Disabled woman living in unsuitable housing offered home in Leeds

Enfield mother stuck in private-rent house that cannot be adapted for her wheelchair, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre

A mother left disabled by multiple sclerosis (MS) and in need of adapted housing was “gobsmacked” to be told by Enfield Council she could move to a home in Leeds.

The mum, who wished to be known as Billie, said she felt “trapped” living in her current home, where she has had multiple accidents, but the council told her she would have to wait six years for a suitable place in Enfield.

Billie was diagnosed with MS in 2017, and her condition has since worsened to the point where she needs a wheelchair and suffers from incontinence. She said she was placed in privately-rented accommodation by the council because she has a lot of accidents.

Her current home, where she has lived for the past three years, needs adapting to meet her needs – including a stairlift, hospital bed, wet room and reclining chair. But although the landlord has added stair rails and made other alterations, he cannot make the major changes to the house that she needs.

“It is really unbearable living like this,” Billie said. “I feel discriminated [against], and I am not being heard. I have got support from everyone, but nobody is hearing me and they [the council] don’t care.”

Billie said that during the past year and a half her MS had got “really bad” and left her with “severe depression”. Because of her mobility problems, Billie’s husband has to carry her up and down the stairs. This has led to her having accidents, and she recently fell and hit her head on a radiator.

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“I’ve been in bed most of the time,” she said. “I’m scared of coming out and having accidents.

“My wheelchair doesn’t go through the doors in the house. I’m putting so much effort in trying to get into the garden. I’ve got no space for [the wheelchair] […] I don’t have a stairlift.”

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Billie said she sometimes goes downstairs only once a week and spends most of her time in her bedroom. She also suffers from sleep paralysis and says she is only getting two hours’ sleep per night.

Another problem is the lack of privacy in the house – a three-bedroom property shared by a family of five. Her daughter has severe ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], and she needs her own room. Billie also said she does not want her daughter to see her when she tries to take a bath or shower.

Billie has letters from her GP saying her housing is “severely affecting her mental health”, which is in turn having an impact on her physical health, and that she needs housing with adaptations to meet her level of disability.

She said she felt like she had “no choice” but to accept the council’s offer of privately-rented accommodation. Since then, the council has accepted that she needs somewhere to live permanently – but told her that she would likely have to wait for six years for a suitable property because of the number of people waiting for housing.

Billie said that the council had told her long-term properties, which she believes were for social rent, were available nearly 200 miles away in Leeds.

“I was brought up in Enfield,” she said. “I know this area. Why would I be going to a place where I don’t know anyone at all? Why would I go to a place where I would have to change hospitals and the people who care for me?”

Billie said that if the council could find her a home in Leeds, it should be able to find her a place in another London borough, such as Barnet. But she claims she was told the council did not work with other London boroughs.

Adding that she did not feel she was being listened to by the council, Billie said that she had to make calls and urge staff to take action on her case. “It is like they can’t hear me or see me,” she said.

A council spokesperson said that the case “underlines once again just how severe the housing crisis is in London”.

They added: “Enfield Council is committed to using all its resources to make the experience of homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. We are determined to enable everyone has access to a stable, secure and decent home.

“The family is currently living in privately rented accommodation which unfortunately cannot be adapted to meet their specific needs. The shortage of available council properties means we are working with the family and urgently trying to secure alternative private rented accommodation that can be adapted to meet their needs.

“Across London, the number of households becoming homeless has risen over the last year whilst the number of properties available has fallen.

“In Enfield, there has been a 62% fall in the number of properties available to let. We are doing everything we can to secure suitable accommodation, but the shortage of privately rented accommodation affects the whole of London – not just Enfield.

“In order to ensure this resident has suitable accommodation to meet her health needs as soon as possible, the council is exploring all available housing.”

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