Episode 13 The Housing Enforcers


Episode 13

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright is in Liverpool, where he discovers a single mum facing eviction from a house that is already unsafe for her and her kids.


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Transcript


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You could be down there for a while without anybody knowing.

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Everyone deserves a safe place to live.

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If your home is falling apart, you're going to fall apart.

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But with rents rising and demand increasing,

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it's getting harder and harder to find a secure place to call home.

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-It's a stinky little hole.

-It is indeed.

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I'm Matt Allwright, and I'm back with the housing enforcers.

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-Poo! It stinks.

-If I'm honest with you, I'm not sure whether

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I would want Grace going into that house.

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I'm on the front line with those fighting for

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the right to decent housing...

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Oh! This place is a bit of a mess.

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Is there anyone in there?

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..as local councils and housing associations battle problem

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properties and slum conditions...

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The smell in there, everything just reeks.

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..as they deal with dodgy landlords...

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And probably here is about as far as it's safe to go.

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..nightmare neighbours...

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-What, she's been kicking you?

-Yeah.

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..and everything in-between...

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OK!

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..to help those in need of a happy and healthy home.

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Behind every door is a little bit of a detective story.

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Today, I help a grandfather with a new move that proves bittersweet.

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It must be quite sad in a way because that was your family home.

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It was.

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I'm very sad to leave it because the every time you're in there

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you remember the kids when they were small,

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running up and down the stairs.

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In Lewisham, one housing association is helping residents tackle

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a significant blot on their landscape.

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When we first come to live here it was beautiful.

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It was...you know, good.

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I meet a mum and her family facing eviction from a property

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that's already a health hazard.

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Do you get damp on the walls at all?

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-Yeah, on that wall.

-Up in that corner?

-It's really bad.

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And one man's antisocial behaviour forces

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the council into direct action.

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I'm about to serve an injunction, so he's not allowed in the area.

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He will get arrested if he's seen in the area and we'll go from there.

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Finding a suitable place to call home for you and your family

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has never been harder, especially for those on a restricted budget.

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But low rent shouldn't mean your house doesn't live up to

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the same basic standards as everyone else's.

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Fortunately, there is a group of men and women

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who are out on the front line battling on your behalf

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against bad and dangerous living conditions -

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they are the housing enforcers.

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Whether you call it the occupancy charge, spare room subsidy,

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or bedroom tax, its introduction in 2013 was supposed to free up

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social housing space for families.

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Controversially, it also left those tenants with spare bedrooms

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having to downsize or lose some of their benefits.

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But, in Somerset,

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the tenant of this rambling home is more than ready to move.

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I'm on the way to meet him,

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with housing association officer Belinda Eastland.

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The house is so big that he's just using a fraction of the rooms

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and the others are just shut up.

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So we've spoken to him about his wish to move

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and a property has come up,

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which we're going to meet him at today to show him around.

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So he's made the decision himself, then?

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It's his idea.

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You know, he wants fewer rooms to heat,

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fewer rooms to manage and, you know,

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-wants a cosier home to spend the rest of his life in.

-Good.

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-Hopefully this is going to be the one then.

-I hope so.

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After the death of his wife, and his kids leaving home,

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I'm not surprised 70-year-old Greek Cypriot Michalis

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-is ready for a change.

-Hello.

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Good to see you. Hi, I'm Matt. Nice to meet you.

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This recently refurnished two-bedroom house

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has now become available.

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Let's just hope it's the sort of thing he's looking for.

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Tell me how this compares to where you've just come from.

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Actually, the other one is very, very lush. It's about 12 rooms.

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It was fantastic when we first moved in, when the kids were small.

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It was a family home. I was left on my own.

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Susan died. She left me with the kids.

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My son joined the Royal Marines, so he was off to Iraq and Afghanistan,

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my daughter went to study and it's a big house.

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And, to tell you the truth, first of all,

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a big house with one person is very, very lonely place.

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It's also not very ethical

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because you've got one person and you've got 12 rooms.

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The place now is deteriorating

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and, the whole thing, you just cannot catch up.

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It sounds like Michalis has had a really tough time of it,

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but leaving the home he's raised a family in can't be easy.

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It must be quite sad, in a way, because that was your family home.

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It was. And, I mean,

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I will be very sad to leave it because every time you are in there

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you remember the kids when they were small,

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running up and down the stairs, so you remember that.

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But, on the other hand, it's also sad memories.

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You know, the death of Susan.

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You remember all the goings on.

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You remember... So, it is a mixture.

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It can be pretty sad.

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So, it's a good thing. But I think the best thing,

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is it's a big house and it needs a family in there.

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I'm pleased to hear that, despite his situation,

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Michalis is still thinking about the needs of others.

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Shall we see the rest of the house?

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I think it's important.

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'I'm hoping this new place will provide him

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'with everything he needs.'

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This is great. Split level.

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-Yeah, yeah.

-That's great.

-It's really nice.

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From what you're saying,

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it sounds like you appreciate quite simple things in life.

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Yeah. Yeah, of course.

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The more things you add to your life

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and the more things you want,

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the more pressure you put yourself under.

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In actual fact, the more stressed you get.

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The fact is you can live quite nicely with the simple things.

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Upstairs, there's no shortage of space.

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And that's a really lovely bathroom.

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Look at the size of that. You've got loads of space.

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Luckily there's also a spare room

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for when Michalis' children come to stay,

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but he's well aware not every tenant is so lucky.

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As you're getting older...

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..you put so much work, as they say in England, you know,

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sweat and tears, to raise a family

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and it comes to the age where you're actually

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the age where you're going to enjoy the family.

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And what they did with the bedroom tax, they actually deprived

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the very people that need to enjoy the fruit of their labour

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of those years raising their family.

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They deprive them now cos they said,

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"If you have more than one bedroom, we're going to tax you."

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The argument against that is, of course,

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if you've got a resource, if you've got capacity,

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trying to allocate that to the people that need it most.

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So, if people are overcrowded,

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you've got to free up those properties.

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Yeah, but you've got to think also, an old man, say 70 or 75, or 65,

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or whatever, sitting all alone in that one-bedroom house...

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..you know, he might have three or four kids with grandkids,

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but he cannot have them to come and stay with him to keep him company,

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to see his family, I think it's wrong.

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So to have your family around you, you're saying a necessity,

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-not a luxury.

-No, no, it is a necessity.

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Be surrounded by the offsprings of the fruits of your labour.

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The spare room subsidy is certainly controversial,

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but there's no denying the desperate need for social housing

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that can accommodate families.

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For family man Michalis though,

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the extra room here will prevent him from feeling quite so isolated.

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It's time to let Belinda know the verdict.

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You've seen the property. What do you think?

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-It's brilliant.

-Are you happy to take it?

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-Oh, yeah.

-This is the tenancy agreement for you to take.

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-That's brilliant.

-Just a sample one.

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So it's an assured tenancy,

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so it's a lifetime tenancy.

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The assured tenancy means Michalis is free to enjoy this property for

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the rest of his days,

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but it looks like he's not wasting any time making himself at home.

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Now, Michalis hasn't signed the tenancy agreement yet

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-and yet his cooker is outside the back door.

-I know!

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Is it too soon or can I give him a hand bringing it in?

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No, let's put it in.

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It doesn't take...

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-How can I say no? I shouldn't really allow...

-I know.

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I know. Like I said, we're not in the middle of a city

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-with people we don't know.

-It won't be insured.

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No, no.

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To tell you the truth, it doesn't really matter to me at all.

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Let's go and grab your cooker.

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This is very important, actually.

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Well, you know, I like to help out where I can. Bend the knees!

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Yeah, he's done a proper job. Yeah.

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-It's brilliant.

-Yeah, they've done a proper job.

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Just don't tell anyone I let you put it in

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-before you signed the tenancy agreement.

-Of course.

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That's right. Like I said, you know...

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It's very hard to refuse Michalis anything.

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What can you do?

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How could you possibly say no? Seriously. Poor old Belinda.

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The cooker's in.

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I have a feeling Michalis' life here

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will be a happy and fruitful one,

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in a property that now, I think, suits him perfectly.

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Michalis has really expressed there very quickly

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a lot of the things that have run through

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every series we've done so far of Housing Enforcers,

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just how important a good home can be,

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the difference that it's made to him through his life

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and why he feels it's right now to step away from a house

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that's not right for him and find somewhere that is

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so he can live simply but well.

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That seems to be the essence of what he was saying there.

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What a lovely chap. What a pleasure.

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Fly-tipping - unsightly, dangerous and on the increase.

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Illegally dumped waste presents a health hazard for local residents

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and a huge and costly headache for councils

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and housing associations across the UK.

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You have to feel for tenants when your room with a view

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ends up like this.

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Here in Lewisham, London,

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these challenges can land on

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the desk of housing officers like Grace Briody.

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This is a problematic area.

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Probably once a week I'm having to arrange

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quite large hoards of fly-tipping to be removed.

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As soon as one lot gets removed, there's a new lot

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immediately within two or three days.

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And every time we get this removed it's going on the service charges,

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which is obviously really unfair for those that aren't fly-tipping

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because they're the ones paying for it.

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Grace has been tipped off that one of her estates

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has become a target for fly-tippers

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and, as there are families living there,

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getting it cleared is a high priority.

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We need to get it done as quickly as possible.

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Fly-tipping, obviously, it's going to attract rats,

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but also it's a massive fire risk, particularly when it's furniture,

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and it's right next to residential houses,

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so need to take quick action. I was notified yesterday,

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so obviously get out first thing this morning, take some photos.

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Grace is keen to get to the scene of the crime as quickly as she can.

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She knows what can happen if the problem isn't nipped in the bud.

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One person will start the fly-tipping,

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then other people think, "Well, do you know what?

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"Fine if they're doing it, I'll do it.

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"We're going to have pay for it anyway."

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And it just creates a bit of a problem, and I think for those

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that really want to take pride in their estate and look after it,

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it's really frustrating for them.

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There's not a lot they can do to stop it.

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When she arrives, she can see the problem is much worse than expected.

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These bins are for resident use only,

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meant for the disposal of household waste.

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I'm not sure how or where those sofas

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and furnishings would fit into that description.

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Furniture seems to be the biggest problem -

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I'm not entirely sure why. But I would say that I find

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a new set of table and chairs that have been thrown out

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probably at least every two weeks at the moment.

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So, this has obviously come out of somebody's house.

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Somebody's taken the time to very neatly stack their fly-tipping,

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which is really convenient.

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It's almost funny when people actually stack it all nice

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and neatly because that doesn't change

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the fact that's still fly-tipping, that is still illegal

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and that is something now that we're going to have removed.

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And, again, somebody has to pay for this to be done.

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And it's sad because a small number of residents impact

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the whole estate.

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Grace suspects the waste hasn't come from residents here and,

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open the door, look at that, the bins are overflowing.

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The items that are in here, as you can see, that's a suitcase.

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We've got a lot of household items.

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I'm going to have a quick look in the next one.

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I think this one's even worse.

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Wow! OK.

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So, again, as you can see, we've got... I'm not sure what that is.

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We've got drawers.

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We've got wooden...cardboard boxes,

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household garden waste,

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all these things, none of which are meant to be in the rubbish.

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This illegal build-up of waste is not only dangerous,

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it's having a serious impact on the quality of life for residents here -

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for long-term tenants like Alice.

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It smells...I mean, shocking.

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We're... This is what we're trying to get on top of.

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This bin shed seems to be the worst for some reason.

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My husband's dead,

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but when we first come to live here, it was beautiful.

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It was...you know, good.

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Now...

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The thing is they can't get into the bin shed

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because there's so much rubbish in there,

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so we need to get on top of the rubbish issue first.

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I only had the fly-tipping removed five days ago and it's back again.

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These sofas are new. They were only there since yesterday.

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I'm going to take some photos of the rubbish

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and try and get it removed in the next couple of days, OK?

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-Oh, that would be good.

-Yeah? OK.

-That would be good.

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Alice shouldn't have to put up with this eyesore

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and the authorities have promised to get tough

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with fly-tipping offenders. It's a criminal offence,

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punishable with a prison sentence or a £50,000 fine and Lewisham Council

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has been handing out fixed penalties of £250 for even minor offences.

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Grace is keen to do her bit to track down the perpetrators,

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even if it means getting her hands dirty.

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Quite often you'll find, if there's bits of paperwork hanging out...

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I'm going to do it more so in this one.

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But, no, it's not uncommon for me to have a nosey through

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and see if there's letters here.

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Often... I'm not going to obviously do it right this second

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because I've not got any gloves on me,

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but you will find, if you open these bags,

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that there'll be something with people's addresses on.

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And if she does find a lead,

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Grace is in little doubt what her message will be.

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These are items that you could ask the council to come and collect.

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The cost of which would be minuscule

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compared to what we're going to have to pay a contractor

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to get these items removed.

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Maybe £20 out of their own pocket to have their furniture removed

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from their home. Instead, they've dumped it in a communal bin,

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which is really not fair and you can understand

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why people get so frustrated.

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The risk of it is that, when some neighbours start doing this,

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other neighbours think, "Fine, they're doing it,

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"I'm just going to do it as well."

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And it spirals, becomes a bit of a snowball effect

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and then pride in the estate is completely lost.

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Tackling fly-tipping costs local authorities in England

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£50m a year -

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that cost has to go somewhere.

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We're going to have to pay our contractors to come and remove

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all of this, to get the bin at a level where it can be emptied.

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I would imagine, to get this removed,

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we're looking at about £500-£600 just for this bin shed,

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just for this bit that I'm looking at right now.

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What's actually really upsetting as well is I can see a lot of recycling

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in here and we do have recycling bins on the estate,

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so I can see cans, bottles,

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plastic things that could easily go into recycling -

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things that, in theory, probably make up half of this waste.

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And then if you take off the furniture and the garden goods

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that shouldn't be in here as well,

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the bins would be as full as you would expect them to be

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this close to collection.

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So, when the binmen arrive and they look at this,

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they're going to close the door again

0:16:590:17:01

and drive on to the next bin shed, and sadly they're going to do that

0:17:010:17:04

for every bin shed on this street by the looks of it today.

0:17:040:17:06

This is the worst I've seen it.

0:17:060:17:07

And if you think of just for today,

0:17:100:17:12

that's now six bins I need to get cleared,

0:17:120:17:15

three lots...four lots of fly-tipping

0:17:150:17:18

and this bin shed cleared.

0:17:180:17:19

You're talking a couple of thousand pounds, potentially,

0:17:190:17:22

just from today, just to get all of this removed.

0:17:220:17:24

I'm pleased to say that, after that visit,

0:17:290:17:32

Grace arranged to the fly-tipping to be removed by contractors.

0:17:320:17:35

But she's continuing to keep an eye out for any more unsightly

0:17:350:17:39

and illegal dumping, as fly-tipping continues to be an on going problem

0:17:390:17:44

and the work to educate and inform all residents on

0:17:440:17:47

the correct ways to dispose of their waste continues.

0:17:470:17:50

It's been estimated that every 15 minutes a family in England

0:17:560:18:00

becomes homeless - it's a staggering statistic

0:18:000:18:02

and an illustration of the desperate situation facing both tenants and

0:18:020:18:06

housing providers as the nation's housing crisis continues to bite.

0:18:060:18:10

Often cases can become so desperate they can end up at places like

0:18:100:18:15

Shelter, who look to confront homelessness in all its forms.

0:18:150:18:19

Today, I'm with Gill from Shelter Merseyside,

0:18:190:18:22

who's particularly worried about a single mum who,

0:18:220:18:24

along with her four children,

0:18:240:18:26

is facing the real possibility of eviction.

0:18:260:18:29

The case that we're going to look at, the referral that we've had,

0:18:290:18:32

where did it come from and what are the details?

0:18:320:18:36

It was referred through to us from children's services...

0:18:360:18:39

..because the landlord has told the family

0:18:410:18:44

they need to leave the property by the end of July.

0:18:440:18:47

-Right. So, he said out by the end of July.

-Yeah.

0:18:470:18:50

-I mean, it is now the end of July.

-Yes.

0:18:500:18:53

So...this feels a bit urgent then,

0:18:530:18:56

but we realise that this is a family that could be homeless very shortly.

0:18:560:18:59

Very shortly. The end of the week.

0:18:590:19:02

The landlord says he can no longer afford to repair the property,

0:19:030:19:06

so the family has to go.

0:19:060:19:08

With time running out, it's Gill's job to advise them on

0:19:080:19:11

the best course of action

0:19:110:19:12

to help prevent them becoming part of that very worrying statistic.

0:19:120:19:15

But when we arrive, there are even bigger problems.

0:19:150:19:19

You can see where the plaster's fallen away

0:19:190:19:22

and then you can actually see the floorboards.

0:19:220:19:25

It looks very wet underneath,

0:19:250:19:26

as though there's water getting through,

0:19:260:19:28

which would have brought all this we can see.

0:19:280:19:30

It's all black round there,

0:19:300:19:32

so it would have brought it all down with it.

0:19:320:19:34

With four children living in this property,

0:19:340:19:36

it's no wonder the tenant is worried.

0:19:360:19:38

I'm concerned how she's coping with the stress,

0:19:380:19:41

not just of the hole in the floor,

0:19:410:19:43

but the prospect of losing the roof over their heads.

0:19:430:19:45

She's asked for her identity to be concealed.

0:19:450:19:47

So, you've been living here since April last year?

0:19:470:19:50

-Yeah.

-Have you ever been evicted from a property before?

0:19:500:19:53

-No.

-Do you have any rent arrears from any of the other properties?

0:19:530:19:56

-No.

-OK. Do you have any rent arrears for this property?

0:19:560:19:59

But money is still tight,

0:20:030:20:05

even more so after this mum lost her job.

0:20:050:20:08

So, what are your prospects for finding work now?

0:20:110:20:14

All right. OK. Would you go back to doing the same thing?

0:20:200:20:22

Not clear what the reason is right now though.

0:20:340:20:36

It will be very clear later, at some point. So, in your mind,

0:20:370:20:40

are you just trying to get through this year

0:20:400:20:42

until you can start work again? Is it just surviving, effectively?

0:20:420:20:46

Until you can get back to work again

0:20:460:20:48

and then get back to that steady...

0:20:480:20:50

that routine you had before?

0:20:500:20:51

But with the landlord unable to afford the repairs on the property

0:20:560:21:00

and wanting to sell, the tenant

0:21:000:21:01

and her four kids could find themselves homeless within days.

0:21:010:21:05

When did he tell you that?

0:21:090:21:11

And did he just come to the property and tell you?

0:21:140:21:16

They've been living here for over a year and,

0:21:170:21:20

by the looks of it, in pretty cramped conditions.

0:21:200:21:23

-It's really small.

-Wow!

0:21:270:21:30

How do you do that, then? How does that work?

0:21:300:21:32

-You can't use the oven.

-You've got a cocker.

0:21:320:21:34

You can't really use the cooker, can you?

0:21:340:21:37

To get in there to cook, round the fridge...

0:21:370:21:40

How does this work with...?

0:21:400:21:42

So every time you have to cook, you push the fridge into the...?

0:21:440:21:47

You move that big fridge by yourself?

0:21:470:21:49

So you wiggle the fridge out towards the back door,

0:21:550:21:57

cook and then, when you're finished cooking, push the fridge back in.

0:21:570:22:01

OK. How is that working for you?

0:22:010:22:04

Not only is the kitchen cramped, it's potentially dangerous, too.

0:22:060:22:09

What's that?

0:22:090:22:11

You've got a plug, the plug's in here, it goes outside...

0:22:120:22:17

-Oh, is it?

-Yeah.

0:22:190:22:21

This one here...?

0:22:210:22:22

Oh, is it?

0:22:260:22:27

So, that wire that's hanging out there, it just sticks out,

0:22:270:22:30

that's for the drier?

0:22:300:22:32

Cooking anything in here would be hard enough,

0:22:350:22:38

but with four kids it must be near impossible.

0:22:380:22:40

As a home for a family of five,

0:22:410:22:43

it's clear this place leaves a lot to be desired.

0:22:430:22:45

Later on, I find something potentially even more dangerous in

0:22:450:22:48

the kids' bedroom.

0:22:480:22:50

Do you get damp on the walls at all?

0:22:540:22:56

In that corner?

0:22:580:22:59

Defending our right to a safe place to live is

0:23:060:23:08

the job of housing officers right across the UK.

0:23:080:23:11

This is how they live.

0:23:110:23:13

It's almost like he's declared war on everybody

0:23:130:23:15

that's living here, it's not just you guys.

0:23:150:23:18

I'm working alongside the men and women that do exactly that...

0:23:180:23:21

It looks like whoever was here had their last couple of parties

0:23:210:23:24

and then decided to give it up.

0:23:240:23:26

..hitting the streets,

0:23:260:23:27

finding out what's happening on the front line...

0:23:270:23:29

This is a good example of a good old waste of council time.

0:23:290:23:33

..as we make sure a house is a fit place to call a home.

0:23:330:23:37

There's a strong smell of damp

0:23:370:23:38

and you can notice it as soon as you come in the property.

0:23:380:23:40

We're going to have no choice but to take them to court.

0:23:400:23:43

Job well done.

0:23:430:23:45

With the number of people sleeping rough in the UK rising

0:23:530:23:56

by a third in the last year alone,

0:23:560:23:58

it's an issue that continues to challenge housing professionals.

0:23:580:24:01

And, in Havering, it's community wardens

0:24:050:24:08

Gael Gateson and Liam Knight who are on the front line.

0:24:080:24:11

For the past couple of years, they've been trying

0:24:130:24:15

to get rough sleeper Max off the streets and into accommodation.

0:24:150:24:20

But since walking out of a hostel,

0:24:200:24:21

he's been sleeping in this housing block and now his drinking

0:24:210:24:25

and antisocial behaviour are pushing things to breaking point.

0:24:250:24:28

This is evidence of Max, where he's yanking the door,

0:24:300:24:32

he's breaking the magnets.

0:24:320:24:33

These magnets have been replaced many a times.

0:24:330:24:36

This is the stuff that we have to deal with, where he's damaging,

0:24:360:24:39

criminal damage, just to get in the block.

0:24:390:24:42

Criminal damage like this is bad enough, but Max's activities

0:24:420:24:45

are also causing distress for other residents.

0:24:450:24:48

Max is not just a problem on the street.

0:24:500:24:52

Obviously, he's a problem in our blocks

0:24:520:24:55

because our residents will then call us out

0:24:550:24:58

if Max is laying on the floor.

0:24:580:25:00

He usually sleeps under here over night-time,

0:25:000:25:03

if he can get in the block, and he usually urinates in that corner.

0:25:030:25:05

Every day, we always...

0:25:050:25:07

the caretakers come in on a daily basis just to clean up his mess.

0:25:070:25:11

This is where, as you can smell, it's not the nicest of smells!

0:25:110:25:15

We've tried to help him for the past two or three years,

0:25:170:25:22

but I don't know if he just doesn't want any help, really.

0:25:220:25:25

We've tried really hard to help him.

0:25:250:25:28

We did give him a hostel for five weeks and he just left.

0:25:280:25:33

He doesn't actually like staying there,

0:25:330:25:36

so don't really know what to do with him.

0:25:360:25:39

We need to get him off the streets.

0:25:390:25:41

We'll try to get Max into a hostel, first of all,

0:25:410:25:46

but it just depends how many times we can keep taking him there,

0:25:460:25:50

taking him there, taking him there.

0:25:500:25:52

But we're going to really try and get an order

0:25:520:25:54

to keep him off this particular estate.

0:25:540:25:56

It's a very difficult situation.

0:25:580:26:00

Because Max constantly refuses the housing he's offered,

0:26:000:26:03

he's slipping further down the council's priority list.

0:26:030:26:07

For Liam and Gael, it's now becoming an enforcement issue

0:26:070:26:10

to ensure he's no longer a nuisance to other residents.

0:26:100:26:14

They're heading into town to find him.

0:26:140:26:17

We're going down there on a daily basis now speaking to him,

0:26:170:26:19

seeing if he's sober, what he's up to,

0:26:190:26:21

then we're going back and reporting back to the ASB team.

0:26:210:26:24

It's a shame, but we have to do what we have to do in this job, so...

0:26:240:26:28

He'll probably be in front of us, outside the toilets,

0:26:290:26:31

or down towards the right, towards the off-licence,

0:26:310:26:34

that would be his normal hang-out spot.

0:26:340:26:36

Oh, there he is, look.

0:26:360:26:38

Liam and Gael will have to thread carefully.

0:26:380:26:40

Because he's lived on the streets so long,

0:26:400:26:42

often under the influence of alcohol,

0:26:420:26:44

they're not sure quite how Max will react.

0:26:440:26:46

-Hello, Max.

-Hello, Max. How are you?

0:26:460:26:49

You OK? How you doing?

0:26:490:26:52

Just sitting here.

0:26:530:26:55

You ain't causing no nuisance, no? You being good, yeah?

0:26:550:26:57

Keeping yourself out of trouble.

0:26:570:26:59

You sure?

0:26:590:27:00

No worries. You not been drinking today, no?

0:27:000:27:03

You staying off it? For how long?

0:27:040:27:06

-You ain't drunk for three days? Really?

-Yeah.

0:27:080:27:10

Trying to slow down?

0:27:100:27:12

You need to. You need to.

0:27:120:27:13

You need to slow down. It's no good for you, you know?

0:27:130:27:15

It's estimated that nearly half of all rough sleepers

0:27:150:27:18

have a dependency on alcohol in some form,

0:27:180:27:20

but Liam needs to be clear about the impact Max's drinking is having

0:27:200:27:24

on other members of the community, too.

0:27:240:27:26

Being here, you're causing trouble, you know.

0:27:260:27:28

You get drunk, and when you're drunk,

0:27:280:27:30

you know what you're like when you're drunk. You do things.

0:27:300:27:33

At the end of it, you won't be able to come here no more

0:27:330:27:36

because the police and the council are getting to a point where

0:27:360:27:39

they don't want you here,

0:27:390:27:40

so you need to think about moving and getting somewhere to live.

0:27:400:27:43

Despite the antisocial behaviour,

0:27:430:27:45

Liam and Gael are still keen to try and help Max however they can.

0:27:450:27:49

Winter's coming now, Max, isn't it?

0:27:490:27:51

It's nice when you've been sitting out here

0:27:530:27:55

and it's been lovely and sunny.

0:27:550:27:56

But the winter will be coming and you'll be cold.

0:27:590:28:01

Ain't you thought about doing anything, no?

0:28:010:28:03

Ain't you got nothing, nothing at all?

0:28:040:28:07

You got just what you're wearing now? It's all you have?

0:28:070:28:09

Would you like to go back into a hostel...

0:28:090:28:13

..for the winter?

0:28:140:28:16

But you went before and then you left, didn't you?

0:28:160:28:18

You didn't want to stay there.

0:28:180:28:20

But you've got to work with us, Max.

0:28:200:28:22

You can't, you know, if we're going to help you,

0:28:220:28:25

you've got to help us as well.

0:28:250:28:27

We really need to help you, Max,

0:28:280:28:31

get you sorted out.

0:28:310:28:34

It's a difficult line for Liam and Gael to tread.

0:28:350:28:38

You have to admire their patience.

0:28:380:28:40

Right, Max, see you soon.

0:28:400:28:42

Don't forget, we're going to sort out, you help us,

0:28:420:28:45

we help you.

0:28:450:28:47

-OK? See you soon, Max.

-Speak to you soon, Max.

0:28:470:28:50

Later on, we'll see what happens when that patience wears thin.

0:28:530:28:57

You are not allowed here no more, in this area.

0:28:580:29:01

Back on Merseyside...

0:29:070:29:09

Have you ever been evicted from a property before?

0:29:090:29:11

..a landlord claims he can't afford to repair a property

0:29:120:29:15

and so a mum and her four kids are now facing eviction.

0:29:150:29:18

I'm with support officer Gill from housing charity Shelter Merseyside,

0:29:220:29:25

who are trying to help. But after the mum lost her job,

0:29:250:29:28

the family's options have got a lot narrower

0:29:280:29:31

and the poor state of the property is adding to the misery.

0:29:310:29:34

Well, this plaster's falling away

0:29:340:29:37

and then you can actually see the floorboards.

0:29:370:29:39

Must be the floorboards of the bathroom there.

0:29:390:29:43

Upstairs, the condition of the bedrooms is even more depressing.

0:29:460:29:50

So that's where the roof's been leaking.

0:29:530:29:55

And even though you decorate it, it keeps coming through?

0:29:560:30:00

Oh, yeah. Do you get damp on the walls at all?

0:30:050:30:08

In that corner.

0:30:090:30:11

Damp and mould in a house can have serious effects and it's kids who

0:30:140:30:18

are amongst the most susceptible.

0:30:180:30:20

Nobody wants to be evicted, but I'm beginning to think

0:30:230:30:26

the quicker this family can get out of here, the better.

0:30:260:30:28

It's a lot, isn't it, three kids in here?

0:30:300:30:32

Do they get on?

0:30:350:30:36

Yeah. Three together, when there are

0:30:380:30:40

quite big differences in the ages, it's quite tricky, isn't it?

0:30:400:30:44

When he gets to ten,

0:30:440:30:45

it's recommended that he has his own bedroom -

0:30:450:30:47

but you've got a year to wait for that, really.

0:30:470:30:50

You'll be eligible for four bedrooms.

0:30:500:30:53

So you can share up till ten.

0:30:530:30:55

Then it's recommended for opposite sexes to have their own rooms.

0:30:550:30:59

Things don't improve in the mum's room,

0:31:000:31:02

which she shares with her youngest daughter.

0:31:020:31:05

It must be coming from the loft.

0:31:060:31:07

Have you been up in the loft at all?

0:31:080:31:10

So you don't know whether there's...

0:31:110:31:13

-You can't see daylight or anything.

-No.

0:31:130:31:16

What's your plan going to be then? Would you like to move from here?

0:31:160:31:18

You don't like the area?

0:31:200:31:22

It's hardly surprising.

0:31:230:31:24

This house is no place to raise a family

0:31:240:31:27

and a recent altercation with a local resident means the mum

0:31:270:31:30

is now worried for her safety.

0:31:300:31:32

She was shouting at you or physically attacking you?

0:31:320:31:34

Right.

0:31:360:31:39

What, she's been kicking you?

0:31:390:31:41

Have you got a chain on the door?

0:31:410:31:43

Whatever their circumstances,

0:31:490:31:51

everyone has to right to a safe place to live,

0:31:510:31:53

so I'm keen to hear what Shelter Merseyside can do to help.

0:31:530:31:57

In terms of bad luck...

0:31:570:31:59

-I know, you couldn't get much worse.

-..she had a bucket full, didn't she?

0:31:590:32:02

It feels like homelessness is just one of the risks that

0:32:020:32:05

that family is facing at the moment.

0:32:050:32:07

What's the first step then?

0:32:080:32:09

What's the first thing you're going to do?

0:32:090:32:11

Getting the landlord's details and getting the section notice,

0:32:110:32:15

or finding out what the situation is with that,

0:32:150:32:17

and addressing the property pool

0:32:170:32:19

to find a new property within a housing association for her.

0:32:190:32:23

It feels to me as though the right house for that family could start to

0:32:230:32:28

solve a lot of their problems, so she's back with her main family,

0:32:280:32:33

-you know.

-She's got a support network around her.

-Close to that.

0:32:330:32:37

Actually achieving that might mean that a lot of the other problems...

0:32:370:32:41

go away. You know, there's childcare then,

0:32:410:32:44

and when she does go back to work, eventually,

0:32:440:32:47

-she's got that family network.

-Yes.

0:32:470:32:50

Well, since that visit, unfortunately the tenant

0:32:500:32:52

and her family are still continuing to face the prospect of eviction,

0:32:520:32:56

as the landlord still wants to sell the property.

0:32:560:32:59

But the family have now been matched to a housing association property in

0:32:590:33:02

the area of their choice and Shelter Merseyside is continuing to support

0:33:020:33:07

them to resettle. Returning to the job she loves remains a goal

0:33:070:33:10

for the mum once she and her children are settled

0:33:100:33:13

in their new home and community.

0:33:130:33:15

Back in Havering,

0:33:220:33:23

rough sleeper Max's public drinking and serious antisocial behaviour

0:33:230:33:27

has been causing problems for the borough's residents.

0:33:270:33:30

He usually sleeps under here over night-time,

0:33:300:33:33

if he can get in the block,

0:33:330:33:34

and he usually urinates in that corner, like, every day.

0:33:340:33:37

Max has resisted numerous attempts to get him off the streets

0:33:370:33:40

and into a hostel, and now there's been new reports that he's been

0:33:400:33:43

drunkenly harassing shopkeepers and members of the public.

0:33:430:33:46

That's forced the council into a difficult decision

0:33:480:33:50

that community warden Liam has to deliver personally.

0:33:500:33:54

I'm about to serve an injunction, so he's not allowed in the area.

0:33:540:33:57

He'll get arrested if he's seen in the area

0:33:570:34:01

and we'll go from there.

0:34:010:34:04

The injunction is a last resort,

0:34:040:34:06

but reports of Max drunkenly harassing shopkeepers

0:34:060:34:09

and members of the public have left the council with little choice.

0:34:090:34:13

Now all Liam has to do is to find him.

0:34:130:34:16

Check and see if he's in the block.

0:34:190:34:21

If he's going to be anywhere,

0:34:230:34:24

he could be round the back, sitting around.

0:34:240:34:26

Sometimes he sits on the sofas or...

0:34:260:34:29

The thing is, usually he's here, like, every day.

0:34:290:34:31

I could tell you just, like,

0:34:310:34:32

we'll turn up and he'll be here, guaranteed.

0:34:320:34:35

Trust my luck, today is the day,

0:34:350:34:36

when I've got the injunction, he'll go missing.

0:34:360:34:40

Once the injunction is served on Max,

0:34:400:34:42

it will make it an offence for him to be in this area,

0:34:420:34:45

but Liam's beginning to wonder

0:34:450:34:47

if Max may have already got the message.

0:34:470:34:49

It's usually that block. I don't usually go in the other block.

0:34:490:34:53

We're still trying to hunt down Max.

0:34:570:35:00

He's not to be seen in the area - first time in months.

0:35:000:35:03

I can't find him today, for some reason. It's just my luck.

0:35:030:35:06

But I wanted to speak to him sober,

0:35:060:35:08

but by the time we see him he'll probably be drunk,

0:35:080:35:10

but there's nothing I can do about that.

0:35:100:35:12

I still have to serve it, so I'll serve it drunk or sober.

0:35:120:35:15

It looks like Liam's quest is about to end without a result.

0:35:150:35:18

But just as he's about to give up and return to the office...

0:35:180:35:22

Max, I need to speak to you.

0:35:240:35:26

Come here. I need to speak to you.

0:35:260:35:29

This is... You've got an injunction here.

0:35:290:35:30

You're not allowed to be here no more.

0:35:300:35:33

This here is a court case.

0:35:330:35:36

You need to read this. This is yours. Look, it says your name.

0:35:360:35:41

This is for you.

0:35:410:35:43

You need to read this.

0:35:430:35:44

You're not allowed to be here no more.

0:35:440:35:46

You'll get arrested. This area - no more.

0:35:460:35:48

No, no, you have to listen.

0:35:490:35:51

Truthfully because the police will come and arrest you.

0:35:510:35:54

Yeah.

0:35:540:35:55

Listen, court case,

0:35:550:35:58

it's gone to court. It's been to court, today.

0:35:580:36:01

You are not allowed here no more, in this area.

0:36:010:36:04

You have to go to court if you want to appeal against it.

0:36:040:36:07

You are not allowed in the area.

0:36:070:36:09

Look, you need to read this. This is yours.

0:36:090:36:10

I've just come to give this to you.

0:36:100:36:13

What do you mean, "No"?

0:36:130:36:15

Look, it says your name on it.

0:36:150:36:17

Look, read it.

0:36:170:36:19

Yeah, it is you. I'm telling you the truth,

0:36:190:36:21

you need to leave the area now.

0:36:210:36:22

If you don't leave the area, you'll get arrested.

0:36:220:36:25

You're going to get arrested.

0:36:250:36:27

You need to take this.

0:36:270:36:30

-No?

-It's a difficult job for Liam,

0:36:300:36:33

but being faced with someone who's refused help for so long

0:36:330:36:36

and is causing so many problems for other residents,

0:36:360:36:39

it seems things have simply come to the end of the line.

0:36:390:36:42

Well, Max has denied the paperwork.

0:36:420:36:45

He won't take it. I can't force it upon him.

0:36:450:36:48

Now we have to go down the route of just waiting.

0:36:480:36:51

We'll go to court in seven days' time.

0:36:510:36:53

Wait to see if he appeals.

0:36:530:36:55

I very much doubt he'll appeal.

0:36:550:36:57

From then onwards it will be enforceable,

0:36:570:36:59

so they will be able to arrest him if he's in the area.

0:36:590:37:01

Well, sadly, Max has continued to breach the injunction

0:37:050:37:09

that was intended to keep him from causing problems in the area.

0:37:090:37:13

The council now, as a last resort, has gone back to the courts

0:37:130:37:16

for the power to arrest him for any further breaches.

0:37:160:37:20

With 1.2 million households on the waiting list for a social home

0:37:260:37:30

in England alone, one of the most important jobs for housing officers

0:37:300:37:33

is to get unused properties back into use as soon as possible

0:37:330:37:37

and, with figures showing more than 600,000 homes

0:37:370:37:41

standing empty in England, you can see the scale of the problem.

0:37:410:37:44

It's a frustration felt by councils and housing associations as they

0:37:440:37:48

battle to provide safe and secure homes for those who need them.

0:37:480:37:52

On the south coast,

0:37:530:37:55

housing officers Corinne Clark and Laura Bond

0:37:550:37:57

are on a mission to investigate a number of

0:37:570:37:59

empty properties on their patch.

0:37:590:38:01

The idea is to try and get these homes back in action,

0:38:010:38:05

but the former tenants don't always make it that straightforward.

0:38:050:38:07

Sometimes they move counties, districts and they just think that

0:38:070:38:11

they don't need to give notice and just

0:38:110:38:12

leave the keys, put the keys through the letterbox and go.

0:38:120:38:15

There can be personal reasons that they've just taken off and just

0:38:150:38:18

forgotten or chose not to give notice - one or the other.

0:38:180:38:21

The first property on the list is vacant not because it was abandoned,

0:38:210:38:25

but due to the tenant's ill health.

0:38:250:38:27

I've got this property in Chichester,

0:38:270:38:29

on one of our estates there.

0:38:290:38:31

Tenancy of a gentleman who unfortunately had an accident

0:38:330:38:36

and was unable to return to the property.

0:38:360:38:38

There's a lot of belongings in there still,

0:38:380:38:40

so we need to go and do a full inventory - as we've done previously.

0:38:400:38:43

OK, and then we pass it back to Boyds.

0:38:430:38:45

And once that's done, Boyds will go in and do the clearance

0:38:450:38:48

and it will be passed over to be re-let, as per the housing register.

0:38:480:38:51

A tort notice is a legal document that allows landlords to sell

0:38:520:38:55

or dispose of goods once reasonable efforts to trace the owner fail.

0:38:550:38:59

This allows the property to be cleared as soon as possible

0:38:590:39:02

and there's no shortage of people looking to find a home.

0:39:020:39:05

We don't control the waiting list,

0:39:050:39:07

it's controlled by the local district council,

0:39:070:39:09

so they send lists through.

0:39:090:39:10

People bid on the properties on a fortnightly basis.

0:39:100:39:13

If they're interesting in moving to that particular property,

0:39:130:39:16

they'll place a bid on it.

0:39:160:39:17

The lists come through to our lettings team and they process

0:39:170:39:20

that in order of priority for homes, for how long,

0:39:200:39:23

what their need is for a home

0:39:230:39:25

and also how long they've been waiting for.

0:39:250:39:27

Before anyone gets the chance to bid for this flat,

0:39:270:39:30

Laura and Corinne need to check on its condition.

0:39:300:39:33

-Flatscreen TV.

-Flatscreen telly.

0:39:330:39:35

Microwave. Fan.

0:39:370:39:39

The property doesn't seem to be in too bad a condition.

0:39:390:39:42

But looking around at the items left behind,

0:39:420:39:45

it's hard not to think of the tenant who once called this place home.

0:39:450:39:48

-Videos.

-Records.

0:39:480:39:50

-Yeah.

-Christmas tree.

0:39:500:39:52

Another Christmas tree.

0:39:520:39:53

It's clear the former tenant looked after the property -

0:39:530:39:56

that's good news for what comes next.

0:39:560:39:58

-Great. All done.

-That wasn't too bad at all.

0:40:000:40:03

The property was quite clean, wasn't it?

0:40:030:40:06

Very few belongings left...

0:40:060:40:07

especially taking into account the circumstances.

0:40:070:40:10

So, yeah, I think it will be a quick turn around getting this one back

0:40:100:40:13

into the advert cycle so we can get a new resident in quite quickly.

0:40:130:40:17

This first property was vacated due to ill health.

0:40:190:40:21

Sadly, at the next property on the list,

0:40:210:40:24

the possessions left behind are due to a personal tragedy.

0:40:240:40:27

We're here today as one of the residents has sadly passed away

0:40:280:40:31

and the property is empty, but there are some belongings in there,

0:40:310:40:34

so we have to serve a tort notice,

0:40:340:40:36

along with an inventory of any goods left in the property,

0:40:360:40:38

to enable anyone who has a claim to those goods to notify us

0:40:380:40:42

and collect the belongings.

0:40:420:40:44

It's a poignant scene.

0:40:440:40:46

This flat was once someone's cherished home and these belongings

0:40:460:40:49

are the reflection of a life that was lived here.

0:40:490:40:52

Laura and Corinne must be respectful of the former tenant's possessions

0:40:520:40:55

while making a property ready for the next tenant.

0:40:550:40:58

-Ready?

-Start from that side.

0:40:580:41:00

-So, table.

-Small table.

0:41:000:41:03

The tenant's family have already

0:41:040:41:05

removed the most treasured possessions.

0:41:050:41:08

The rest will be logged and then prepared for removal.

0:41:080:41:11

Smaller items like this, we can identify as miscellaneous items.

0:41:110:41:15

We don't have to itemise every single thing because

0:41:150:41:17

they wouldn't have any monetary value.

0:41:170:41:20

-What's in this room? Microwave?

-Microwave and a small fridge.

0:41:200:41:23

Although the list doesn't present too many surprises,

0:41:230:41:26

for experienced professionals,

0:41:260:41:28

the usual rules of investigating an empty property still apply.

0:41:280:41:32

Sometimes there can be a lot worse.

0:41:320:41:33

This is quite clean.

0:41:330:41:35

And just don't open the fridge.

0:41:350:41:37

I done it once and that was the biggest mistake I've ever done.

0:41:390:41:42

It was hideous!

0:41:420:41:44

The smell just went through the whole house.

0:41:440:41:48

The role of the housing officer presents many varied challenges,

0:41:490:41:52

but ultimately all leading in the same direction,

0:41:520:41:55

helping to find homes for people in need -

0:41:550:41:58

a home like this one.

0:41:580:41:59

OK, so the team will come in and just clear all that.

0:41:590:42:03

OK. Put the tort notice on the door again.

0:42:030:42:06

Take a picture of it in here.

0:42:060:42:08

Right, perfect. Done.

0:42:130:42:15

-That wasn't too bad...was it?

-No. That was OK.

0:42:190:42:23

So, we'll hand it over, get it sorted.

0:42:230:42:25

Now the tort notice has been served, hand it back over to Boyds.

0:42:250:42:30

It won't take long for this property

0:42:300:42:32

to begin its new life with a new family.

0:42:320:42:34

Well, as we've just seen, being a housing officer

0:42:390:42:42

means a daily dose of tough choices and difficult decisions,

0:42:420:42:47

but it's all in a day's work for the men and women fighting

0:42:470:42:50

to ensure we can enjoy a safe place to call home.

0:42:500:42:53

That's it for today. But join me again next time,

0:42:530:42:56

when I'll be back on the front line with the housing enforcers.

0:42:560:43:00

Matt Allwright is in Liverpool, where he discovers a single mum facing eviction from a house that is already unsafe for her and her kids. In Havering, London, one man's antisocial behaviour is causing huge headaches for the council. In Wiltshire, a grandfather's move to a smaller property proves bittersweet. In Lewisham, London, housing officer Grace comes face to face with a fly-tip mountain.