The mother who was kicked out of her flat after a journalist visited her believes many more homeless tenants are the victims of revenge evictions – but says the council is too afraid to confront the private landlords who provide emergency accommodation.
Angela Barnett, 33, was given a formal apology and paid £300 by Brighton and Hove City Council after the local ombudsman upheld her complaint about how her eviction with her two-year-old son from Windsor Court in October last year was handled.
The ombudsman’s report raised pointed questions about the timing of her eviction and the complete lack of evidence that the racial abuse she was accused of had actually happened.
The council believed Baron Homes, the private landlord of Windsor Court, even though a statement from their caretaker failed to detail any racial abuse, and police informed a council officer that the log for the crime reference Baron Homes supplied did not mention Miss Barrett.
Despite this, the council insists it “does not recognise the term revenge evictions” and said it had stressed the importance of robust record keeping with Baron Homes.
However, opposition Green housing spokesman David Gibson described a recent report into the evictions of people as a “whitewash” and called on the council to do more to prevent the practice.
Miss Barnett says she believes the investigation into her eviction was a cover up, and that the council is scared of rocking the boat with the private landlords who provide most of the city’s emergency and temporary accommodation.
She said: “It was obvious they were trying to cover it up. They knowingly used a crime reference number knowing it wasn’t about me. It says in the report that the officer didn’t record that conversation – surely it would be important to record that information that was pinning up my eviction?
“The council doesn’t want to admit revenge evictions are a thing because they would have to rock the boat with the emergency accommodation providers.
“They’re tied up in contracts with them and if they had to end them that’s a massive chunk of their emergency accommodation gone and they would have to find it somewhere else.
“Revenge evictions are happening and Brighton and Hove City Council are clearly trying to cover it them up. It’s happened to me, and it’s happening to other people. I am lucky enough to have had the support to see the whole thing through over ten months.
“I was lucky that I had the proof that I genuinely hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Many homeless families and vulnerable people end up in either Windsor Court in the city centre or Percival Terrace in Kemp Town, both of which are privately run.
When families and vulnerable people first come to the council, they are put into emergency accommodation, and then when their homelessness application is accepted (i.e. they are found to be truly homeless through no fault of their own), their housing is classed as temporary accommodation.
Because of the severe lack of housing in the city, families can stay in blocks like Windsor Court or Percival Terrace for many months before being moved somewhere more suitable.
The council has plans to convert the Oxford Street offices into council-run temporary accommodation, but a planning application is not due until spring next year, and it is likely to be some months after that that it’s ready for homeless people to move in.
Green housing spokesman David Gibson said: “Following concerns voiced by the Emergency and Temporary Housing Residents Action Group (Ethrag), Greens succeeded in passing a motion at housing committee calling for the investigation of evictions.
“The report that followed in June was felt by many to be a whitewash. It looked only at cases where complaints about repair work lead to eviction and didn’t take any account of the strong evidence of a link between residents speaking out about their living conditions and their eviction.
“Nevertheless, it still managed to shed light on the high rate of evictions in emergency accommodation- estimated at 12.5% over a year – something that should raise the alarm.
“Green Councillors have had concerns for a long time about ‘revenge evictions.’ The Ombudsman’s report tells us our concerns have been justified. By going to the media, Angela raised a serious complaint and within days was evicted.
“In most peoples’ books that is a revenge eviction and the council needs to take this problem more seriously. I applaud Angela’s courage at a difficult time, for speaking out, for not giving up, and fighting on to be vindicated.
“We will continue to call for the council’s Labour leadership to wake up to recognise the issue of revenge evictions and put measures in place to prevent it where possible.”
Angela said that her friend who was also interviewed at Windsor Court by BBC Radio 4 journalist Simon Cox, Terri Taylor, was evicted the day after his visit.
She said: “One of the other residents heard that radio four were going to do a documentary on emergency housing. She was contacted by Simon Cox and we invited him to Windsor Court.
“He carried out the initial interview in my neighbour’s room, and then we walked up one floor and into my flat.
“We pushed the door to, and the next thing the door opened and the caretaker started walking in and says Simon Cox has to leave. I asked am I not allowed visitors then. Simon Cox said don’t worry, I will go.
“The following day my neighbour got evicted.
“Five days later, I went to the council offices to check on my homeless application, and they told me it had been made, that I had been accepted as homeless. I was really relieved.
“But about 20 minutes after I got back to Windsor Court, there was a knock at the door and I was handed a piece of paper saying I had to leave by 10am the next day.
“I came back to find they were going to place me in Percival Terrace, in a tiny room with only enough room for my single bed and my son’s toddler bed, and a kitchen counter with a sink and a microwave. We weren’t allowed visitors there at all. It felt like a punishment.
“By the time we got to the second stage of the council’s complaint process, this crime reference number had come up. I phoned the police up and said this has been used against me, what is it about?
“The officer said she couldn’t tell me anything about it because I wasn’t mentioned.
“Five to six days after I was evicted, still nobody had told me why. I was at an Ethrag meeting, and someone from the council was present and she said I know why you have been evicted, do you want to know?
“She said in a room full of people, it was because you racially abused the caretaker. I couldn’t believe it, because I have never used any racist language. As a traveller, I have been on the receiving end of racism and I would never do that to anybody.
“I couldn’t believe that’s what she said.
“I had never done anything to be warned about. The caretaker had never said anything to me. There were no altercations until that day he came into my flat unannounced.”
After spending seven and a half weeks in Percival Terrace with her two-year-old son, she found a one-bedroom flat elsewhere in the city and moved in there – but at £875 a month she has been struggling to pay the rent.
The term revenge eviction was first coined to describe landlords who kicked out tenants after being required by councils to make repairs to their property.
This practice was outlawed in 2015 with new laws preventing landlords from beginning no-fault eviction proceedings if the tenant has complained in writing about the condition of the property and this is not resolved.
However, tenants can still be evicted for other reasons, such as rent arrears or antisocial behaviour.
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