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Is This Brighton and Hove’s Most Unlucky Homeless Family?

ETHRAG One of the Housing Coalitions Member Organisations Present a Case Study On What Founder Daniel Harris Thinks is the most Unlucky Brighton Homeless Family.

I founded ETHRAG (Emergency and Temporary Housing Residents Action Group) in June 2016 along with other residents who were at time time, like myself living in Substandard Emergency Accommodation provided by Brighton and Hove City Council. Many owned by private companies who have questionable ethics and their has been concerns around fraud, embezzlement and corruption. ETHRAG residents had enough and wanted to highlight the issues which were systematic and dark from our perspectives.

The issues were wide ranging including; Lack of Maintenance, Poverty, No Support, Draconian rules, Lack of Safeguarding, No Cooking or Laundry Washing Facilities, No Community Spaces, Drug Dealing, County Lines, Deaths from Neglect, Deaths from Overdoses and Suicides and of course Revenge Evictions for speaking out about any of the above.

We were contacted recently by a family I first met when I lived in Emergency Accommodation back in 2016 and though ETHRAG. Later on she would become one of three mums Revenge Evicted by Baron Homes and widely reported locally and by the BBC. Today the family are facing a new nightmare and financial crisis, highlighting the sinister nature of being homeless and at the mercy of a hostile housing department which needs urgent reform and changes in management.

Currently benefit capped and stuck in unsuitable accommodation, the family have hit crisis point and want to take their treatment further with the following resolutions required by Brighton and Hove City Council to Resolve this Case;

  1. To acknowledge and accept all of the concerns raised without exception!
  2. An Apology from the Chief Executive and Joint Chairs of Housing Committee
  3. Elected Councillors to agree to a thorough Independent Investigation into Housing Options and Temporary Accommodation, the management culture and examine what steps are needed to be taken to comply with laws and corporate governance.
  4. Make Seaside Community Homes residents aware of the Facebook Support Group Available for them and how they can join. We need a viable plan out of this mess.
  5. For Affordability Reasons, I would like my homemove banding increased to reflect my situation, keeping my homelessness priority.
  6. Arrears fully written off
  7. No more passing us by for successful Homemove bids which would take us back out of the benefit cap
  8. To be included In Resident Involvement Initiatives

The Accommodation Journey for Main Applicant and Family

  1. 2014e Percival Terrace – Lived there for 2 nights and refused to go back to the room. Complained due to suicidal thoughts. 1/2 Ceiling was missing, blood in the room. She was scared.
  2. Then had move back in with family until placed somewhere considered more suitable.
  3. Stop Over Placement Langdale Road. This is a room project where you have various young women staying with a host. A bit like foster care, support meetings etc. Tenant felt she got no help via the council in relation to banding and Homemove also the promised mother and baby unit never happened. Evicted for speaking out about lack of help and you were allowed babies there.
  4. Back to living this time with a different family member and applicant is now 7 months Pregnant. Stayed for about 6 weeks.
  5. Placed in Grand Parade Baron Homes Still Pregnant -Evicted by a caretaker. Raised Room Issues, Drugs taken in the hallways (heroin), noisy, shouting or screaming. Drunk people 3-4 am in the morning. Felt scared. Revenge Evicted for speaking out
  6. Stayed with the same family member for 4 weeks
  7. Placed with Baron Homes Windsor Court. Now given birth. Was in mouldy studio room on the 4th floor and then after months and months was placed into a larger flat on the same floor. The Director Baron Homes Nazila Evicted Family there and then for speaking out about conditions to BBC. 4th Floor Tenant and had to move it out by herself. This was raised in the BBC Documentary File on Four via Terri another resident speaking out on the revenge eviction and Angela and subsequently went to the The Local Government Ombudsman.
  8. Saffron Hotel Eastbourne. I was contacted because of Cockroaches and by this family and another client of mine, which was publicised in the argus. This out of area placement was an issue due to health problems relating to her 2nd pregnancy. Applicant have painful hernia which she says she got from ‘having to move all the time and being offered no help.their broken lifts at Windsor Court all the time time and I would travel up four flights of stairs with my child and the various stuff. I was in severe pain”.
  9. Travencore court Eastbourne – 1 very small flat. stayed for 11 days and was then called and told we are placing you elsewhere.
  10. Orchard and Shipman Peacehaven – Loved that flat. Asked to move back to Brighton. Was moved, 2nd flat was in Bevendean. Serious Mould issues were affecting her daughter, she was in and out of hospital with respiratory issues. Leaking Roofs. Had C section with 2nd baby and finally left to stay with family and recover from c section. Was paying £80 pcm toward rent for two years. £1000pcm for both O&S Two Bed Properties.
  11. Seaside Community Homes: Thankful for the the area, love the house, the neighbours, no issues with the house. Sadly due to the benefit cap, have since gotten into 7k worth of arrears and was left with £79 a month a live off for a family of 5. Rents in a few months have increased from £1027 to £1198 April 2020. Told they can have a lodger and have had new issues since march when finally the tenant broke and went to a Council Committee.

Letters from tenant pleading for help

  1. Dated 04/02/2019

“Hi Daniel 

Ive now been with orchard and shipman for 2+ years first, I was in a property in Peacehaven then a year of fighting ( I was transferred to a new property in march last year, since living in the property we have had absolutely no repairs carried out at all. We were promised a new kitchen the day we moved in due to it falling apart cause its rotten and cover in mould. It has been measured up for a new kitchen on 3 different occasions then nothing gets done.

However October last year I made a complaint after finding mould on my new wardrobe then the corner of every room since. I informed jenny pearce from orchard and shipman and sent pictures on numerous accusations after getting no where i contacted environmental health who advised me how to keep on top of the mould. I.e using products keeping windows open and heating on.

I have also had a social worker doing things on my behalf regarding this situation. Since October I have been carrying out everything asked and the mould has just continued to grow faster and faster. I was advised to move my children out of the room it was worse in leaving us to use the small room as a front room. 

I’ve contacted temporary accommodation who say its nothing to do with then its orchard and shipmans duty along with the landlord. After trying to explain to them we are getting no where even after weve made complaints and eventually the women refused to talk to us and put the phone down on my partner twice in one day. We even asked to talk to her manager and was told no.

Im 36 weeks pregnant due to have a c section at the end of this month. I have an umbilical hernia, 2 large gallstones, enlarged spleen, and since being pregnant im also suffering from spd and hyperemesis im at high risk with this pregnancy as it is and this property is causing me added stress.

Myself my partner and my eldest child age 3 all suffer from asthma and have been very ill over the winter period due to how mouldy and cold the property is. Our belongings have been ruined, including our furniture children toys ect.

We have had to pay for the mould sprays from our own money aswell as struggling to pay our rent each month. Being on universal credit this has become hell for myself and my family we can barely afford to live let alone pay for products each week and the amount of heating we are using which is a complete waste as the property doesnt heat up.

Im honestly at a loss of what to do or who to turn to and am worried for my childrens health. Its made my 1 year old and 3 year old poorly I can only imagine how this will effect a newborn baby.

I have attached pictures and screen shots to this email if u require any further info I will try my best to get this to you.

Many thanks”

Images of the Second Orchard and Shipman Mould and Damp Problem Causing Health Related Issues

 Daniel Harris Responded

“Legal aspects: The council has a continuing legal responsibility to people in temporary accommodation that the accommodation should be suitable. A written demand to the temporary accommodation people on the basis that it is not suitable with a time limit for response could be followed up (if they didn’t respond) with a request for a review; but reviews take 8 weeks.

An injunction is a possibility if it is emergency. The landlord is legally responsible to the tenant to keep the structure of the property in good repair; the mould may or may not be a structural problem.

From 20 March (new law) they will also be legally responsible for making sure the premises are fit for human habitation – premises with extensive mould damp are definitely not that. If I were their solicitor – I have had very similar cases – the first step would be to get my own independent Environmental Health Officer in to inspect ASAP.

They can say (1) if it is unsuitable, (2) if the damp is caused by structural problems, (3) if the property is unfit, (4) if it is a health emergency. If (4) threaten and then get an injunction to force the council to move them/force repairs. Depending on the report maybe sue the landlord for compensation while I was at it. Legal aid is available for all but the last, but that can be no win no fee. 

Lawstop?”

I think based on what I know of you you would be eligible for legal support to help resolve this, I can try emailing BHCC first (for some reason I am having success atm) show them the images and what we know and see if they change there position?

Ultimately you are 33 weeks pregnant and with the complications with the previous one, if this went to judicial review I personally believe the council will be asked to look again.

Thanks for speaking out and let me know your thoughts. 

If you need me to clarify any of this let me know and I will call you. 

Regards, 

Daniel Harris”

Pre-action Protocol for Possession Claim by the social landlord. In other words Eviction and Notice to Quit the Property

For the above legal advice maybe?

Notice To Quit Letter From Orchard & Shipman

Becoming a Seaside Community Homes Tenant

Letter from Tenent Recieved 24/04/2019 17:59

“Today the 24th 2019 April I was informed by nick from temporary accommodation that I will not be being given Band A due to orchard and shipman not handing the transfer forms in sooner and due to having only 12 days left before my notice to quit runs out. He also stated that I would be receiving a call to move to yet another temporary accommodation, I should be receiving this call before the 6th of May. This means I could also be moved back out of Brighton at a moments notice.

I would lose my family support network which would effect my mental health and I’m already suffering from postnatal depression. Would also mean taking my child out of school which he has only just settled in. Would mean changing doctors yet again which would affect me getting my medication due to having to re register at another GP Surgery. It would also put me back, I am waiting for 2 operations that I’m needing as I would have to be referred again.”

A Brand New Year A Brand New Issue: Family Benefit Capped

21/02/2020

Tenant forwarded proof of Benefit Cap Leaving Family with £266 PCM to live off

Daniel Harris ETHRAG Writes to: Sent: 21 February 2020 16:25
To: Aaron Burns <Aaron.Burns@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; Sylvia Peckham <Sylvia.Peckham@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; Amanda Grimshaw <Amanda.Grimshaw@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; Kate Knight <Kate.Knight@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; Data Protection <Data.Protection@brighton-hove.gov.uk>
Cc: APPLICANT EMAIL REDACTED>; Nichole Brennan <Nichole.Brennan@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; David Gibson <David.Gibson@brighton-hove.gov.uk>
Subject: Fwd: Seaside Community Homes Case Martel Pain and Family

“Dear All, 

What a sorry state of affairs this case is. To assist initially I just want to lay out that I will be taking on this case back on to try and resolve this threat of eviction and the ongoing serious arrears issue, which is common place with tenants of SCH, but this couple who have learning difficulties claim they were things weren’t explained and dispute the councils position here. 

1. I think initially from you Aaron, a breakdown of where the council are at with this case would be great please? how has it gotten to this stage and such high arrears, can you confirm the current arrears amount and what steps were taken to recover since the family were placed in the accommodation below?

Answer Provided by Sylvia Peckham 05/03/2020: “We have been working with this family since the start of their tenancy, the rent is set at Local Housing Allowance rate. The current arrears are £5,728.85, they have not been served with a notice at this time, but they have been advised that their tenancy maybe at risk as they had not paid over the housing costs they had received from the DWP.”

2, Data Protection – Can we have the entire housing file for the clients named below provided as a subject access request, can you keep this digital and provide on a data stick. I will organise to collect with the client and ID when you have processed this please. Please ensure I am cc’d into communications so I can chase the client as and needs be.

Answer Provided by Sylvia Peckham 05/03/2020: “This is being collated separately as per Subject Access Request process and we will notify you when it is ready for collection. Data sticks are not permitted in the council and so it will be a paper file.” 

3. Sylvia can you confirm how much the contract is worth annually to mange these 500 tenants please? aka how much are BHCC getting in extra money for resource to do what i am essentially doing now. 

Answer Provided by Sylvia Peckham 05/03/2020: “The breakdown is as follows for managing these units”.

Management18/19 Spend
Income(983,109)
Admin10,094
Insurance and other leaseholder charges217,564
Repairs531,609
Staffing284,213
Net Management Cost/(Surplus)60,372


4. Councillors if you would like a breakdown on what i’ve been told from the family i am happy to debrief, we are looking at 5 months and as you can see below the rents are quite high. Their neighbours who have a council tenancy will pay up to 2/3 ‘s less its quite shocking if you aren’t up to date with seaside. 

Answer Provided by Sylvia Peckham 05/03/2020: “Brighton & Hove Seaside Community Homes are independent from BHCC and are a registered charity. The rents are pegged to Local Housing Allowance which was set as part of the financial model as being required to repay the loans to purchase the leases and to cover the costs of refurbishment to bring the properties up to decent homes standards, and cover the costs of management and maintenance going forwards. The capital the council received for the leases enabled the rents of the council housing stock to be brought up to decent homes standard.” 

These are persistent vulnerable homeless clients. Was this placement suitable? this can be argued. yes if BHCC managed the tenants correctly and on a proactive basis rather than reactive, which is how I have come to see this department often managed.

Answer Provided by Sylvia Peckham 05/03/2020: “Applicants have a right to request a review of accommodation within a statutory timescale if they have reason to believe the offer is not suitable for their needs”.

Finally as you can see I have the authority below from the clients to assist with this matter. Eviction is not an option, taking ownership is essential. 

All the best

Daniel Harris”

Tenant responds saying “I completely disagree with Sylvia I can assure you they haven’t worked with us since we moved at all, they didn’t contact us until we were months in arrears. Also they should have an update that we recently phoned and paid a £1000 off the arrears.

Rents go up! Further Benefit Cap Sanction as a result Tennant now left with £79 to live off each month

Tenant raises case to Housing Council Committee definitely changing her mind to speak

“Background: 
Our family are vulnerable, we have been placed into emergency accommodation hostels in Brighton and Eastbourne. We were placed into unaffordable Temporary Accommodation, thats 8 times in 4 years. My neighbours both sides have security and an affordable council home, paying less than £400 pcm.

I am Seaside Community Homes. The rent I pay is £276pw, same property. We are in massive arrears due to the benefit cap. We cant Bid now. We are trapped! This month we have £79 to live off. £853 Benefit Cap. £1196.69 Rent.


Question: you define this as suitable placement under homelessness policy, can you explain how you expect us to live and survive on £79 a month? We are two adults and three children.
I am vulnerable and wouldn’t feel comfortable asking these questions myself so I nominate Daniel harris to ask my question for me.”

ACTIONS FROM HOUSING COMMITTEE 17 JUNE 2020 AND RESPONSE BY Chair Cllr Williams:

“Thank you for your question.

Becoming homeless and being housed in emergency accommodation is a very challenging time for anyone and I am sorry to hear that, in the circumstances, your experience has not been positive.

I have asked senior officers to look into the issues you have raised about disrepair and eviction, contact you direct to review what occurred in your case and keep me updated.

Reports of disrepair should in the first instance be dealt with by the accommodation provider in line with their contractual obligations. If the repair is not attended to, the matter is taken up by council officers who will contact the provider direct in order to ensure any outstanding works are completed.

I am sorry to hear that this was not your experience and that the disrepair that you reported was not resolved in the way that it should have been.

Officers also review evictions from Temporary Accommodation and we can discuss what happened in your case with you direct.

In terms of support, everyone that is provided with emergency accommodation is linkedin with the council’s welfare officer team who conduct regular visits to the properties aswell as maintain contact as often as possible by phone.

Where it is identified that additional support is required, a referral to the appropriate support provider is completed.

Where the person is already linked in with a support service we liaise between services to coordinate the support required.

If it is identified that the person is unable to live independently then based on the level of support required a referral will be made to the supported accommodation team.

Supplementary question: None. The Chair stated that the issues will be investigated and they would take a personal interest.”

Abuse Too Far: Tenant Advised she is able to get lodger until…

“I have attached the letter i received today, which was delivered to us while we were sat waiting for our inspection. Mark hart has confirmed it was cancelled by my partner however this was not the case in actual fact, what he asked was if we are on a national lockdown how can you do a home visit, however stated we have nothing to hide so more than happy for him to attend.

I found Margaret very rude this isnt the first time. In the past she has put the phone down on us many of times. When I explained I was only getting £79 universal credit she told me that was impossible. I then reacted by saying so you’re calling me a liar, I can show my bank statement and my universal journal. Which she wasn’t interested in.

I said do you have idea what its been like trying to survive on such little money, she then said “yes I do actually”. I then said “if you have ever had to live the way we are having to you would have some kind of compassion” yet she showed us none. In fact anything I had to say was wrong. She even argued that I never moved into the property with my daughter and that she’s not on our claim, again this is a lie my daughter is almost 2 she was 4 months old when we were placed here.

I then explained all those i’ve engaged with while being in temporary accommodation. When i explained Daniel Harris has helped me she rudely said “yes I know him his name seems to come up a lot when it comes to council committees” I said “yes I believe thats where I was able to voice our situation”.

She then continued to be rude kept on interrupting me when I spoke, I then become quiet upset and was very tearful I explained I couldn’t stand here on the door step as I was alone with my 2 young children they could be inside getting into mischief, she then said “thats not my problem we haven’t made you do that”. Clearly they had, id have been in the wrong if i hadn’t have opened the door to them. I said “the last thing I need is social services on my case”. With that they left and said ‘they would see me Friday’.

The following day I received a call from social services telling me I had been reported by a housing officer for the smell of cannabis again another lie. I confronted mark about this and he said ‘he has never spoken to a social worker regarding us’.

In August I sought advice from Dawn Davensey from Brighton Housing Trust I asked if I could take in a lodger (to help clear the arrears) however I would have to check with Temporary Accommodation. On the 10th of August 2020 my partner spoke to Nick who at first said “no we couldn’t do this” however during the call his manager Aaron interrupted and confirmed that actually ‘we could’.

We then started the process of writing up an agreement we let Anne Meaney (move on mentor) know of our change which she then reduced our discretionary payment as expected, we also confirmed this on our universal credit journal. The process was all done the lodger moved in we were recieving the housing benefit. The lodger then moves out and then all of a sudden I had an announced visit from Margaret and Mark which I’ve explained how that went.

After there visit I called temporary accommodation and explained id called about a lodger a few month back which Nick confirmed oh yes I remember it was myself you spoke to and I originally said it wasn’t allowed however my manager Aaron confirmed you could. I never heard anything more after the call that day.

Now I am being told after that call, that there was some issue that we couldn’t go ahead with. However no one from the Brighton and Hove City Council called, emailed nor sent a letter to say that it couldn’t go ahead, clearly temporary accommodation have made a mistake they don’t wish to take responsibility for so again our family are blamed. 

If it was against the rules then why was it that so many people at the council knew of this, but had not informed us? Not Seaside Community Homes, nor temporary accommodation and neither anything from our move on mentor, absolutely no one. If they did they would have the proof for this. I said all calls are recorded so there would be some sort of evidence this however there is none.

Its clear to myself and many others there are many failings at bhcc and no one wants to take responsibility.”

So where are we at now with this complicated case and gross systematic failure

This case study highlights the issues, culture and poor treatment homeless families face from Housing Options / Temporary Accommodation. This is not everyone but more management culture and running a department which lies to save face and is weirdly largely unaccountable.

This case study has been written to document one journey. The client has raised a formal complaint and has agreed the following remedies they want Brighton and Hove City Council to take in order to resolve this situation.

  1. To acknowledge and accept all of the concerns raised without exception!
  2. An Apology from the Chief Executive and Joint Chairs of Housing Committee
  3. Elected Councillors to agree to a thorough Independent Investigation into Housing Options and Temporary Accommodation, the management culture and examine what steps are needed to be taken to comply with laws and corporate governance.
  4. Make Seaside Community Homes residents aware of the Facebook Support Group Available for them and how they can join. We need a viable plan out of this mess.
  5. For Affordability Reasons, I would like my homemove banding increased to reflect my situation, keeping my homelessness priority.
  6. Arrears fully written off
  7. No more passing us by for successful Homemove bids which would take us back out of the benefit cap
  8. To be included In Resident Involvement Initiatives
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