Keep Westminster’s doors open… Save our Open Door Housing Project
Funding for our Open Door Housing Project runs out at the end of March! Help us to save this vital service so we can carry on advising vulnerable clients and families threatened with eviction and homelessness. Westminster is the second least affordable borough in London to rent a home. Over 2,857 people were homeless and slept rough on our streets over the course of 2015/16. That is about 300 people on any given night. Every 20 in 1000 households is in temporary accommodation.
Your donation will allow us to fund a specialist housing adviser and maintain our Open Door Housing Advice Project. We need £5000 every three months to achieve this goal. This is an essential service supporting some of the most vulnerable in the borough.
Ardiane: “My family could not have survived without Citizens Advice Westminster”
Ardiane came to the UK as an EU national as her mother is living here and she was fleeing a violent relationship. She has two small children who were highly disturbed. Ardiane lost her housing benefit, child benefit and tax credits when she changed address. She had reported her change of circumstances but still received a letters from the council and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asking for the same information again. Ardiane built up rent arrears and her landlord threatened eviction.
We immediately asked the council for a Local Support payment for urgent financial support and gave Ardiane food vouchers for her family to eat. We called the council who confirmed her benefit claim was closed when she changed her address. We helped her make a new claim and requested they backdated it. We asked HMRC to reconsider their decision not to award child benefit and tax credits.
Ardiane first got the Local Support payment, then HMRC awarded Ardiane child benefit and tax credits with a backdated amount of £2,500 from them. The council accepted her entitlement to housing and child benefit and paid her backdated amount of £8,600. Ardiane said that her family could not have survived without our help.
Nina: “Thanks to Citizens Advice Westminster my three children and I have been rehoused instead of living in an expensive and unsuitable temporary hostel far from my children’s schools.”
Nina is a single parent with three children, two under 10 years and one 15 year old. She had been living in private rented accommodation in Westminster for 4 years until one day, out of the blue; the landlord served her with a notice to leave as he wanted to sell the house. Once Nina received the eviction warrant she approached Housing Options Service (HOS) in Westminster and presented herself as homeless. She and her family were then rehoused in a hostel in Uxbridge.
The building, which is used to house students, was not suitable for families. Nina shared a bedroom with her children and has to share the bathroom and toilet with 5 other families who also have rooms on her floor.There were no cooking facilities and Nina and her family were forced to eat out every day. She and her children struggled to arrive at school in time in far-away Paddington. Often, they did not arrive back home until around 9.30 pm and were exhausted.
Long journeys, lack of affordable accommodation closer to the children’s schools and the unsuitability of the hostel were all negatively impacted the children’s education. One of Nina’s friends had to look after them while she worked part time job two days a week teaching Arabic. Eventually she came to Citizens Advice Westminster to ask for our help to challenge the decision to rehouse her out of Westminster.
We advised Nina to keep a travel journal and details of the cost of the travel, and a letter from both schools to confirm her children’s attendance and their progress at school. Once we had that, we submitted a review of the decision to place her out of the borough as according to Westminster temporary accommodation policy, she should have been rehoused in Westminster as she works in Westminster and her daughter is studying for public exams.
We sought a review of the decision to place Nina in hostel accommodation with her family, arguing that her housing conditions had a major adverse effect upon her children’s education. Their housing was not suitable because it was not affordable due to the travel costs. Equally it was not appropriate to place a family in hostel accommodation with no cooking facilities.
The review was successful and four weeks later Nina was rehoused in Westminster.
Saving this adviser role means we can continue to help residents like Ardiane and Nina avoid eviction and homelessness. They will have nowhere to turn if we cannot pay this salary from the end of March.