Family who lost private home ‘punished’ after council demand £200 more rent for new house
A dad-of-five who lost his family’s privately rented home will have to pay ‘£200 more’ for a council house.
James Byrne, 33, says he feels “punished for working” after they were evicted from their £750-a-month rented house, but says the council now want him to pay £920-a-month for their new home.
Mr Byrne, partner Debbie Day, 33, and three kids, 3, 5 and 7, say they were forced to sleep in their car after the council first put them up in two ‘hellish’ city hotels.
The family even claim they were left “covered in bug bites” in one hotel.
But things started to look up for the family when James got a new job at Cadbury and they were given the keys to a three-bed Birmingham City Council property in Kingstanding – where they have been living since Saturday.
But now they’ve been told to pay an eye-watering £920-a-month – despite the fact they were evicted from their £750-a-month home they could no longer afford in 2018.
In its letter offering the accommodation, the council said the rent was “considered affordable” for the family – but James says he ‘is being punished for going to work’.
The family have also been invoiced £1,650 for the ten weeks they spent in two hotels between July and September.
James, who has yet to make a payment to the council, says the cost for rent is so high because it is usually priced for families who are topped up by housing benefit.
However, the couple claim they aren’t eligible for a penny in benefits as they both work.
And they claim the £2,300 they bring in together isn’t enough to private rent again nor to afford what they’re being asked to pay by the council.
And in addition to the rent and hotel invoice, they will have to pay council tax, gas, water and electricity bills – and enough food to feed a family-of-five and for a car to drive the kids to their Erdington schools.
James told BirminghamLive : “I’m not saying I don’t want to pay, I just want a fair crack at the whip like everyone else, other people pay £450. We earn ‘too much ‘ for [housing] benefit, I’ve tried three times”.
“I’m being punished because I go to work, we’re stuck in a catch 22. I couldn’t afford £750 but they want me to pay £920 – I can go and get a four bedroom house in Sutton or Four Oaks for that.
“If I don’t pay the rent, they’re just going to evict us again aren’t they?”
The family were given the keys on Monday, September 18, but waited to move into the property while talking to the council over the cost and repairs they claim needed carrying out there.
They spent their first night at the house on Saturday (October 3) – after the family said they spent £1,000 to put carpets down in the property and make it ‘livable’.
But they have yet to make a payment to the council – even as the threat of being made homeless again looms.
“I haven’t made a payment to them at the moment, I’ve told them: ‘I can’t pay you I’ll have to be a squatter'”, Mr Byrne continued.
In an offer of accommodation from the council, which BirminghamLive has seen, it states: “The rent at this address is £229.97 per week. This is considered affordable for you.
“Failure to pay all related charges may result in you having to leave your accommodation and Birmingham City Council ending its duty to you as a homeless person.”
James said that when the family left their private rented home they first moved in with his parents as they waited for a local authority house to be offered.
But, after 18 months living there, they wanted to give his parents back their own space, so pressed the council to get them into temporary accommodation as soon as possible.
In July, the family-of-five were placed in a hotel in the Black Country – where they claim they were bitten by bed bugs. They lasted a week before deciding to spend a night in their car, rather than face more bites from the bugs, they claimed.
“It was just horrible. I didn’t stop there because I was working nights, so my partner and kids were there, they kept saying they were itchy and that, but I thought nothing of it at first,” he explained.
The next day, he got through to housing officers who found the family another hotel in Birmingham.
“After my daughter and my oldest son saw the bed bugs, they didn’t want to go back to another hotel. If they see a mark on a blanket, they start screaming and panicking about bed bugs. It’s traumatising in a way,” James said.
“As soon as we went in there, it was just really grubby, I’m not expecting to be in a palace, because I was basically homeless. But you could just tell it wasn’t right.
“The last one was decent compared to the bed bugs.
“Every five minutes, you could see cars pulling up dealing drugs, drinking on the stairs and lifts, young girls running around shouting, all the rooms were blasting music till all hours. This is supposed to be a family hotel when I’ve got three young kids.”
He added that he complained to the hotel, who told him the people causing the trouble had all been moved out as a result.
“It had a kitchen there but it was just filthy, then when Covid came they had to shut the kitchen, so we had to keep going out every meal,” he said.
“The kids were in school in Erdington so we had to get up early to get the kids some breakfast to get into school on time – it was just problem, problem, problem.”
Now, the family are in temporary accommodation, they are hoping the payments will be made affordable.
A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said, “Whenever anyone approaches us as homeless, we will do all we can to help them.
“When Mr Byrne raised concerns about the hotel they were placed in, we immediately moved them to a different location. We then, helped the family to find more permanent accommodation.
“However, we have also advised Mr Byrne that he needs to provide proof of income to the benefit service so that they can qualify for Housing Benefit (which will help cover their rent) and allow the council to undertake an affordability assessment.
“Mr Byrne has had this explained but has so far not submitted any documentation that will allow us to help him and his family any further.
“While we will endeavour to help all who are homeless in Birmingham, we also need individuals and families affected to work with us so that we can prevent people from becoming homeless and help those who are in crisis.”
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