A traumatised mum who broke her ankle after escaping from a burning flat with her two kids has been told by Haringey Council she has made herself “intentionally homeless” after refusing to move back into the property.
Linda Sekyi and her two children, aged eight and 11, were asleep when the fast food takeaway shop they lived on top of caught fire on March 20 this year.
The 39-year-old had to scramble out of her flat on High Road in Tottenham and throw her two kids out of the window, where they jumped from the floor above and landed on the shop roof.
READ MORE: Domestic abuse survivor and daughter, 2, terrorised by ‘months of racial abuse from neighbours’ too scared to leave flat
Linda broke her ankle as a result of landing on the roof, and is still receiving physiotherapy for her injury.
Speaking about the ordeal, Linda said: “I opened my bedroom door and the whole house was full of smoke, I had to quickly go to the kids’ room and wake them up. I got them through to my bedroom window on the first floor and onto the shop roof.
(Image: Linda Sekyi)
“Immediately we jump out of the window onto the shop roof – the fire brigade brought us there to guide us to go downstairs with a ladder.”
They were rescued by ten fire engines and around 70 firefighters from Tottenham, Edmonton, Stoke Newington, Walthamstow, Enfield and Hornsey fire stations and were rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
Linda was renting privately and stayed in a hotel with her kids that was paid for by her then-landlord.
While staying in the hotel, Linda says she was told by her landlord she had to move back into the newly refurbished property because the tenancy was still in her name.
However she refused to move back in because of the trauma that had impacted her kids from the night of the fire.
Linda was told by her landlord that because she wasn’t moving back into the property, she needed to move out of the hotel.
“I said to my landlord I’m not going back there because of the trauma and the anxiety, my kids are traumatised and they don’t want to go back and experience what they saw that night,” Linda added.
Linda’s youngest child has been receiving counselling in her school to help cope with the trauma.
Since moving out of the hotel in August, Linda has been struggling to find alternative accommodation through both private renting and council housing.
Linda found her previous home of seven years through a friend who recommended her to her then-landlord.
But since approaching “hundreds” of real estate agencies, Linda was told she must find a guarantor who earns at least £50,000 to £60,000 a year because she works part-time as a cleaner.
(Image: Linda Sekyi)
Unfortunately, Linda doesn’t know anyone earning a salary like this so she decided to seek help from the council.
Tottenham MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy wrote to the council on behalf of Linda to help support her case.
After sending off a homelessness application in August, Linda received a decision result from Haringey Council in October that stated she was “not homeless or threatened with homelessness”, according to the Housing Act 1996.
The council wrote: “This means that the Council does not have a duty to complete an Assessment and Personalised Housing Plan with you or have any duty to take reasonable steps to help you to prevent or relieve homelessness.”
On the children’s trauma, the letter seen by MyLondon said: “Of course the incident was traumatic and has had a negative impact on your children’s mental health.
“Whilst I completely understand and empathise with their feelings of not wanting to return to the property I believe the restaurant and landlord have made the changes necessary to secure the accommodation as well as possible.”
The letter concluded that Linda chooses not to move back into her old flat and “consequently lose it and become homeless, you are likely to have become homeless intentionally.”
It also stated that if Linda reapplied to the local authority for housing assistance, the council “may deem that it has no duty towards you apart from taking steps to help you to secure accommodation under the relief duty and interim accommodation for a reasonable period if you have a priority need.”
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Since August, Linda says her family have been moving “from house to house” and are staying in-between relatives’ and friends’ houses.
She says her 11-year-old son is forced to sleep on a living room chair at her aunt’s house because there simply is no room for the three of them.
On other occasions, the children have to sleep on the floor.
Linda said: “I have children that are 11 and eight, do they want me to sleep on the street and sleep outside so then they [Haringey Council] can be of help? Is it because they have a place of sleep, which is why they don’t want to help?
“It’s not that I just don’t want to go, I have a reason. But based on that, they [Haringey Council] told me I’m not homeless.”
Both the headteacher and the family liaison officer at Linda’s daughter’s school have expressed their concern to the council on the emotional impact of her children’s current state of mental wellbeing from both the fire and the unsettling home environment.
Linda has received professional legal help and awaits a further response from the council after she challenged their decision.
She added: “My children know what’s going on but they don’t know when its going tot be over, even myself I don’t know. Haringey Council are stressing me out, I don’t know what’s going to happen when I receive my decision letter.
“I wish not to talk about that night because what I saw was terrible. My son said no way does he want to live in a flat, or on top of a shop ever again because it’s horrible, it’s very horrible.”
A spokesperson for Haringey Council said: “Homelessness is an issue we take extremely seriously, and having a range of measures in place to address this remains a priority for the council.
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“We have thousands of people on the waiting list, and the demand for housing is not just high in Haringey, but across London. This includes thousands of households waiting for secure housing, with many of those in temporary accommodation.
“There are policies in place for all councils to follow to ensure those in greatest need are prioritised for the limited social rented housing available, however it cannot cover every eventuality.
“We have a Housing Decisions Panel in place to review exceptional cases with discretionary powers to award additional priority where appropriate.”
Are you a Londoner who’s experiencing housing problems in your borough? Get in touch with Ruby at [email protected]
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