Families asked to leave Croydon due to chronic housing shortage
MORE and more families are being asked to move away from Croydon, due to a chronic shortage of housing.
In the latest in our series looking at Croydon’s population explosion, reporter Gareth Davies speaks to a single mother who discovered relocation was not as optional as the council has suggested...
A LETTER from the council was pushed under Katherine Heartfield's door at some point last Wednesday afternoon.
It told her to attend a meeting at Taberner House the following day, because she had been found somewhere "more suitable" to live.
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No clue was given as to where she would be moving and the note ended with the following the instruction: "You must pack up your belongings before attending the appointment."
The next day, Katherine, 27, was told she and her baby son Jamie were being moved – but not to Croydon.
Instead, the young mum and her 11-month-old child were being packed off to a hotel in Feltham, 20 miles away on the other side of London.
Being asked to leave Croydon is a proposition facing more than 400 families who, like Katherine and Jamie, live in bed and breakfasts or guest houses.
This "emergency housing", the result of a chronic lack of available homes within the borough, costs the council about £400,000 a month.
Temporarily moving homeless families away from Croydon is the latest solution to a problem which has increased sevenfold since 2008 and by 200 per cent in the last year.
In some ways, Katherine was lucky. The council has considered towns in Yorkshire, and has been offered housing in Manchester and Walsall.
But no matter where families are asked to go, the council insists relocation will not be compulsory.
When Katherine refused to move because her new home would be too far from her family, the former nursery worker received another letter.
"I am writing to inform you that the council will no longer provide accommodation for you," it said, before citing the Housing Act 1996.
For refusing to move away from Croydon, the council had discharged its responsibility to put a roof over Katherine's head.
"It was made clear that if I refused to move then I wouldn't have any more help from them.
"What sort of choice is that?" she said.
Six weeks ago, Katherine, who had been living with her parents in Wentworth Way, Sanderstead, presented herself as homeless after falling out with her father.
Under the Housing Act, the council has to provide accommodation until the application for assistance is resolved.
As a result, Katherine and Jamie were moved to emergency housing in Fitzroy Court, a house of multiple occupancy (HMO) in Crystal Palace.
They lived there until the note was passed under her door, telling them to pack their bags because "self-contained" accommodation had been found.
Katherine said: "When I read the letter I was quite excited. But when I met with the housing officer, she didn't tell me where I was moving to until I spotted the address on the envelope with the documents inside.
"I was in tears. It was so far away. I don't know anyone in Feltham. I would have been scared to be there with just my baby. I felt like I was being pushed away from my family.
"I'd moved out of the house in Crystal Palace because they told me to. All my stuff was in bags and I was told it was Feltham or nothing."
Having rejected the move, Katherine had little choice but to return to her parents' house and back into the situation she had tried to escape.
Alison Butler, Labour's local spokesman for housing, said: "Croydon has a crisis in terms of the number of people in emergency accommodation but this is against the assurances the council has given that no one will be forced to move away.
"Telling a single mum with a baby to pack her bags before she comes to the meeting had already narrowed her options. But refusing to help if she turned the offer down gave her no choice.
"It's an unacceptable situation and I am deeply concerned that people are being pressured into moving out of Croydon against their will."
When asked directly whether Katherine Heartfield’s case showed that homeless people were being pressured into leaving Croydon, the council sidestepped the question.
Instead, a spokesman said the single parent had simply been told there were no alternatives available at the time.
However, the letter she received after turning down the chance to move to a hotel in Feltham was worded rather less diplomatically.
“It was made clear to you that refusing this offer of accommodation would mean the council would no longer have a duty to provide accommodation to you,” it read.
“However, you still refused this offer.”
As such, under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996, the council waived its statutory duty to house Katherine.
It has yet been unable to say on how many other occasions it had discharged responsibility for housing someone after they declined the offer of moving away from Croydon.
The council also failed to answer why the letter instructing Ms Heartfield to leave Fitzroy Court did not include details of where she would be moving to.
The spokesman did, however, say: “Ms Heartfield came to the council looking for accommodation.
“She told housing officers this was because she was being asked to leave her parents’ home, where she had lived since 2009.
“We immediately provided emergency temporary accommodation. However, as we explained to Ms Heartfield, this accommodation was not suitable for families in the longer term, as it has shared facilities.
“As accommodation in Croydon is currently very scarce, we found her somewhere more suitable out of the borough, but she has refused this offer.
“It was made clear that we would not be able to offer her anything else at this time.
“We understand she has gone back to her parents while she waits to be rehoused by the council.”