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Hidden homeless investigation: ‘They told me they’d take away my child if I could not find a home to rent’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:10 27 April 2018

Postwoman Charlie Hayden feared she would be made homeless. Picture: Emma Youle

Postwoman Charlie Hayden feared she would be made homeless. Picture: Emma Youle

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In the second of our Hidden Homeless series Emma Youle learns how rocketing rental prices are leaving even those in work unable to find homes in Havering

When young mum Charlie Hayden was forced to approach Havering Council for help with housing she was left angry and uncertain about what the future would hold.

Having worked all her life, the 29-year-old postwoman hoped to easily find another home after her landlord asked for his Hornchurch flat back, leaving Charlie and her fiancé house-hunting.

Despite a good record of paying their rent and excellent references, the couple were blacklisted due to bad credit history linked to previous relationships.

“I messaged about 100 different properties and loads of different agents around the country,” says Charlie. “I went as far as Norfolk looking for places to live and all of the people I spoke to said that they won’t touch us because of our credit.”

She had no choice but to visit the council’s housing office, worried the couple and their six-month-old daughter would end up sleeping rough.

It is a situation faced by an increasing number of families in the borough, as the number living in temporary accommodation has rocketed by 30 per cent in five years.

Charlie was stunned by what happened next and says she ended up in a tense confrontation with housing officers who were unable to help.

“I said to them ‘I’ve got a baby, what is going to happen if I end up on the street,” she explained. “And they said, ‘Oh well, we’d put her in care’.

“I was pretty angry. I didn’t even get out the door before I broke down and cried.”

Havering Council told the Recorder taking children into care is only considered if all other options have been ruled out and only with the consent of parents or an order from the court. The council also says it has supported numerous families in difficult situations.

But Charlie’s story sheds light on the intense pressure facing both council officers and residents who are using a service that simply does not have enough homes to go around.

Government figures show only 140 new homes were built in Havering last year, compared to 738 people currently living in temporary accommodation after presenting as homeless to the council.

None of the 140 properties were council houses, although Havering contests the figures saying 19 council homes were built in 2016-17.

The local authority also has ambitious plans to build 3,500 new homes over the next 10 years.

But they will not come soon enough for those in urgent need who are being priced out due to rising rents or bad credit.

Spurred on by the fear of losing her child, Charlie eventually found a landlord who accepted a £3,000 deposit instead of doing credit checks.

But it has placed a heavy financial burden on the couple on top of steeper rent for their new home.

Such is the intense competition for housing that difficult decisions have to be taken by the council to prioritise need.

Another hostel resident, who we have agreed to call Sarah to protect her identity, was forced to seek help after a catastrophic flood at her student halls of residence.

The MA student was trapped in a dark room in deep water, as her escape route was blocked by electric wires in the hallway.

After this her health suffered due to complications related to the flood and she was eventually admitted for mental health treatment before being released to Abercrombie House hostel in Harold Hill some months ago.

The 32-year-old has now been offered a property in Harlow, which she says she cannot afford. She has called on the council to launch a drive to reduce homelessness and keep local people within the borough.

“Havering may well be losing a great deal of individuals with valuable life skills and experiences, as well as a small proportion of the future generation of the borough,” she said.

The political leadership of Havering Council admits tackling housing shortages is a huge challenge, but says innovative schemes are under way.

Cllr Damian White, deputy leader of the council and Havering’s housing boss, said: “Housing has never been at the heart of Havering Council as much as it is now, because we know that providing good quality, stable accommodation is the first issue you must get right for all other social issues to be resolved. We are taking very much a firm line in ensuring that good quality accommodation is provided, whether it’s private, socially rented, or affordable.”

NEXT WEEK: The Recorder visits a new council housing development in Romford and Cllr White sets out his vision for an ambitious programme of house building over the next decade.

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