Children falling ill after 91 days without heating at London flats, say residents | Housing

Two residential blocks in Tower Hamlets in east London have been without heating and hot water for 91 days, with residents saying the conditions were leading to children falling ill.

Residents in Milo and Diagoras House in Bow have had no heating or hot water since 22 September after issues with the gas system were found. Internal works to remedy the situation did not start until 31 October.

The blocks are owned and managed by Swan, a housing association that manages about 12,000 homes.

Morium Bibi, 35, who lives in one of the blocks, said she had had “suicidal thoughts” since the situation started.

“I ended up having someone come over and stay with us every day just to make sure me and my children were OK because I ended up having suicidal thoughts, thoughts I had never had before,” she said.

Bibi lives with her three children, aged 12, 10 and four, all of whom have eczema. “They need daily showers before I apply their medication,” she said.

Bibi was initially offered temporary accommodation. She was sent to a Travelodge nearby and provided with one room for her entire household but was not kept in the same room throughout. Swan has said this was due to the unavailability of hotels.

“They kept extending the accommodation every couple of days so I had to keep moving rooms in the hotel,” she said. “Every other day I was packing up, checking out and waiting for a few hours until I could check back in. At one point they moved us to King’s Cross for one night, it was madness.”

Swan stopped offering temporary accommodation on 7 October and offered each household an electric shower and heater instead. Works had not started at this point.

There have been numerous reports of children falling ill in the block. Bibi said there has never been mould in her property in the 11 years she has lived there. “My children kept falling ill. My youngest’s eczema kept flaring up, then I discovered mould in their bedroom a few weeks ago,” she said. Another resident, Joynoor Hussain, 44 said he and his children were falling ill every few weeks.

Residents say they have been offered £30 a month in compensation towards electric costs. Residents were also awarded a one-off “goodwill payment” of £10 and £2 a day until the gas was reinstated and £100 reimbursement for an electric cooking appliance.

Candice Franks, 36, said she, her husband and son were “sleeping in their clothes”. She also said her household has kept falling ill. “We can’t seem to shake it off,” she said.

Franks said her son, aged 13, struggled to get up in the morning because it is so cold. “He’s in his bedroom with his uniform shivering, before going into a cold bathroom with cold water to then go out into the cold.”

Franks said the situation was affecting his school attendance. “When he’s in school he does so well but it’s getting him into school. Like us, he’s tired and cold all the time.”

When a senior manager addressed residents in an online meeting in October, residents say he said he did not see the problem when concerns were put to him about hygiene and the lack of hot water because he had a dishwasher at home and preferred to wash his hands with cold water. Swan disputes this characterisation of the incident.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, a customer service representative said: “I accept that staff did not demonstrate the level of empathy I would expect especially at a time when your homes have been disrupted,” and said the manager had “asked me to convey his sincere apologies”.

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Peter and Sylvette, who declined to give their surname, have a five-year old daughter and called the senior manager’s comments “frustrating”.

“We need access to hot water for basic food hygiene, especially when you have a child that can get quite ill from food-borne illnesses,” Sylvette said.

Swan, when asked if the works were delayed for six weeks because it was trying to get the company that originally installed the gas system to pay, said: “Yes. As part of any pre-action protocol an organisation is required to give the original contractor an opportunity to rectify.”

A Swan Housing Association spokesperson said: “All residents of Milo House and Diagoras House have been offered electric showers, heaters and alternative cooking facilities.

“We are also providing weekly progress updates and there is a twice-weekly face-to-face surgery for residents who have any questions.

“All residents are receiving compensation payments towards the extra cost of running the heaters provided. There is an ongoing programme of works to connect all gas cookers before Christmas.

“Projects of this scale require planning and are subject to lead times to source materials and obtain permission/certification to proceed. We understand that residents of both Milo and Diagoras Houses are frustrated and just want their gas connections fixed. We are working as hard as we can to do this.”

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