Family of five forced to live in one-bed flat

Posted: 12/06/09

Josie Hinton

A FAMILY of five has spoken out about the cramped and squalid conditions they have been forced to live in by Westminster Council.

Danielle Lenihan, 28, who is pregnant, lives in tiny one-bedroom flat in Penfold Street, on the Lisson Green Estate, with her husband and their three children - despite being named a top priority family by council officers.

The newly-married couple agreed to share the flat - which is plagued by damp and mould - after officers refused to let them trade their separate flats for a bigger family home. They were told they would be rehoused within six months but eight months later they are still there.

Ms Lenihan said: "The children have got severe eczema from the damp and mouldy walls. It's got so bad that the skin has starting bleeding and weeping. My son Joshua has been consistently ill. He has just recovered from scarlet fever and is still subjected to the constant damp.

"I also worry about my unborn child as I keep catching all their illnesses. I've developed a rash on my face, my breathing has been very bad and I'm worried the stress will affect my pregnancy.

"It has also got to the point where the children are embarrassed to have friends home from school. They have never had a birthday party and they have no toys of their own - all our belongings are in storage."

In March, housing bosses pledged to help every family living in overcrowded conditions on its current housing waiting list by 2014 and promised to rehouse 44 families living in the worst conditions by March 2010.

Families in need of rehousing are required to bid on empty properties. Houses are then allocated to those with the greatest need.

Due to the drastic shortage in three-bedroom properties, Ms Lenihan fears they could be waiting years for a house big enough.

So far, the only three-bedroom house to become available was so small it provided little extra space than their current cramped situation. It was also turned down by four other families.

Regent's Park and Kensington North MP Karen Buck said: "I'm deeply shocked by the reports of the condition of this property - made even worse by the extent of the overcrowding.

"I will be taking urgent action to find out why these appalling conditions have been left for so long.

"It seems as if the family ended up in this predicament on the understanding that it was going to be temporary. But they have ended up stuck there."

Westminster's housing boss Rosemary Westbrook said: "We are sympathetic to this family's circumstances and have launched an initiative specifically to help families living in overcrowded conditions.

"They are actually part of a group of 44 families on our current waiting list which have been given top priority to be rehoused this year.

"We are doing all we can to address this issue and last week this family was offered a three-bedroom home, far superior to the one-bedroom property they are in at the moment, but which they felt was unsuitable.