Social Justice

Council tells disabled man with cerebral palsy to make himself homeless to get housing support

'The Big Issue saves the day' as council admits blunders, while MPs launch investigation into state of housing for disabled people

Living in London gives George Fielding independence. But the housing crisis is putting it at risk. Image: Ranald Mackechnie

A London council has apologised after telling a disabled man he had to make himself homeless to access housing support.

George Fielding, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, began to fear he might lose his London home after continuing rent rises. 

But when he contacted Hammersmith and Fulham Council to seek support, he was told his options were to remain in the borough for another 18 months, or to make himself homeless.

It was only after The Big Issue contacted the council that they pointed Fielding to other advice he is entitled to, apologised, and said it would use his case as a training exercise.

However, Fielding said his experience illustrates the extent of the housing crisis and the bureaucracy faced by those needing help.

“Access to housing is so convoluted that even professionals don’t understand it. How often do they offer the wrong advice to people in situations more acute than mine?”

After his follow-up, he has been told he is likely entitled to a rent top-up, which may allow him to keep his flat, and added: “The Big Issue saved the day.”

“I didn’t respond for about 10 seconds, because I didn’t believe I heard it right,” he said. Image: Supplied

Fielding’s second-floor flat is the most accessible and affordable he could find amid the hellscape of private renting in London. But for a wheelchair user, it has its downsides: “Every day I hope that it isn’t the day the lift breaks or the fire alarm goes.”

Young disabled people are often denied independence by the housing crisis. In 2023, The Big Issue reported on how the shortage is forcing people into living with their parents, and seeing them pushed down priority lists for social housing.

Living in London, for Fielding, isn’t a nice bonus or a career boost – it’s a lifeline. Free public transport means he can live with independence. “I can only live my life as a wheelchair user as freely and independently as I do because I live in London. As soon as you need to hop into a car to get a bottle of milk, life gets very restricting,” he said.

But his rent has increased by 20% since he moved in, and he is now at the limit of what he can afford. With his flatmate moving out, he is concerned the flat will become unaffordable, and so contacted the council for help.

When he spoke to a member of Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s housing support service, he was simply told the legal limits of the council’s support: either he could live in the borough for another 18 months, taking his time up to five years, or “write to your landlady and ask for eviction on the grounds that she can’t afford the adaptations you need”.

Fielding, who works with housing charities and is familiar with the pressures faced by local authorities, was speechless when he heard this.

“I didn’t respond for about 10 seconds, because I didn’t believe I heard it right,” he said.

He asked for further support after being told this, but was told none could be offered, and was not signposted to other services. 

“I’ve got all of these situations going on, and I’m presented with a binary choice between the housing register and homelessness,” he said.

When The Big Issue contacted Hammersmith and Fulham Council to ask about his case, he was then contacted, directed to further support including the possible rent top-up, and offered an apology. However, he is unsure if this uplift, which is not guaranteed, will cover a potential rent increase.

He linked his situation to a wider struggle to provide proper housing for disabled people.

 “We cannot do anything without housing,” he said. “You can’t reform the NHS, you can’t reform social care, you can’t give people with disabilities an independent life. You can’t give anybody a decent life.”

MPs are investigating the state of housing for disabled people, with the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee launching an inquiry into the issue. Clive Betts, chair of the committee, told The Big Issue: “It’s far too hard for disabled people to find homes that are adaptable and accessible and that give them the freedom to live their lives independently. Whether it’s in homes for private rent or in social housing, it seems that too often people cannot find housing right for their disability-related needs.”

The committee has launched a survey, hoping to gather the views of disabled people. “In our inquiry, we want to get to grips with these issues and see what more the government, local councils and developers can do to deliver suitable housing for people and what can be done to support disabled tenants in the private rented sector in England,” Betts added.

A Hammersmith and Fulham Council spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologise that we couldn’t help Mr Fielding on our first attempt last week. We have since spoken again with Mr Fielding and outlined all the ways H&F can actively support him with his housing situation and additional support to his landlord to help him stay in his flat.

“We are continuously making improvements to our housing service as we work with our partners to ensure we provide a full range of support to all local residents including housing and health assistance when people need it most.”

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