Hackney Council gave single mum four days to pick between moving to Stoke and becoming homeless
- Credit: Archant
A single mother and abuse survivor was given days by Hackney Council to choose between a move to Stoke-on-Trent or being homeless.
On Monday last week, 34-year-old Zehra was told she had until 1pm that Friday to make the decision for herself and her daughter.
This week, the town hall said it had withdrawn the Stoke offer, but could not say whether Zehra had been offered a property closer to home.
She had been receiving treatment and therapy at a local women's centre and is on medication for anxiety and depression, having fled Turkey for the UK last year after her partner attempted to murder her and her baby while she was pregnant.
She said last week: "I can't really manage by myself, and I don't have anybody in the UK to support or help me, apart from cousins and one very close friend in London."
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A recent meeting at the town hall with Hackney's "settled homes team" - until recently called the "move on team" - was a catalyst for an anxiety attack.
Zehra was a primary school teacher in Turkey, and hopes to go back to the classroom as soon as she can in the UK, though she will have to start out as a teaching assistant.
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She claims she received no information or support from the council as to what amenities or services were on offer for her in Stoke-on-Trent, which she visited having been met at the station by representatives of private company PAK Relocation.
The council says discussions with the settled homes team take place over "several months", and that decisions are made alongside the resident, taking into account their needs such as medical care or where their employment is located.
Involvement of the residents concerned is said to be a "key part of the process", with the policy being that likely locations are discussed "weeks, often months" in advance of a move, though the town hall accepts only a short window is allowed for residents to make their decision.
Zehra says she was originally told that, given her circumstances, she would be found a home close to her support network in Hackney.
The settled homes team was established in 2017, and Hackney Community Law Centre (HCLC) has previously said that it has been "inundated" since with homeless families who face "final offers" of private-sector accommodation miles away from London.
The town hall has said originally the team was used "to support people who wanted to move into settled, private rented accommodation which met their specific needs and wishes, inside and outside of the borough", but that as the housing crisis worsens, they have increasingly been approaching people who do not want to move.
Housing needs boss Cllr Rebecca Rennison say that the council "reluctantly" does so due to central government not matching local housing allowance (LHA) - the rate used to calculate housing benefit to tenants renting from landlords - to local rents.
The town hall says it will seek suitable accommodation "for all residents to whom it owes a housing duty, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality or faith", though Hackney Community Law Centre has said that those most likely to be moved are single parents with younger children, usually mothers, who are less likely to be in work and less likely to have ties to local schools.
Jane Williams of the Magpie Project, which supports mothers and young children in temporary accommodation, said moves of the sort offered to Zehra can be particularly harmful.
Jane said: "The very worst thing is the breaking over and over again of any kind of social networks, friendships, support systems, that single mothers especially need around them to help them out. Neighbours who they can leave the child with for 10 minutes, connections they make at local children's centres or religious centres, connections with other mums. [...] That sort of social capital is broken every time people move, and it's incredibly difficult for mums in terms of their emotional and mental health and wellbeing."
There are 13,000 families on Hackney's housing waiting list and 3,000 in temporary accommodation. A spokesperson said: "Despite the huge challenge of finding even interim homes for these families in Hackney, we have been able to place two thirds of families in temporary accommodation here in the borough.
"Where we have no choice but to use accommodation elsewhere, we always work closely with the family to ensure any care, support or medical needs are taken into account, and do what we can to assist them with relocating."