Single mum’s dilemma as she loses place on Waltham Forest housing list after seven year wait

A single mother from Waltham Forest lost her place on the waiting list to bid for council homes “a week” after reaching the front of a seven-year queue.

Samantha, a mother-of-two who works at a nursery, was living in freezing cold temporary accommodation in Ilford when the council made her a non-negotiable offer to move to Havering.

Her attempt to appeal was rejected, despite her pleas to stay closer to her support network, children’s school, job in Newham and the elderly grandmother she regularly cares for.

At that point she felt she had a choice: either accept the council’s offer of permanent housing 11-miles away in Harold Hill or become homeless.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that “the same week” her appeal was rejected, she had reached first place in the online system used to ‘bid’ for available housing. After seven years of waiting, she had lost her place.

The mother-of-two said: “Had I stayed on another week, I might have got a chance. It was unfair…. As soon as I got to the top, it was clawed back off me.

“They told me I’m off the council list because I moved to Havering, now I’ve got no local connection because I’m in private housing. I had no choice because they told me I’d have nowhere left to live.

“What chance do my children have? They’ve lost their right to council housing, I can’t afford a mortgage and I can’t find decent accommodation – this is our future.”

Until 2020, Samantha and her two children had lived in her parents overcrowded home after her relationship of ten years had broken down.

She was moved to temporary housing in Ilford for 18 months, managed by agent Wentworth Estates, which she said had problems including damp and faulty heating which pushed her to “breaking point” by late 2021.

Speaking through tears about the condition of the house, Samantha said Waltham Forest’s housing team made an offer of permanent housing in Havering which would “discharge” her right to temporary housing.

Wentworth say Samantha’s claim about broken heating and damp is “incorrect,” adding that mould was caused by her failure to open the window when cooking or drying clothes.

Samantha said the new Harold Hill flat is “lovely” but that the car journey between the new home, her children’s school and her place of work takes up to two hours at peak times, often leaving the children so exhausted that they fall asleep at school.

Her unsuccessful attempt to appeal her placement was delayed four times, she added, and required giving the housing team medical records from her GP and councillor covering most of her life.

She said: “They used inappropriate excuses about annual leave and staff struggles to delay the decision, I wouldn’t be able to use excuses like that at work.

“I never got a chance for my voice to be heard, no one sat and listened to my story – [the housing officer] never gave me the opportunity to speak on the phone, only by email.

“I just don’t think the case has been dealt with in a fair manner, I wish I was given the opportunity to go to a panel who makes a decision. I have heard that could happen prior to COVID.”

Now she feels “deflated” because of the narrowing chance of moving back to her home borough.

She added: ““I got to number one and same week I was taken off the list, it was the biggest p***take, on top of that with all the justified ties to the area they moved me away.

“You can see how people’s mental health deteriorates through lack of support,. Luckily I’m strong enough, but you can see how if I was illiterate or had no English how it would happen.

“I pay my bills and my rent is paid, but I’m not getting a chance, my children are just saying ‘we’re exhausted mum’ all the time. I hoped to raise my children and get a mortgage by myself and show that this is how life works, it’s really important to me.”

Samantha is now looking for a rental property closer to her family in Waltham Forest, but said none of the 15 offers she made through estate agents have been accepted.

She added: “It all depends on whether or not landlords are willing to accept benefits as income.

“Universal Credit is what I use to pay for the rent at the moment, without that I would definitely be homeless, there’s no way anyone as a single person would be able to afford it.”

When contacted for comment, a Waltham Forest spokesperson said the council was “unable to comment” on details of individual cases, but the spokesperson did not respond when asked why.

Councillor Ahsan Khan, cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said it is a “scandal” that benefits and wages often do not cover the price of housing across London.

He added: “We know how stressful the threat of homelessness is and we try our utmost to give everyone who approaches us in need the support and dignity they deserve.

“We have a very limited supply of homes available when we are approached for help and we must be careful that we do not risk making problems worse by placing people in properties they cannot afford, where they would have to rely on borrowing to make ends meet.

“The only long-term solution is to build more genuinely affordable homes for social rent or London Affordable Rent and help our people to access settled, stable accommodation where they can thrive.

“We are working hard to deliver more social rent homes in Waltham Forest – there are already over 1,000 either being built or with planning committee approval in the borough, on top of those for private sale and rent.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter