Episode 9 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 9

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt tries to inspect a house so dirty the police called the Housing Enforcers.


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Transcript


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The law says everyone has the right to a safe place to live.

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This isn't about you, this is to do with the building.

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But for thousands of people across Britain, the reality can be

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more hovel than home.

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The landlord's got concerns. He would be worried about fire risks.

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In the battle between tenants and landlords,

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it's local housing officers who are on the front line.

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You can't start blaming the ills of society on the landlords. Do you know what I mean?

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I'm Matt Allwright and I've been training hard,

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ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.

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Show me your rat holes.

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Oh, my God, look!

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'Tackling problem properties.'

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They had to go through a whole winter with it like that.

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There is fresh rat droppings down here.

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'Dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours.'

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-What was it that happened?

-Catapult job.

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And everything in between.

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I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.

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-You like the big house?

-Yes.

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Can you stop filming and leave my house?

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OK, we're being asked to leave. We'll leave.

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Today, we're trying to inspect a property,

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but gaining access is proving easier said than done.

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Any desire you might have to put this house right,

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you're saying you're struggling to get in there to actually do the work.

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Yeah, it is very difficult for us, you know.

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We can't go out and look at houses all the time.

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Housing officer Fern faces a tough case.

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It could be that he has got a few weeks to live, a few months,

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and we're just trying to do everything that we can

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to have a roof over his head, so that he is comfortable.

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And a tenant lives in fear of what's lurking in his loo.

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You sit on a toilet, doing a number two and see a rat come up.

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-Now if that rat would've bit me on the

-BLEEP,

-I would've been in hospital.

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An Englishman's home may well be his castle.

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But if that home is owned by somebody else, well,

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you may need to know where to find your local housing officer.

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They are responsible for making sure that landlords live up

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to their duties and obligations.

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Namely providing somewhere that is safe and decent to live.

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But housing officers must also make sure grievances from tenants

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and landlords are handled fairly.

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First off, I'm on a shift in St Helens in Merseyside

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where the council deals with around 700 housing complaints every

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year - with antisocial behaviour by tenants high on the list.

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Working with housing officers Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt,

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we're on the way to a property which has been raided by the police

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and found to be in a shocking condition.

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We've found with these sort of jobs,

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especially the ones with police involvement as well, we don't entirely...

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We don't know with any house what we're getting into until we get there,

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but we don't know what we're going to face and what the tenant's

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reaction is going to be to being told their tenancy's at risk.

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Despite alleged antisocial behaviour, the tenant is claiming

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the property is in such poor condition they now want to be rehoused.

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To determine whether the ultimate responsibility for the state

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of the property lies with the tenant or the landlord, of course we'll

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need to take a look inside.

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The police are on stand-by just in case.

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What should I know about this property before we hopefully

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-get in there?

-First of all, we're going to see if she lets us in.

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So we're going to go ahead first, ourselves here, and then the sergeant will follow us,

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cos if the police come to the door, she might not be inclined to open it.

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The word is there's three adult dogs in there and we hopefully should

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meet with the landlord, so he should be around as well.

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As I'm just a trainee, Chrissy and Pam want me to wait

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until they have checked the safety of the property.

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DOGS BARK

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There doesn't appear to be an answer but I can hear a lot of dogs.

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KNOCKING DOGS BARK

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What have got there, Pam? No response at all?

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No, but there's water running, and water running down the waste.

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Whether it's just a dripping tap or there's someone in the kitchen...

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It's Pam Coppock from Private Sector Housing. Can you open the door?

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I believe you're not too happy with conditions.

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It's urgent, we need to come in.

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-She's in the bath, come back in ten minutes.

-We'll wait here, OK?

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Well, it was never going to be easy but it gives me

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a bit of time to test my housing knowledge.

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Even my novice eyes can see the property is in quite a state.

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-I've already spotted a couple of things.

-Have you?

-The safety of the porch area.

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-Right.

-Looks like it's rotting. I'd ask him to remove it completely,

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or, well, replace it. I think it's beyond repair, certainly not secure.

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On another point of view, we're looking at the tenant's safety,

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there's no gate on the front there.

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There's no way to keep those dogs outside in the yard but off the street, which is what you

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-want - to be able to contain them outside somewhere.

-Yeah.

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It's a tricky one - there's no doubt the landlord has some repair work

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to do - but clearly the tenant's really not helping matters, either.

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I just want a quick chat with you.

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Give me a quick five minutes to have a chat with you.

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Pam's gentle persistence pays off - the door finally opens.

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You need rehousing, the conditions...

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I'm on me own, it's disgusting.

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OK. Well, what I'm going to is to make... You can't be rehoused without the report

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saying what the conditions are, because you've got a tenancy.

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Pam is desperately trying to get access to the house.

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Bearing in mind Pam is trying to make

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the situation inside the house better for the occupant.

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She's not interested at all and she's gone back inside.

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With the tenant holed up back in the house, Pam now needs to change tactics.

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OK. I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.

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-All right, love, you prefer it that way?

-Yeah.

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Basically, she doesn't want anybody to go into the house.

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She wants to be rehoused and we have to do that defects list.

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Obviously, we need to know what the condition of the house is.

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They're not just going to give the tenant a house

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because she says it's not fit. We have to prove it's not fit.

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If it's as bad as I've been told, there are several options.

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We can do the improvement notice. If it's that bad, we can do a prohibition order,

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we can work with the landlord to get everything sorted.

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But if we don't get in, we can't do that works.

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And if we don't get in,

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is she going to let the landlord in to do the work?

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Well, doesn't seem to be. But the landlord...

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When I spoke to the landlord yesterday,

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apparently they have been trying to get in and had no success.

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Well, we have the section 239 which is the power of entry notice.

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And we can enforce it, we can go to court and get a warrant to go in.

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I've just spoken to the landlord now and he's on his way,

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so if we can hang on for a little bit and wait for him.

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But the first words out of his mouth were, "I need to evict her."

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Coming up - landlord Colin gets some bad news.

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There's substantial damage inside that the police found when they went in,

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so your property's getting absolutely wrecked.

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Now if there's an issue that upsets tenants more than most,

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it's animal infestations.

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We're off to Tendring in Essex for a gruesome housing problem.

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Tenant Martin Smith and his partner Paula are at their wits' end

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after being overrun by rats.

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I've got rats coming in the kitchen, I've got rats in the loft,

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they're actually in the walls thereself.

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At night, we can hear scratching and running across the loft.

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I can't sleep properly at night

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because I'm scared in case a rat comes on me.

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Rogue rodents, and they are stubborn!

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The landlord's sent a pest controller around to visit the property

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but Martin still isn't happy

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because this doesn't seem to have sorted the problem.

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They've put the poisons down, they're saying to me

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leave it for three weeks, then come back and bait it again.

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In those three weeks, there's going to be more rats coming in.

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Have I still got to live in a bungalow,

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knowing I've got health problems, I've got a bad heart,

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my girlfriend's got health problems, and they expect us to live in a place like this?

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Understandably fed up with their infestation, Martin has

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called in Tendring housing officers Grant and Ian to investigate.

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Hello, from Tendring Council.

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Mr Smith? Just come to look at your bits and pieces and whatever.

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-How long has this been happening for?

-Now about a week.

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I know this is not ideal for you because your house -

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it's lovely in here - but we've got to look at it strategically

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and the best way to attack it. Cos the last thing

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I want is for it to be even worse to live in for you.

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So I want to go and have a look round the property,

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see where they're getting in, see what we can come up with,

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see how the best way to attack this is.

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It's thought that the UK's rat population may have doubled

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in the last decade and of course rats spread diseases.

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Grant and Ian need to find out where the rats are getting in. First stop, the loft.

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Which Ian is enjoying a bit too much.

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I want one to jump on his head - that would be excellent,

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that would make my day, that would.

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Don't look like a lot of movement up there, does it,

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there's no evidence of any sort of droppings, what I can see.

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Yeah, but you need to look in the bathroom, Grant.

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Found another hole behind where your waste pipe goes through the floor,

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and on the edge of this multi-quick, I've got actual visible teeth marks.

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Cos normally what rats will do if they're in the drains, they'll go for light, so they'll come through

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the back of these pan connectors cos they can see through them.

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Looks like the rats are finding their way in wherever they can

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and have the run of the place - from the very top to the very bottom.

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You know, you sit on the toilet you're going a number two

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and you see a rat come up.

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-Now if that rat had bit me on the

-BLEEP,

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I would have been in hospital.

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So where predominantly do you hear them, actually?

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In the kitchen, in here and all in the walls. I hear at night..

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What, in the internal walls?

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Yes, I hear...

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-What, in there?

-In there. In the walls. I hear scratching.

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Not loud, it's sort of like...

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And I hear actual running across.

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The team heads outside.

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The presence of the rats, big gap we've got there,

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is obviously an access point.

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I'm trying to identify where they're potentially coming from, what

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they're attracted to there and why they're getting into the property.

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Maybe in some instances you may have a tenant that's feeding birds

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etc, you may have areas where rats can take harbourage and live

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and if you've got a food source, they'll come out.

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Here, get a couple of snaps in here. Ian, can you see the bait they are in?

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The big blue pasta bait, isn't it?

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Yeah, the bait hasn't been taken.

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What did you find under there, Ian? What's happened here, Ian?

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I think that's a wooden trap, isn't it?

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I actually can't see any droppings in this area, which

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surprises me, I thought we would, but he has baited. I don't know.

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Oh, I can see one or two little droppings there, on reflection.

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Martin doesn't want to take a closer look...and I can't say I blame him.

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Oh, there, yeah, that's pretty good, that.

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So that's where the rats are getting in. But what's attracting them

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in the first place?

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Coming up - it looks like there may be a very ready supply of food

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and shelter just next door.

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They're picking this up and they'll pick that as well.

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This sort of rubbish, they'll live amongst that under sheds.

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I can't get it shifted cos I...

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And I haven't got the money to get the stuff shifted.

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In 2013, the social housing sector was hit by one of the most

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controversial welfare reforms for a while - spare room subsidy.

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It's become known as the bedroom tax and it reduced the housing

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benefit of tenants considered to be under-occupying their homes.

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One year on, nearly half a million households have been affected.

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We're in the Borough of Stevenage, where it's

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the job of housing officer Simon Nuttall

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to make sure that all the households affected in his borough

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know what support is available.

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When it first happened, our arrears calls tripled.

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It is kind of starting to peter down

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as people have got used to it, but a lot of people are unaware

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of the options that are available to them.

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Once Simon's made contact, he assesses each tenant to find out

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if they qualify for a discretionary housing payment.

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I'd like to find out more about the effects of the spare room subsidy,

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so I'm going to help Simon on some of his house calls...

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Don't worry, I've checked. He is old enough to drive.

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So you have to use your own car?

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Yes, I do, I only passed my test about a month ago. If that.

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-Is it rude of me to ask you how old you are?

-I am 23.

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-I am nearly twice your age.

-That's all right.

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It doesn't matter, because you are my boss.

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-Exactly.

-That's what counts here.

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An upwards star.

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'Now I really do feel like a mature student.'

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I used to volunteer for the Citizens Advice Bureau before I did this.

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That's where I got the bulk of my knowledge.

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You kind of have this rose-tinted view of tenants

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and how they are - you think that they're really hard done by.

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You learned that lesson very young, if you don't mind me saying, Simon.

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-That is fine.

-You're not going to get all cynical, are you?

-No.

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Because you have... To do this job, presumably

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you have to be motivated by wanting to do the right thing for people?

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-And help people?

-Well, yes, and that is why I went for this role

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because I do want to help people.

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So in Stevenage, what sort of council stock have you got?

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We have just over 1,000 properties in Stevenage.

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Have you got any idea how many of them are under-occupied?

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Yes, there are 668 at our last count who are under-occupying.

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It is your job to get, well, our job to get...

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-Well, yeah, our job today.

-..to get round all of them.

-Indeed.

-If we can.

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Simon is only 23. I'm roughly... I'm not quite twice his age.

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But I have been previously, during the last year or two.

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I have been twice his age.

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He is my boss, he can tell me what to do today.

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He seems to know what he is doing, anyway.

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So that is a good thing.

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-OK. Let's go, boss.

-Onwards.

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It's the first appointment - let see how it's done.

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DOGS BARK

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This doesn't bode well, does it? This is not looking brilliant.

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We are bang on time as well.

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So I'll give it, like, a big knock?

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-Go for it, give it.

-Shall I?

-Give it a...

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Got about 400 of these left to do.

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Just today.

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Simon is trying to get round to your houses, people of Stevenage,

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to let you know how you can deal with under-occupancy.

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No, no answer.

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We have kind of struck out a bit.

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-Scuppered.

-Yeah.

-Feel like I have disappointed you.

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I don't hold you responsible in any way.

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Not a great start - so we've decided to try our luck across town

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cold-calling on known under-occupiers.

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I can already see it's going to be a problem.

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You see, you have a few things in your favour. You are...

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My charm and good looks?

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You have got charm and good looks.

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You're fresh, if you don't mind me saying so, fresh-faced.

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-Yeah.

-You are youthful, you've got the enthusiasm.

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I have got so much against me.

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-Aww.

-On that score.

-I think you are putting yourself down, unreasonably so.

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I look like the sort of guy who is only there to deliver bad news

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and to be honest that is what I have spent my career doing...

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-so far, so I'm...

-A face for disaster.

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A face for disaster, exactly.

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I can't get any more doors slammed in my face.

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I'd better get my spiel right!

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So what I am planning on saying is, "Hello, we've got

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"you on a list as under-occupying this property. Did you know

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"there may be ways we can help you with that situation?"

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-Yep, that's good.

-Let's give it a go.

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Belt and braces.

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'Why am I so nervous? I'm here to be nice.

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'Makes a good change.'

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It's all right, it looks like you're getting out of it.

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-On to the next.

-'This is frustrating...they could at least make the effort to be in.

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'OK, Simon can do the next one.'

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Some of these situations can be very complicated.

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For instance, the age of the children in a family can decide

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whether their house is fully or under-occupied.

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Have a lovely day. Sorry to drag you down.

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So the situation there - she was on this list for under-occupancy...

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-Yeah.

-..but then it sounds like

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she'd fulfilled all the criteria to have all those rooms filled.

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Yes, she mentioned that she wasn't any longer, since December.

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Her daughter has just turned ten.

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So because she has turned ten, she wouldn't be expected to share with anyone.

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So at that point, she is no longer under-occupying.

0:17:240:17:27

So it's not one person, one bedroom.

0:17:270:17:29

The rules state one bedroom should be allocated for:

0:17:290:17:33

Anything else is considered under-occupying.

0:17:450:17:47

And that's a lot tougher than I thought.

0:17:470:17:49

I mean, that is a busy little household there, isn't it?

0:17:490:17:52

So you can hardly... That doesn't look under-occupied.

0:17:520:17:56

-But she took it well.

-She did.

0:17:560:17:58

You know, she could have got shirty and said, "I'm fine here." But she didn't.

0:17:580:18:04

Good work.

0:18:040:18:06

Right, where are we going next?

0:18:060:18:08

OK, we tried.

0:18:090:18:12

Is that about right for your strike rate?

0:18:120:18:14

Ish, it is a bit hit and miss.

0:18:140:18:18

We do try and do evening visits where we can increase

0:18:180:18:21

the chances of them being in.

0:18:210:18:23

-Right, no answer.

-No.

0:18:310:18:33

'I think the people of Stevenage may be hiding from me.'

0:18:340:18:38

Well, Simon, you know we fought the good fight,

0:18:380:18:40

-we tried to bring people...

-That's all we can do.

0:18:400:18:43

..some good news. They chose not to be in.

0:18:430:18:46

I do feel a little bit like a double glazing salesman going door to door.

0:18:460:18:50

-Never mind.

-Indeed..

0:18:500:18:53

Maybe I'm the problem.

0:18:530:18:55

Coming up, Simon actually does meet a tenant

0:18:550:18:58

suffering from spare room subsidy woes.

0:18:580:19:00

I don't really know, I've got no choice.

0:19:000:19:02

If I don't pay, I get rent arrears

0:19:020:19:05

and that is when they threaten to evict me.

0:19:050:19:07

She has paid over £1,000 alone

0:19:070:19:09

so far just on under-occupation charge alone.

0:19:090:19:12

Keeping a roof over the head of your family can be a struggle at the best of times.

0:19:160:19:20

In 2013, there were 57,000 families living in temporary accommodation.

0:19:200:19:27

Lots of us lose our homes

0:19:270:19:28

and a lot of the time it's through no fault of our own.

0:19:280:19:31

One of the best parts of being a housing officer is to help

0:19:310:19:35

people out of exactly that situation.

0:19:350:19:38

And at Waveney Council in Suffolk, housing officer Fern Lincoln

0:19:380:19:42

is hosting a drop-in service to find out what each person needs.

0:19:420:19:47

People will come and see us for different things.

0:19:470:19:50

Normally would be because they are either losing their home

0:19:500:19:53

through rent arrears or mortgage repossession,

0:19:530:19:56

relationship breakdown.

0:19:560:19:58

Perhaps a parent that is evicting their children

0:19:580:20:01

because they can't manage anymore.

0:20:010:20:03

There is a lot of people that are very vulnerable and are

0:20:030:20:06

actually sleeping rough and they have been sleeping rough for months.

0:20:060:20:10

We try and assist them as much as we can to give them

0:20:100:20:12

as many options as we can within our statutory obligations, to see

0:20:120:20:16

whether we can provide emergency accommodation for them.

0:20:160:20:19

Or whether we can assist by doing referrals,

0:20:190:20:22

offering hostel accommodation or any other available options, really.

0:20:220:20:26

Today, Fern's meeting 38-year-old Neil Cowell

0:20:260:20:29

and his family, who are facing some really difficult housing problems.

0:20:290:20:34

After the breakdown of his marriage, Neil had to leave his home.

0:20:340:20:37

He's now in temporary lodgings, which are fine,

0:20:370:20:40

but they are not working out for him.

0:20:400:20:42

I currently live in a room above a pub.

0:20:430:20:47

That is not really a life, it's just living in a bedroom.

0:20:490:20:52

We have got shared facilities.

0:20:530:20:55

Um, we've got a bathroom I share with three other rooms. That's it.

0:20:550:21:03

We've got no cooking facilities at all.

0:21:030:21:06

If I want to eat, I have to go down the pub and buy a meal.

0:21:060:21:09

It is not like a home, living there, no.

0:21:090:21:12

But Neil's situation is much more serious than it first appears.

0:21:120:21:16

Neil's always been a healthy child.

0:21:160:21:21

Um... Doctors was for wimps.

0:21:210:21:24

12 months ago, Neil's Mum Janine received a call that changed

0:21:260:21:29

all of their lives for ever.

0:21:290:21:32

His wife did ring up and tell me that he was ill.

0:21:320:21:35

Apparently, he started having seizures.

0:21:350:21:39

When he went into hospital,

0:21:390:21:44

they found out that he had

0:21:440:21:47

type 1 diabetes.

0:21:470:21:50

They said he was epileptic and then they gave him the bombshell -

0:21:500:21:55

that he had a cancerous brain tumour.

0:21:550:21:58

An operation to remove the tumour was partially successful,

0:21:580:22:02

leaving Neil with limited mobility and prone to frequent seizures.

0:22:020:22:07

'I don't know, I don't know when I am going to have a fit. I really don't.'

0:22:070:22:11

I had five blackouts over one weekend.

0:22:110:22:14

I did, at the pub the other night, fall down the stairs.

0:22:140:22:16

Neil's quality of life has been greatly affected

0:22:190:22:22

and his prognosis is bleak.

0:22:220:22:24

It's a type of tumour that creeps,

0:22:240:22:26

so, apparently, although they have operated on Neil...

0:22:260:22:30

..it has got everywhere.

0:22:310:22:33

It's like a vine...

0:22:350:22:36

..and it's...it will kill him.

0:22:380:22:41

Neil has struggled so far to find anywhere that is right for him to live.

0:22:500:22:54

Finding a home through the council could be the only hope for him and his family.

0:22:540:22:58

Hello, Neil.

0:22:580:23:00

Fern really has her work cut out.

0:23:000:23:02

This sounds like a really complicated and sensitive case.

0:23:020:23:05

So you came over to Lowestoft because your mum is here,

0:23:050:23:08

-and she is good support to you, yeah?

-Yeah.

0:23:080:23:12

We want to make sure the accommodation

0:23:120:23:14

we provide is suitable for your needs.

0:23:140:23:17

So would you prefer ground floor accommodation? Yeah.

0:23:170:23:20

-Definitely.

-Yeah.

0:23:200:23:21

Neil will be banded by the council from A to E.

0:23:210:23:25

The higher the banding, the more urgent the case.

0:23:250:23:27

Our medical officer will look at what banding we can give you.

0:23:270:23:31

And if we can get that banding reassessed to enable you to be

0:23:310:23:35

boosted up to a better queue position, then hopefully

0:23:350:23:39

you will be offered something through the register.

0:23:390:23:42

Once given a band, tenants are able to bid on two council-run

0:23:420:23:45

properties every week.

0:23:450:23:47

The highest banded will get first refusal.

0:23:470:23:50

We don't know at this stage how serious the situation is.

0:23:500:23:53

It could be that he has a few weeks to live, a few months.

0:23:530:23:57

So he's going through treatment, he has had an operation,

0:23:570:24:00

and we are just trying to do everything that we can

0:24:000:24:03

to make his life the best that we can,

0:24:030:24:06

to have a roof over his head so that he is comfortable

0:24:060:24:08

and lives near his mum for support.

0:24:080:24:12

To have Neil close by...

0:24:120:24:13

..in a safe, comfortable environment.

0:24:150:24:19

I think he deserves, for the little bit of life he has got...

0:24:190:24:24

-SOBBING:

-..to feel safe.

0:24:260:24:28

The best thing the council could do for me is finding me a bungalow,

0:24:310:24:37

one bedroom, near my mum, just to make it easy.

0:24:370:24:45

I don't want to be away from my mum...

0:24:450:24:48

at the end of the day. I feel that I need that help.

0:24:480:24:51

Later, we'll join Neil as he begins his search for a new home.

0:24:530:24:57

I think I'd be happy here. It is wicked.

0:24:570:25:00

It's the job of housing officers across the UK to

0:25:050:25:07

make sure that people have a decent place to live.

0:25:070:25:11

I'm really concerned about how you are living here

0:25:110:25:14

and I want to get it fixed for you.

0:25:140:25:16

I'm going to be working alongside the men and women who do just that.

0:25:160:25:20

That thing in the corner there, growing out of the skirting,

0:25:200:25:23

it looks like a sea sponge.

0:25:230:25:24

I'm hitting the streets,

0:25:240:25:27

I'm learning on the job...

0:25:270:25:28

-We call that flash banding.

-A temporary fix, isn't it?

0:25:280:25:32

..to find out what it takes to make sure that every house

0:25:320:25:36

is fit to be called home.

0:25:360:25:37

I know I've only been in the job for a bit, but this is a shocker.

0:25:370:25:40

You've got three boys? Where does everybody sleep?

0:25:400:25:43

You seem to get very angry.

0:25:430:25:45

I've had too many people mug me off.

0:25:450:25:47

In Tendring, tenants Martin and Paula have been plagued by rats.

0:25:520:25:57

I've got rats coming in the kitchen, I've got rats in the loft,

0:25:570:26:00

I've got rats obviously in the bathroom.

0:26:000:26:02

I can't sleep properly at night

0:26:020:26:04

because I'm scared in case a rat comes on me.

0:26:040:26:06

To help solve the problem, they've called in local

0:26:060:26:09

housing officers Grant and Ian to investigate.

0:26:090:26:13

I can see one or two little droppings there,

0:26:130:26:15

actually, on reflection.

0:26:150:26:17

Oh, there, yeah!

0:26:170:26:19

They've spotted where the rats are getting into the house,

0:26:190:26:22

but Grant and Ian want to know what's attracting them.

0:26:220:26:25

It's not long before attention turns to next door.

0:26:250:26:28

There's boards around back there, ain't there? Potential...there.

0:26:280:26:32

-And there's food...

-And there is food and there's shelter as well.

0:26:320:26:35

That is what you need.

0:26:350:26:36

That is definitely a food sauce. Look, the grain is all on the floor.

0:26:360:26:39

That is like taking candy from a baby.

0:26:390:26:41

Look...straight there, so...

0:26:410:26:44

-It is ideal for...

-We've got to deal with that.

0:26:440:26:47

It's time to have a word with the neighbour.

0:26:470:26:49

The reason why I wanted to speak to you, sir,

0:26:490:26:51

is because your neighbour here has got a problem

0:26:510:26:54

with rats under his floors.

0:26:540:26:55

I get them from underneath my shed.

0:26:550:26:57

It's coming from that lot down there.

0:26:570:26:59

The culprit could be the neighbour's cat food,

0:26:590:27:02

which is basically a ratty ready meal.

0:27:020:27:05

Do you see her much, or he, the cat?

0:27:050:27:08

He does come occasionally, yeah.

0:27:080:27:10

Because the trouble is, again, that is offering...

0:27:100:27:15

That's a food source. Really need that off the floor.

0:27:150:27:18

They are picking this up and they'll pick that as well.

0:27:180:27:20

-I've only come to...

-They'll pick anything,

0:27:200:27:22

anything that's a food source, that's encouraging them.

0:27:220:27:25

This sort of rubbish, they can live amongst that, under the shed...

0:27:250:27:28

I can't get it shifted. I can't get it shifted cos I'm out of shape

0:27:280:27:30

and I haven't got the money to get the stuff shifted.

0:27:300:27:33

Cos the problem is we will serve a notice if you don't do it,

0:27:330:27:35

unfortunately, because it is a potential for a food source.

0:27:350:27:39

-Well, I will get it done.

-Yeah, OK.

0:27:390:27:41

Perhaps the mystery has been solved.

0:27:410:27:44

We've got the food source next door, in the garden.

0:27:440:27:47

And there's an opening, it's like, "Come in and have a party."

0:27:470:27:51

So that's where I think they're getting in...OK?

0:27:510:27:54

I think the best way to go now is get all these holes filled up

0:27:540:27:59

in here and we'll speak to the landlord via the managing

0:27:590:28:02

agent to do these works.

0:28:020:28:04

OK, right. Thank you for your time anyway...and we'll be in touch.

0:28:040:28:08

Job done.

0:28:090:28:11

Grant and Ian head back to the office to contact the landlord.

0:28:110:28:15

Hopefully, I don't get no more rats coming in from next door,

0:28:150:28:19

if he has had them, and hopefully I want to solve the problem

0:28:190:28:23

and get on with my life, live in my bungalow and get on with day

0:28:230:28:27

to day work, and that's it. That is all what I want to happen.

0:28:270:28:31

Despite the neighbour clearing the yard of the cat food and rubbish

0:28:310:28:34

that was attracting the rats, the council and the landlord are

0:28:340:28:37

still working to completely clear the infestation.

0:28:370:28:41

Fingers crossed Martin and Paula can finally get rid

0:28:410:28:44

of these pests once and for all.

0:28:440:28:46

Back in Lowestoft,

0:28:510:28:53

Neil Cowell is urgently trying to find a new home.

0:28:530:28:56

His failing health means he needs to move closer to his family.

0:28:560:29:00

12 months ago I found out I've got brain cancer, level three...

0:29:020:29:09

epilepsy and diabetes.

0:29:090:29:12

I was all healthy before that. Never been out of work in my life.

0:29:120:29:15

It was all pretty good until then.

0:29:180:29:21

Neil's currently living in digs above a pub.

0:29:210:29:23

He's applied to Waveney Council for help.

0:29:230:29:26

His living situation and poor health could put Neil near

0:29:260:29:29

the top of the housing list, which for mum Janine would be a lifeline.

0:29:290:29:33

With his condition, he really,

0:29:340:29:36

really does need a ground floor flat...

0:29:360:29:40

..hopefully a bungalow, because he is having fits.

0:29:410:29:44

And...if the council couldn't help Neil out,

0:29:450:29:49

we would just have to go looking at private property.

0:29:490:29:54

But the minute that I mention that Neil has got health issues,

0:29:540:29:57

they don't want to know.

0:29:570:29:59

For Neil, a new home couldn't come too soon.

0:29:590:30:02

I'd like to be in a house that is safe and secure.

0:30:020:30:08

It is quite hard at the pub.

0:30:080:30:11

At Waveney Council, housing officer Fern has news of Neil's application.

0:30:110:30:16

We have looked at his medical information

0:30:160:30:18

and, as a result, we have awarded a banding on his medical needs.

0:30:180:30:22

It is quite severe...

0:30:220:30:24

to the point where we don't know how long he has got.

0:30:240:30:28

It is very hard to talk to someone that is in that position.

0:30:280:30:33

All we can do is encourage him to bid for properties

0:30:330:30:36

and when that property comes up, he can apply for it.

0:30:360:30:41

Neil's been given an A banding, making him a high priority case.

0:30:410:30:46

He's now able to bid for properties on the council register.

0:30:460:30:49

The property that I have applied for last night is a one-bedroom

0:30:490:30:54

flat...that is on the first level.

0:30:540:30:58

But it is a good property, it looks like,

0:30:580:31:00

and it is only just down the road, so it is not far away at all.

0:31:000:31:05

Today the family are all going to check it out.

0:31:070:31:10

I think it looks really nice from the outside, yeah.

0:31:130:31:17

Housing Association representative Debbie Pryke

0:31:180:31:21

is there to show them around.

0:31:210:31:23

Now the steep stairs could be an issue...

0:31:230:31:26

but once upstairs, things start to look good.

0:31:260:31:30

It's all right, innit?

0:31:340:31:36

-A nice size.

-Yeah, yeah, definitely.

0:31:360:31:38

Your bed could go there...

0:31:380:31:40

sort of a long there,

0:31:400:31:42

and you could have your wardrobes there and...

0:31:420:31:45

-You like it?

-Yeah.

0:31:450:31:46

They are nice flats. There is not a lot to dislike about them, is there?

0:31:460:31:50

-We have got a really nice outlook, haven't we, Neil?

-Yeah.

0:31:500:31:53

-Is it gas central heating?

-Yeah.

0:31:530:31:56

Yes, which is obviously a bonus for you, isn't it?

0:31:560:31:59

This is nice.

0:31:590:32:00

'First impressions of the flat are that it is really nice.'

0:32:000:32:04

The kitchen is lovely, same as the bedroom.

0:32:040:32:09

The lounge needs repainting but that is about it.

0:32:090:32:12

They've got social housing here to help me with...just keeping sorted.

0:32:120:32:19

If I have an epileptic fit,

0:32:190:32:22

someone will be about that I can get hold of,

0:32:220:32:25

so I think that will be a good thing.

0:32:250:32:27

I think that I will be happy here. It is wicked.

0:32:270:32:29

But there is one problem.

0:32:310:32:32

-Why?

-It has got a bath.

0:32:320:32:35

You can't have a bath, Neil, there is no way.

0:32:350:32:38

And for Neil, this is more important than most.

0:32:380:32:41

I am fitting once a week at the moment,

0:32:410:32:44

so ideally there would be a shower here that I could use...

0:32:440:32:48

and I wouldn't drown in it.

0:32:480:32:50

Having a fit in the bath could be fatal,

0:32:500:32:53

but Debbie might be able to help.

0:32:530:32:55

So you would be interested if there was a shower?

0:32:550:32:58

-Yeah, definitely.

-OK.

0:32:580:33:00

It is a really nice flat.

0:33:000:33:03

So the next move is then I will go back and I'll discuss

0:33:030:33:07

as to whether we can put a shower in here for you.

0:33:070:33:09

-I should be able to get that reply for you today, so...

-Right.

0:33:090:33:13

-Nice to meet you.

-Thank you, yeah.

0:33:160:33:18

'It would be almost the perfect house without the bath.

0:33:180:33:22

'He can cope with the stairs for now, but the bath, definitely not.'

0:33:220:33:27

The lady that viewed with us, she's going to head back

0:33:270:33:31

and have a word and contact me today.

0:33:310:33:33

I feel happy about the idea of having my own place.

0:33:340:33:38

Yeah, just...chilling out in life a little bit.

0:33:380:33:42

All the family can do now is wait.

0:33:420:33:45

The wheels are in finally motion to re-home Neil

0:33:450:33:48

and they could be one step closer to getting a bit of peace of mind.

0:33:480:33:52

But, unfortunately, Neil was unsuccessful this time.

0:33:530:33:57

An updated medical report issued to the housing team has made it

0:33:570:34:00

quite clear that the house would not be suitable for Neil's needs.

0:34:000:34:04

Initially, when we assessed Neil's case,

0:34:060:34:09

we did look at his disability and his condition.

0:34:090:34:13

Although we said that he needed a ground floor,

0:34:130:34:16

we thought maybe we can stretch.

0:34:160:34:18

And if there is a few steps, he might be able to manage those.

0:34:180:34:21

But after the few tests that he had with the specialist,

0:34:210:34:24

and the report that we had from the doctor,

0:34:240:34:26

we realised that we had to make sure that it was just ground floor

0:34:260:34:31

with a level access shower.

0:34:310:34:32

However, this new medical report means that

0:34:320:34:34

when Neil does find a home, it'll be the right one for him.

0:34:340:34:38

Now my banding has improved,

0:34:380:34:40

hopefully that will sort things out a bit.

0:34:400:34:42

Fern has been really helpful...

0:34:440:34:46

trying to sort this out.

0:34:460:34:48

I feel hopeful that I will find somewhere.

0:34:480:34:52

Well, I'm delighted to say that Neil's hard work finally paid off.

0:34:520:34:56

He's managed to find a new tenancy in Lowestoft,

0:34:560:34:58

on the ground floor, complete with walk-in shower.

0:34:580:35:02

I'm back in St Helens after a police raid on a rented

0:35:070:35:11

property revealed it to be in an appalling condition.

0:35:110:35:14

I've joined housing officers Pam and Chrissy to investigate further.

0:35:140:35:18

DOGS BARKING

0:35:180:35:19

There doesn't appear to be an answer but I can hear a lot of dogs.

0:35:190:35:22

You can't be rehoused without a report

0:35:280:35:30

saying what the conditions are.

0:35:300:35:32

Now the tenant is demanding to be rehoused,

0:35:320:35:36

but she's refusing to let us in.

0:35:360:35:38

I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.

0:35:380:35:41

All right love, OK.

0:35:430:35:45

Landlord Colin then arrives, and he's in for a bit of a shock.

0:35:450:35:49

-You're not aware of the problems that are in the property?

-No.

0:35:490:35:53

The police haven't told us.

0:35:530:35:55

-Nobody told us.

-What's actually happened...

-Because, apparently,

0:35:550:35:58

we've been told that the police have been here on numerous occasions,

0:35:580:36:02

but nobody's told us...

0:36:020:36:04

That's why we wanted you to come today.

0:36:040:36:06

That's why we've made the phone call to you.

0:36:060:36:08

My side of things is to work with you and support you

0:36:080:36:11

because she's causing a problem in the street.

0:36:110:36:13

There are reports of... There's three dogs and nine puppies,

0:36:130:36:16

plus there's substantial damage that the police found when they went in,

0:36:160:36:21

so your property's getting absolutely wrecked.

0:36:210:36:24

Not what Colin wants to hear, I'm sure.

0:36:260:36:28

While he thinks about his options,

0:36:280:36:30

Pam and Chrissy try and reason with the tenant.

0:36:300:36:32

I can't hear what you're saying.

0:36:320:36:33

Just come to the door so we can hear you.

0:36:330:36:36

What about tomorrow? If we come back tomorrow?

0:36:360:36:39

Tomorrow?

0:36:390:36:40

What time?

0:36:420:36:43

If we say 12.30?

0:36:470:36:49

All right, I'll be back tomorrow at 12.30.

0:36:490:36:52

The tenant isn't going to open up,

0:36:530:36:55

so we have no choice but to retreat for now.

0:36:550:36:59

Landlord Colin has a lot of properties

0:36:590:37:01

and he admits he can't watch all of them all of the time.

0:37:010:37:04

It's clear, with this one, he has really got his hands full.

0:37:040:37:07

So, Colin, how are you enjoying being a landlord?

0:37:070:37:09

-It has its ups and downs.

-Definitely.

0:37:090:37:12

Out of 350 houses that we manage and own altogether,

0:37:120:37:16

this is not the rule - it's an exception.

0:37:160:37:19

We don't... Fortunately enough, we don't have many like this,

0:37:190:37:23

but when they do happen, it's big money.

0:37:230:37:25

She's wrecked the front door there.

0:37:250:37:28

It's just a joke, really.

0:37:280:37:29

It's very difficult now because a lot of the laws and rules are

0:37:290:37:33

very much in the tenant's...territory.

0:37:330:37:37

It's to their advantage all the time.

0:37:370:37:40

Despite any desire you might have to put this house right,

0:37:400:37:44

you're saying you're struggling to get in there to do the work.

0:37:440:37:48

Yeah, a lot of them just won't let us in.

0:37:480:37:51

Well, not a lot of them,

0:37:510:37:52

but people in houses like this won't let us in.

0:37:520:37:56

We find that we can't evict people.

0:37:560:37:59

It takes us three months to evict people.

0:37:590:38:02

By the time you get to court, it could be five months.

0:38:020:38:04

It's very difficult for us.

0:38:040:38:07

We can't go out and look at houses all the time.

0:38:070:38:10

The relationship between landlords and tenants

0:38:120:38:15

can sometimes be tricky and, understandably,

0:38:150:38:19

it seems Colin's reached the end of the line with this tenant.

0:38:190:38:22

Despite returning the next day,

0:38:220:38:24

Chrissy and Pam were again denied access,

0:38:240:38:27

and a few days later, the tenant was finally evicted.

0:38:270:38:30

Earlier on, Simon and I hit the streets of Stevenage to try and

0:38:340:38:38

talk to tenants who've been affected by the spare room subsidy...

0:38:380:38:42

but we didn't have much luck.

0:38:420:38:44

Right, no answer.

0:38:440:38:46

Now I've gone, though, fresh-faced Simon

0:38:460:38:48

is able to get on with his job,

0:38:480:38:50

advising social housing tenants how they can

0:38:500:38:52

apply for a discretionary housing payment to top up their rent.

0:38:520:38:55

Since the welfare reform, we realised that there are a lot of people

0:38:550:38:59

out there who are really struggling.

0:38:590:39:01

Hello, my name is Simon Nuttall.

0:39:010:39:02

There is a lot of help that we can provide,

0:39:020:39:04

but people aren't necessarily aware that it is out there.

0:39:040:39:07

I've learnt that in Stevenage,

0:39:070:39:08

no fewer than 650 homes are affected by the spare room subsidy,

0:39:080:39:12

and in those homes, there are more than 800 unoccupied bedrooms.

0:39:120:39:17

Simon's meeting tenant Shirley Brown,

0:39:170:39:20

who lives in one of the affected homes

0:39:200:39:22

and who, like many others, is trying to make ends meet.

0:39:220:39:26

It has been a struggle,

0:39:260:39:28

and all the commitments of other bills and things.

0:39:280:39:32

Shirley's two daughters have left home, leaving two empty bedrooms.

0:39:320:39:36

The new rules state that if you have one spare bedroom,

0:39:360:39:39

14% of your housing benefit is deducted.

0:39:390:39:43

Two or more means a 25% deduction.

0:39:430:39:47

So Shirley's liable for the maximum penalty,

0:39:470:39:49

which means £30 less housing benefit each week,

0:39:490:39:53

which she's got to make up from her other benefits.

0:39:530:39:56

Once I've paid for the bedroom tax and the gas and electric,

0:39:570:40:00

that was well over half of our benefit. It is a big hole.

0:40:000:40:04

I mentioned to her she has paid over £1,000

0:40:040:40:06

so far since the introduction,

0:40:060:40:08

just on the under-occupation charge alone.

0:40:080:40:12

A key reason the spare room subsidy was brought in

0:40:120:40:15

was to persuade smaller families to downsize, freeing up bigger homes.

0:40:150:40:20

In Stevenage, 92 households have moved to smaller houses.

0:40:200:40:24

Many are still waiting on a smaller property to become available.

0:40:240:40:28

But for others, like Shirley, moving is not just

0:40:280:40:31

a question of cutting back on space.

0:40:310:40:33

Is there any other reasons as to why you don't want to move,

0:40:330:40:36

other than the fact that you have been here for a long time?

0:40:360:40:39

Any health issues or anything?

0:40:390:40:42

I think moving to a completely new house

0:40:420:40:45

would really turn me upside down.

0:40:450:40:47

Shirley has a medical condition, which means she could qualify for

0:40:470:40:51

a discretionary payment.

0:40:510:40:53

It would last for 12 months and is designed

0:40:530:40:55

to give her a chance to sort out her financial and housing situations.

0:40:550:40:59

If, obviously, in the future, you do want to move,

0:40:590:41:02

please don't feel like you can't.

0:41:020:41:04

We do have an under-occupation advisor

0:41:040:41:07

who tries to help people to move.

0:41:070:41:09

She tries to match people in terms of what they are looking for.

0:41:090:41:14

Obviously, as I said, if you don't want to move, you don't have to.

0:41:140:41:18

Simon is optimistic.

0:41:180:41:19

'It went quite well.'

0:41:190:41:21

Her circumstances are quite good,

0:41:210:41:22

in terms of the discretionary housing payment,

0:41:220:41:24

because there are issues there

0:41:240:41:26

and we could argue that it would be unreasonable for her to move.

0:41:260:41:29

She has lived there for almost 30 years.

0:41:290:41:31

It is their home. Even though it is owned by the council,

0:41:310:41:34

it is where they live, it is where they've made their memories,

0:41:340:41:36

and I wouldn't want to leave if that was me.

0:41:360:41:39

All Simon and Shirley can do now is wait for a decision.

0:41:390:41:42

Two weeks later at council HQ,

0:41:430:41:45

Simon's received some news about Shirley's case.

0:41:450:41:49

They have agreed to pay part of the amount

0:41:490:41:51

she's losing as a result of the under occupancy,

0:41:510:41:54

so they are going to pay an extra £15.57 a week,

0:41:540:41:57

and they are going to do that for 12 months.

0:41:570:41:59

The council has agreed to contribute more than half

0:41:590:42:01

of her spare room subsidy.

0:42:010:42:03

So, Simon, one down, how many more to go?

0:42:030:42:06

I have completed about 225 visits, so keep on going.

0:42:060:42:12

What worries me is that he seems to do so much better without me -

0:42:120:42:16

this could be career-ending.

0:42:160:42:18

Somebody else doing a good job is Ian and Grant in Tendring.

0:42:250:42:28

They discovered the rats in Martin and Paula's house were coming from

0:42:280:42:32

broken sewage pipes before setting up home in their neighbour's garden.

0:42:320:42:37

Their landlord had offered them another property,

0:42:370:42:40

which they refused as it was smaller.

0:42:400:42:42

But they have now found an alternative home

0:42:420:42:44

and are moving out soon.

0:42:440:42:45

The landlord plans to make all necessary repairs to the

0:42:450:42:48

bungalow once it is empty.

0:42:480:42:50

That is it for today's show. Join me next time, on the front line,

0:42:500:42:54

with Britain's housing officers.

0:42:540:42:56

Matt Allwright tries to inspect a house so dirty the police called the Housing Enforcers. What is it like to live with rats in the walls? Plus a man with a terminal illness who just wants to spend his final weeks in a house near his mum.