Woman with sick child on facing homelessness in Welwyn Garden City
PUBLISHED: 11:51 31 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:23 06 June 2019
A Welwyn Garden City woman, who has one child in and out of hospital, has spoken about the difficulty of finding a place to rent while on housing benefit – having faced homelessness.
Wendy Rew has been searching frantically for a new place for her two children and husband ever since she was told three months ago that her landlord was selling her current residence.
One of her children - a boy who she did not want to be identified - has recently had a stoma colostomy at London-based Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The child had the operation to divert one part of the bowel through an opening in the tummy because of a rare medical condition he suffers with, which meant the landlord gave her an extra month of notice.
Until just two days ago Wendy was facing the prospect of moving out on June 10 with nowhere to go.
Her first port of call had been Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, whose council housing list she has been on for six years, but she was told no council housing was available.
"I don't see why I cannot move further up the [council housing] list when I have a child with medical needs," she said.
But she was told by a WHBC housing officer, on Wednesday, that a private property is available in Hatfield to rent and has decided to take it.
Wendy is pleased she now has a place to live, but said the location will cause her some transport issues as she has been based in Welwyn Garden City.
"I don't drive and the school is in Welwyn Garden City. How will I get there?"
Before the decision was made this week, WHBC had sent her homelessness forms to fill out that Wendy argues would have meant unhygienic temporary accommodation for her son.
"I thought we would be a priority," she said.
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"He has been in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital so he is at a risk of an infection. I don't see why as a family we can't get the best for our kids."
Special hygiene practices do need to be maintained for children with stomas, as recommended by the London children hospital's website.
Cllr Nick Pace, WHBC's executive member for housing and community, said: "The council has been working closely with Ms Rew to help her find suitable accommodation for her and her family, taking into account her son's health and additional needs.
"We are unable to comment further on individual cases, but fully appreciate the challenges and difficulties faced by those waiting for social housing."
Finding private housing also proved difficult for Wendy as she was turned down by almost every Welwyn Hatfield letting agent, rental website and Facebook post she enquired with after mentioning she was on housing benefit.
In the UK it is not illegal to refuse to take renters on housing benefit, according to the homeless charity Shelter, but it is seen as "indirectly discriminatory".
A spokeswoman for the charity told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: "Under the Equality Act 2010, it's unlawful to discriminate based on gender, disability or race."
This means the practice of refusing housing benefit or placing no housing benefit adverts is not directly discriminatory but Shelter argues it does breach the Equality Act as it causes "indirect discrimination, as disabled people and women are more likely to need housing benefit," said a spokeswoman.
"Therefore, Shelter believes that barring people from renting a home purely based on the fact they receive housing benefit, and not on an individual assessment, is likely to be unlawful."
A UK parliamentary committee has been set up to look into claims that landlords are not accepting housing benefit and ways to deal with that in future.
The lack of affordable accommodation and council homes, which always take housing benefits, has left many people with precarious housing situations.
It was revealed last year that 121 children and 130 adults are homeless in Welwyn Hatfield, which the borough is working on changing. "We are working hard to ease the pressures on our housing register, building new homes through our Affordable Housing Programme and providing them to local people on lower incomes," said Cllr Pace.
"We understand this is a very difficult time and will continue to support Ms Rew wherever we can."
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