Romford OAP and disabled adult son forced to share bed

The extent of Havering’s social housing dilemma was laid bare this week with the revelation that an 89-year-old woman has to share a bed with her adult Downs Syndrome son.

Despite a situation many will find deeply shocking, Havering Council cannot give them a bigger home because they have cases of even greater need and a waiting list that has increased massively in a decade.

Kathleen Sutton, 89, and Martin, 54, –who has the mental age of a four-year-old –have shared a bed since the woman’s daughter, Gillian Kiely and husband William, moved into the two-bedroom maisonette to look after them in November 2008.

Kathleen, who has osteoporosis, anaemia and kidney problems, said: “Martin’s upset he doesn’t have his own room. He asks when he can have it back, it’s important that he has his own space.”

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She says she has repeatedly asked the council’s lettings team to move them from their small home in Regarth Avenue, Romford, into a three-bed property.

Gillian, 52, said: “Martin needs 24-hour help with meals, showering and dressing, and mum is just too old and unwell to look after him by herself.

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“They share this bed – there is just not enough room for two single beds and for them to move around safely because of their disabilities – but Martin has accidents in the night and takes up a lot of space. It means mum doesn’t get much sleep and is uncomfortable – it’s like they’re living in the dark ages.”

William said: “If we weren’t here to look after them, Kathleen and Martin would probably be in care homes by now.”

Cllr Lesley Kelly, cabinet member for housing, said: “This is clearly a complicated situation. Mrs Sutton and her son were living in a property that met their needs before her daughter and son-in-law moved in. Last week we carried out a home visit and agree that they need another bedroom. To help the family, we have arranged for an occupational therapist to visit so we are clear about what kind of property would be suitable for the household in terms of access and stairs. There is an extremely high demand for council properties and so we must follow our allocations policy in order to be fair to everyone waiting to be rehoused.”

In February it was revealed that Havering’s waiting list increase was far higher than the average for both London and England.

At the time Cllr Kelly said: “We are doing all we can to provide affordable housing in the borough.

“Over the past three years we have provided 840 new affordable houses, exceeding our agreed target of 800.”

The total number on Havering’s waiting list is now 8,642 – a huge increase on 1,511 registered in 1999.

Cllr Kelly added this week: “The number of people on our housing register changes with the economic situation, but it’s also affected by Government rules on who can register. More than four in every ten households on our register have low housing need - which might mean they can afford to rent privately, or they live outside Havering. At the moment they are allowed to register, but the Government plans to change the rules, to give councils more control over their housing lists.

“Of course, there are also plenty of people with more urgent needs on the register and we have to prioritise the most serious overcrowding issues first. The sad truth is that we’ll never have enough homes to meet everyone’s needs, but we will run the system as fairly as we can. We’ll also keep bringing new affordable homes onto the market to help people find somewhere suitable to live.”

Comment: See page 24.

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