Key worker saved from eviction
When single parent and NHS key worker Anna (not real name) was issued with an eviction notice from her landlord she only had four weeks to find a new home for herself and her autistic daughter. She applied to Westminster Council’s homelessness service and in desperation also emailed a number of relevant agencies and local public officials asking for help. When Citizens Advice Westminster picked up the case, it provided what proved to be an invaluable service that saved her from eviction.
“It was only when Noreen (Citizens Advice Westminster adviser) responded to my email – one of the very few to do so – that I realised we had a chance of staying in our home,” said Anna.
“When I received the eviction notice my first thought was to safeguard and protect my daughter who suffers from a learning disability and anxiety problems. Our flat has been her first and only home and safe haven and I was fearful of the effect it would have on her to move away. We also have a great local support network as I have close family in the same road and nearby. This gives me great peace of mind and is also very reassuring for my daughter as she is very close to my family.
“I was also concerned that becoming homeless would put us both at risk of contracting Coronavirus. My daughter has a history of respiratory problems and was diagnosed with a mild low immune system disorder. I work for the NHS at a GP surgery and even if we had been lucky enough to be put into temporary accommodation, I would have had to give up work and claim benefits. I also volunteer during the pandemic at a local hospital and applied to join the NHS Driving Volunteer Scheme, as I believe it’s important to help as much as I can.
“When I heard that evictions were being put on hold during the pandemic I contacted my landlord but was told that this notice would still stand once the lockdown was lifted. I also I tried to contact the courts, but they were closed. Frustrated and fearful of what would happen to us I emailed a number of local bodies and public officials and then Noreen swung into action. “
Our adviser immediately contacted the landlord and was able to explain that the reason why the client’s rent arrears had occurred was the need to move out of the flat while urgent repairs to damp and leaks were being carried out. This meant paying for the temporary accommodation and therefore being unable to pay the rent at the same time. Our adviser pointed out that, given the delicate state of her daughter’s health and anxiety level, it was unreasonable of the landlord to have expected them to continue living in the flat while this disruptive work n was being carried out. The landlord accepted the explanation and agreed to withdraw the eviction notice.
Noreen also advised the client to make a Discretionary Housing Benefit (DHP) application to cover the cost of the rent arrears, as she could evidence a number of strong exceptional reasons in mitigation, most importantly the welfare and well-being of her daughter. If she were moved away she would also have had to give up her NHS job and valuable contribution as a local coronavirus volunteer.
Such DHP applications can take a few weeks to process but in this case Westminster Council responded within three days agreeing an award of £3000 to clear the rent arrears.
“Their very prompt response showed their full appreciation of the seriousness of this client’s situation and the fact that there were child safeguarding issues to be taken into account to protect the child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, “said our adviser.
“This also meant that we found a successful resolution to her very urgent plight within a very short time frame of only three weeks.”
A successful application to the Thames Water Trust Fund has also resulted in an award to cover the client’s water cost arrears. Thames Water funds the Westminster Citizens Advice Paddington Foodbank Advice Project where our adviser is available once a week.
The client’s life has been turned around as she confirms: “I would like to say that Noreen is an amazing advocate for Citizens Advice Westminster. Without her tireless guidance and support we would be facing eviction. Noreen worked tirelessly to help myself and my learning disabled child to be able to stay in our home. I no longer feel anxious, I feel excited by the future and she has done that for us.”