Milton, 53, and his 50-year-old wife Cecilia were told by the local authority in a letter that their family’s living situation was of their own making and they were “to blame” for the cramped conditions. The pair, who live with their two children aged 19 and 14, were disgusted by the correspondence and claim they had been unfairly penalised and left to wait on a housing list for less urgent cases.
But they found out last week that they will now be able to challenge Southwark Council’s decision in the High Court.
The family have been living in a studio flat for the last five years and claim that, while they had been looking for a suitable flat, their current landlord was the only one who would rent to them while they were receiving housing benefit.
Milton and Cecilia’s daughter Rebecca, 19, previously told My London: “It affects our studies because the flat is too small. Because we have the beds and the kitchen next to each other and we just have a small table where we eat and do our homework.
“Whilst my mum is doing the food, I am trying to do my homework and it is really distracting and stressful. My brother is playing too, so it’s hard to focus.
“It is so stressful, my head cannot focus. I have to just go outside the flat to get some air to deal with the stress because the flat is too small, I cannot think in there. I don’t have any privacy, to change my clothes I have to go to change in the toilet and it’s really uncomfortable.
“I can’t bring my friends home because it’s too small – my parents are there and my brother is there. My friends cannot fit inside.”
Milton, who wants to keep his surname private, wrote to the Labour-controlled council explaining the difficulties he found when looking for suitable housing for him and his family in the private sector, including high rents, unaffordable deposits and how communicating with landlords was a struggle because English is not his first language.
The family have been stuck on band 3 of the housing waiting list for almost four years, and have asked to be placed onto band 1, which is for priority housing – however because they have been told their statutory overcrowding is a “deliberate act”, they cannot qualify for band 1 because it does not meet the council’s requirements to do so.
In July 2021, the family received a decision letter which told Milton his overcrowded housing situation was down to the “choices (he) made”, which he believes is referring to the fact he and his family moved from Ecuador to south London.
Milton had first moved to the UK in search of work in 2016, he was previously living temporarily in Lambeth before his wife and two children joined him.
The letter, seen by MyLondon, and which the publication reported on previously, explained why the family’s request to be placed in the priority housing bracket was rejected.
“It is without question that you would have been aware that the room in a shared house was not going to be suitable to accommodate your family of four,” they wrote.
“You had no accommodation for your family and did not take any steps to secure suitable accommodation for them. Despite this you made the decision to save money to buy plane tickets for them to join you in highly insecure accommodation rather than seek affordable and suitable accommodation for your entire household.
“The suggestion that you had no other choice but to place your family in an immediate situation of statutory overcrowded is not accepted by this authority.
“It is our position that it is the choices you made that led to you occupying accommodation that was statutory overcrowded at the outset.”
The decision letter went on to say that the housing officer does not believe the family need to live in Southwark and suggested other south London boroughs where they should have found housing in instead.
Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark Cabinet Member for Council Homes and Homelessness, previously told MyLondon: “I can confirm that we have offered lots of support to them and we assessed their housing situation in relation to their move from Ecuador, and also from Lambeth.
“We also offered them suitable housing in the private sector and asked if they wished to make a homeless application, which may include temporary accommodation.
“These offers were declined. We are still here to offer the family any support they require and I sincerely hope their housing situation is soon resolved.”