected at a later date.

It remains unclear what Waltham Forest Council’s case is, as its legal team declined to share a copy of its legal arguments with the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

Due to the distance and cost of travelling from Walsall to the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where the case is being heard, Katie-Leigh did not attend the court.

Her appeal is the latest in a string of controversial cases where single-parent families have been moved far from the borough by the council.

In March, appeal judges told Waltham Forest Council it was wrong to only offer to house mother-of-three Nadia Zaman – a lifelong borough resident – 150 miles away in Stoke-on-Trent.

In December 2021, mother-of-three Izebela Kickoseka – who the council temporarily housed in Bexley – found herself homeless after refusing a two-year tenancy in Derby.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) organised a protest with a number of Londoners affected by similar issues outside the court.

HASL’s Elizabeth Wyatt said: “Waltham Forest council have gained the reputation of being one of the worst councils in London for their cruel treatment of vulnerable homeless families.

“They are routinely forcing single mums and their families out of London and they aggressively pursue legal cases taken by homeless residents through the courts in an attempt to further erode homeless rights.

“Whilst all London councils face similar situations, it’s only Waltham Forest who have taken such extreme measures showing that their social cleansing agenda is a political choice.

“There is simply no excuse for the appalling and harmful treatment that the council have subjected some of their most vulnerable residents to.”

Cllr Ahsan Khan, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration, told the LDRS that Waltham Forest “works hard” to accommodate residents who need its assistance.

He added: “Our approach is in line with that taken by other local authorities and we entirely reject suggestions we do not treat people fairly.

“We operate within the guidelines laid out by central government and the Local Housing Allowance levels that it sets.

“We have lobbied the government for change, but as of yet have had no success.

“Our clear preference is to house every household in need locally.

“Unfortunately, demand for housing in London, including Waltham Forest, far outstrips supply.

“Housing options for households on low incomes are extremely limited and we can only place households into properties where they can afford to pay the rent.

“We understand it is a very difficult time for households that find themselves homeless or are at risk of losing their home.”

Kevin Long, who has supported Katie-Leigh’s case through the Hackney Community Law Centre, said: “She was moved to the West Midlands, she grew up in Waltham Forest, her family in and around East London and her children were in schools there.

“She was evicted from her private housing, but two days before she was evicted she was given an offer of private sector housing in Walsall.

“Since then we have been challenging the decision to discharge their duty to her on the basis that the offer was not suitable and the decision was flawed.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter