Pensioner rations flushing toilet to cut her water bills

Another residents uses street lamps to light property

Thursday, 5th May — By Isabelle Stanley

Gary Lane

Gary Lane

VULNERABLE Camden residents are rationing toilet flushes and using street lamps for light as the cost-of-living crisis hits. Food banks and charities say the number of council tenants accessing their services has skyrocketed – in the most serious cases, some are falling into rent arrears and being evicted with nowhere to go.

elinda Rogers, who runs the food pantry at Queen’s Crescent Community Association, has been helping vulnerable residents fearing eviction apply for the government’s housing support fund.

She said: “I did 30 application calls for people. I asked people why they needed the money and one 80-year-old woman told me she flushes the toilet once every other day to make sure she does not get a water bill that she can’t afford to pay.

“Another man’s bills were so low I asked how he did it. I said, ‘Do you sit in the dark?’ And he said: ‘No, I’m blessed, I have a street light outside my window’.”

In the most serious cases, tenants fall into arrears and face eviction. At least four households in Camden were faced with homelessness after falling into arrears and being evicted from their social or supported housing in the last five months of 2021, according to government data.

Gary Lane volunteers with food banks in Camden and has been working with James – whose name has been changed – who was evicted from his council flat three weeks ago after he got into arrears. Since bailiffs arrived to evict him, James has been sleeping rough on the porch of his flat.

Mr Lane said: “He’s extremely vulnerable. He told me he’d rather be on the street outside his home rather than anywhere else. It’s his life and his identity, he lived there for 20 years.”

James was in serious rent arrears when he was evicted, and Mr Lane believes he is illiterate and was unable to understand the council’s communications: “Camden were aware of a vulnerable person, did nothing to help them, and then threw him out on the streets.  “There should be someone looking at why people are in debt, why they aren’t replying to letters, why they can’t fill in forms. Did they make an effort to see if he could even read their eviction letters?”

Foyezur Miah, the CEO of the Queen’s Crescent Community Association, which is supporting several families facing eviction, is calling for a clear strategy to prevent tenants becoming homeless.

He said: “People are having to choose between food and bills at the moment. It’s shocking to be in one of the richest cities in the world and deal with people who are reaching destitution.

“We can avoid this, we can avoid throwing people out on the streets – it costs services more to help someone once they’re homeless. We’re going to see this more and more as the cost-of-living crisis hits and we need a proper strategy to deal with this.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Camden Council will only resort to the eviction process when other avenues have been explored. As a result, evictions of our tenants because of rent arrears are rare. The housing teams, where appropriate will work closely with adult social care, NHS mental health services, children’s services and other support agencies, sharing information to support the tenant.

“Tenants who may be struggling financially are encouraged to speak to us so that we can best support them. If a tenant does not engage with us and continues not to pay their rent then the council will need to take the appropriate action, which could include eviction.

“If this is undertaken the council’s homeless prevention service are made aware and work with colleagues to create a plan to prevent the tenant from being homeless.”

Related Articles