Housing

'The most vile place I've ever seen': Families stuck in 'uninhabitable' temporary housing

Use of temporary accommodation has soared. Tenants have written to Croydon Council about the condition of the housing 

Windsor House, London Road, in the borough of Croydon – home to 'uninhabitable' temporary accommodation

Windsor House, London Road, in the borough of Croydon – home to 'uninhabitable' temporary accommodation. Image: Stephen Richards / Wikimedia Commons

A group of “hidden homeless” tenants living in “uninhabitable” temporary housing have written to Croydon Council to demand better living conditions amid complaints of pests, bedbug-ridden furniture and cramped accommodation. 

Many of the residents are living in converted office blocks that were not designed to be lived in and provide overcrowded living space.  

The letter was compiled by the Croydon Temporary Accommodation Campaign, based on meetings and engagement with residents of Concord House, Windsor House and Gilroy Court, and former residents of Sycamore House – a converted office block that was evacuated after a fire in 2022. 

Change a Big Issue vendor’s life this winter by purchasing a Winter Support Kit. You’ll receive four copies of the magazine and create a brighter future for our vendors

“We are writing to you as a concerned group of residents accommodated in uninhabitable temporary accommodation located in the borough of Croydon,” the letter says. “As many families are made to stay in what is listed as emergency accommodation for numerous years, there needs to be urgent change to aid families.” 

Households are placed by councils in temporary accommodation when they are made homeless and the council has a legal obligation to rehouse them, but regular private or social housing is unavailable. Usage of temporary accommodation has soared across England in recent years amid the worsening housing crisis

“Regular pest control checks should be completed due to 100s of residences sharing the same building and bins and many reporting sightings of rats, mice and/or bed bugs,” the letter urges. 

“Many residents are not allowed to bring in personal furniture but are also not given adequate storage or sleeping arrangements to support the families. Many have no option but to use broken, small or bed bug ridden beds and bedding.” 

Many of the tenants are ethnic minority women with young children. The letter details the unsuitability of these often converted office blocks for raising families. In some cases, they have hard water which causes damage and irritation to hair and skin, posing a risk to babies and young children.  

Cramped living conditions are an issue, with families living in single-room accommodation including one bed, a kitchenette – often just a cupboard, a small fridge and a sink – and a small bathroom.  

“In many instances there are multiple people sharing these spaces,” the letter says. “There is no other space for children to play or develop. To make the properties more suitable we would like the council to work with this group to create outdoor space for people in the above blocks.” 

The letter also raises the lack of laundry facilities. Some temporary accommodation sites have no clothes-washing facilities at all, while others there is only one laundry facility for the entire block.  

“This means that families are having to travel with bags of clothes to wash and this is coming at a large expense for families who don’t have the spare income. 

“For some households this is a minimum of £40 per week. 

“This is especially hard for households with multiple children or household members with disabilities or health conditions where they need to regularly wash clothes. This physical and financial burden is making temporary accommodation even more financially unsuitable for households.” 

The letter is addressed to Croydon mayor Jason Perry and Susmita Sen, the council’s cabinet member for homes. Croydon Council was forced to declare effective insolvency in 2020 after years of mismanagement, including failed London property investments, combined with the impact of austerity, left it facing a financial crisis. The Conservatives won control of the council and mayoralty in 2022, ending eight years of Labour control. 

“We do not want to be reminded of the financial situation facing Croydon Council or the short supply of council housing,” the tenants’ letter says. “By definition you need to have a vulnerability to be in temporary accommodation and we expect these demands to be prioritised.” 

Among the letter’s other demands are: 

  • Better communication from the council, contacting temporary accommodation residents at least once every six months  
  • Ensure temporary accommodation tenants have bidding numbers for social housing – some have been left without bidding numbers for years, meaning they can’t bid for social housing in order to secure long-term accommodation 
  • Any fire safety failings in temporary accommodation blocks to be immediately addressed, with residents told of what ongoing fire safety measures are in place 

Having been sent to the council, the letter has been published online for anyone to sign in support. Among the public signatories so far are the borough’s two Green Party councillors, and the Greens’ general election candidate for Croydon West. 

The Big Issue spoke to Joanne (not her real name), a 24-year-old temporary accommodation resident of Windsor House, before the letter was finalised and sent. After she had to leave her family home due to her mother’s behaviour, she and her young son were placed first in mother and baby accommodation, and then in emergency accommodation which had mice infestations, drug users and malfunctioning hot water and heating – “the most vile place I’ve ever seen”, she said. 

After just days there, she wrote a long letter to the council asking them to move her. Croydon Council rehoused her in a bed and breakfast in Wandsworth. This time there were cockroaches, as well as a shared kitchen and shared bathroom. Homeless people are only supposed to be placed in B&Bs for a maximum of six weeks. Joanne was there for 12.  

“It wasn’t suitable, so I emailed them constantly, I got councillors involved, I got the MP [Steve Reed] involved. Fortunately they moved us to where we are now.” 

She was placed in Windsor House, a converted office block, in early 2023. She said the new place was better than the others, and is at least clean, but is overcrowded. 

Joanne thinks her son has ADHD, as both his parents have it and the son shows early signs of it. “I don’t get to sleep properly at nighttime or shower because we’re all in one room, me and my son. So whenever I move it wakes him up. And I’ve spoken to other mums and they’ve said the same thing. It’s really taxing on your mental health.”  

The children’s play area is next to the oven – she has to turn off the oven when he’s playing.  

“It’s very cramped. It’s really, really disheartening – I want to get myself out of this situation. I think there’s a stereotype, ‘loads of people are on benefits because they’re lazy, they don’t want to work’. I’ve worked since I was 15 years old. I’ve gone to university, I’ve gone to sixth form and done my A Levels and done well on my GCSEs and I still can’t go back to work because of the housing crisis. It’s really disheartening and depressing, like I’m consistently being penalised for having a child.” 

“In hot weather it’s extremely hot, to the point where they’ve given us air conditioning.” 

Joanne is currently on medication for morning sickness and throws up in hot weather. Last summer she struggled with the heat, even with the air conditioning provided by the landlords in response to the properties overheating. Her son broke out in hives. “It’s like a sweatbox even with the air conditioning.” 

She says she would be willing to move to Surrey in order to find somewhere affordable and secure, but the council had delayed giving her a bidding number for social housing – and even then, securing a council home could take years due to the huge waiting lists.  

“I’d really love to go back to university to do occupational therapy, but I can’t really do that in our situation because no private landlords really accept benefits and stuff like that, especially with children.” 

A Croydon Council spokesperson said: “The London-wide housing shortage means that we cannot always provide permanent homes for families as quickly as we like. Concord, Sycamore and Windsor houses provide much-needed, self-contained, temporary accommodation for families who are homeless. Fire safety improvements have been made and we continue to make homes as comfortable as possible for our residents.” 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Dropping leasehold pledge could cost Labour millions of votes, campaigners warn: 'Expect consequences'
Cladding protest in Westminster
Housing

Dropping leasehold pledge could cost Labour millions of votes, campaigners warn: 'Expect consequences'

'It's unforgivable': Michael Gove served 'eviction notice' by protesters over rising homelessness
DLUHC protest by HASL gives Michael Gove eviction notice
Homelessness

'It's unforgivable': Michael Gove served 'eviction notice' by protesters over rising homelessness

Criminal Justice Bill: Plan to criminalise rough sleeping will 'punish people with nowhere to go'
Tents in Brighton for rough sleepers who face being criminalised under the Criminal Justice Bill
Rough sleeping

Criminal Justice Bill: Plan to criminalise rough sleeping will 'punish people with nowhere to go'

We'd need to build 36 Milton Keyneses to solve UK housing crisis. Are new towns really the answer?
Housing crisis

We'd need to build 36 Milton Keyneses to solve UK housing crisis. Are new towns really the answer?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know