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Couple with seven children slam 'lack of help' over tiny council house

NewsCouple with seven children slam 'lack of help' over tiny council house

David Payne, 49, his wife Danielle, 34, and their kids, aged between two and 16, live in a three-bed property, which their council had even admitted is “seriously overcrowded”. An environmental health officer said last November that the house in Godlaming, Surrey, poses a severe threat to the family’s health and safety.

But the family still have not been moved in the five months since the visit.

David said: “We don’t get anywhere with the council, they don’t communicate with us.

“They have been utterly terrible, and they don’t do anything for bigger families. We have our rights, but they’re shutting the door in our faces. It’s wrong.”

The couple’s youngest child, who is two, sleeps in their bedroom with them.

The oldest is 16 and sleeps in the living room downstairs, while the five other children share the remaining two bedrooms, Surrey Live reports.

The family moved to Godalming in 2017, renting a house privately for three years until their landlord decided to sell the property.

Having struggled to find alternative accommodation that was suitable for a family of their size, they appealed to Waverley Borough Council for help in January 2020.

The Conservative-controlled council agreed it had a responsibility to help prevent the family from becoming homeless, and eventually offered them a small three-bedroom property within close range of the children’s schools.

The semi-detached house was offered to the Paynes as a private lease rather than a council tenancy, in order to be fair to other households in the area who had been waiting for a council tenancy for several years.

The Paynes moved into the house in early June but soon realised that it was too small for their needs, Surrey Live reports.

David then suggested to the council that the property’s outhouse could be converted into an extra bedroom but could not obtain their permission to complete the works. He decided to do it himself anyway at his own expense, but the room became too cold to inhabit during the winter months and suffered from severe damp.

In January 2021, David and Danielle contacted the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to claim that the council was not fulfilling its obligations to place the family in suitable housing.

Nine months later the Ombudsman completed its investigation, finding that Waverley Borough Council was at fault because it had not completed a health and safety assessment when placing such a large family in a small home.

The council was instructed to carry out such an assessment within six weeks, and it sent its environmental health officer to do so.

The officer’s report in November concluded the overcrowded house was a Category One hazard, meaning that it posed a “severe threat” to the health and safety of the occupants. The report also found that the outhouse was too small to convert into a suitable bedroom.

Despite these findings, the Payne family are still living in the property more than five months later and have not been offered alternative accommodation that suits their needs.

David says that the situation has caused Danielle’s mental health to deteriorate to the point that she has been signed off work, and that he has had to stop his own work as a carer so that he can look after his wife and children.

According to David, the council is still telling him to bid for three-bedroom houses on the council’s housing register, despite the fact that they have been assessed as needing a five-bedroom property. He says that he has been checking the register weekly since they were moved into the current house, but has never seen a four or five-bedroom house listed.

A council spokesperson said: “Waverley Borough Council takes its housing responsibilities very seriously. We work extremely hard to manage the high demand for affordable housing in our area and support people into accommodation that meets their needs. It is our policy not to comment on cases involving specific tenants.

“We allocate properties according to the tenant’s priority level and the amount of time they have been on our waiting list. Our stock of properties with four or more bedrooms is limited, and it can take a number of years for tenants to be allocated one of these. This is especially the case if the tenant wishes to remain within a tightly defined local area.”

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