A mum with stage 4 cancer says she felt forced to take a council house she claims has “rotting” floorboards or risk being thrown out on the street.
Former senior nurse Liz Kovacs claims Ealing Council threatened to remove her from its housing register if she did not accept the property which she argues shows signs of water leaks and broken guttering.
The 51-year-old says she is deeply unhappy with the two-bedroom house for her and her son that she’s ‘reluctantly’ accepted but she felt pressured to do so because she had already viewed and rejected other council houses and claims she was told this was the final opportunity she had to accept a new home on the council list.
As a result she’s requested the council review the decision on whether the property meets her needs.
An Ealing Council spokesperson says the review will be carried out by an officer who was independent from the initial decision-making process to offer the home as being suitable.
A report, carried out by an occupational therapist who joined Ms Kovacs on the house viewing, backs up her reservations with the therapist stating the home “does not meet Ms Kovacs’ physical or psychological needs”.
Ms Kovacs says she begged the council: “Just give me a two-bedroom bungalow. It can’t be that hard, there are millions of empty flats in Ealing”. During the viewing Ms Kovacs says floorboards in the bedroom were ‘rotting’ and claims the officer showing her around the home told her the removal and replacement of flooring would be her responsibility.
This is backed up in the independent report which states: “The bedroom floors still have staining on the floor boards from previous leakages, which was somewhat off-putting for Ms Kovacs.
She was told by the housing officer showing us the property that tenants are responsible for the flooring.” According to Householdquotes replacing several floorboards and a floor joist costs between £300 to £450.
Ms Kovacs said: “[The floorboards were] rotting because the roof was leaking. In the bathroom and in the two bedrooms it was the same.” The report, conducted by occupational therapist Penny West highlights a raft of issues with the property which she states will make it unsuitable for Ms Kovacs and her condition.
Ealing Council ‘strongly’ denies Ms Kovacs will have to carry out any repairs herself and a spokesperson said the council is happy a “satisfactory resolution has been found, and that Ms Kovacs and her son have a safe, secure home adapted to her needs”. Ms Kovacs’ cancer has spread to her spine making mobility extremely difficult for her which the report concludes will be made more difficult by the narrow staircase and poorly maintained stairlift provided.
The report reflects Ms Kovacs’ concerns, saying she will need separate wheelchairs for each floor of the house the council has assigned her.
She said: “What is going to happen when I’m dying, like, really dying, like I physically can’t stand up? Sometimes the pain is already too much. My son needs to take me to the toilet at night time because I can’t walk.”
“I’m very scared. It’s very hard to think about how I just have a short time to live and I’m having to fight to live somewhere, somewhere I feel safe, somewhere I have space for me. I’m very stressed inside and obviously it’s not helping my cancer because the more stressed I am the more pain I feel. Why don’t the council just give me what I need?”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) Ms Kovacs sounded audibly upset at the prospect of living the last two years of her life in the house, somewhere she said the rooms were too small to accommodate her bed or equipment a nurse would need to help treat her towards the end of her life.
She was also worried that the room provided for her son Michael, who acts as her carer, is also too small.
However, Ms Kovacs claims it became clear to her that the council was going to remove her from its housing allocation portal if she didn’t accept the property, she says she felt she didn’t have a choice. In terms of considering renting privately instead, Ms Kovacs says this would be unaffordable.
Her financial situation is made clear by the therapist’s report which states: “Ms Kovacs is currently in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) based on her terminal illness. She has no savings as she spent all her savings on her care. Her Personal Independence Payments are paid to Ealing Council for her care.”
Ms Kovacs has set up a GoFundMe to help with the specialised care she requires to help ease her pain and extend her life because current NHS treatments are giving her severe side effects.
Ms Kovacs needs a new house because her existing home in Acton’s Jerome Tower is due to be demolished to make way for a new development. She was handed a Notice to Quit on August 1 and has been given a deadline to leave her home by Tuesday, August 29.
The Ealing Council spokesperson said: “Ms Kovacs has now accepted the property offered which has been determined to be suitable for her needs. Although she has accepted the offer, Ms Kovacs has requested the council review its decision on whether the property is suitable and meets her housing need.
“That is her right, and the review will be carried out by the Review Officer, who is independent of the initial decision-making. Whilst the council is pleased that efforts have led to a resolution, it strongly refutes the claims [regarding whether Ms Kovacs will be made to pay for repairs herself.]
“Throughout, the council has been sympathetic to the difficult circumstances Mrs Kovacs is facing, and our housing team has worked diligently to rehouse Ms Kovacs and her son.”
The spokesperson added Ms Kovacs was given Band A medical priority on the housing register due to her diagnoses. Her son, as her primary carer, is included in this as part of her household.
“Ms Kovacs bid on and was offered suitable two-bedroom properties adapted to her needs. However, she rejected them. The property which Ms Kovacs has now accepted as being suitable is a two-bedroom house. When she viewed it, it was empty and awaiting improvement works,” they said.
“It is standard for residents to view a void property in the knowledge that the council will complete any outstanding repairs before a tenancy agreement is signed. At no point would Ms Kovacs have been told she would have to do repairs herself.
“With regard to Ms Kovacs’ current housing situation, Ms Kovacs is a private tenant in Jerome Tower and while she was previously offered temporary accommodation better suited to her needs, she elected to remain in her home until a longer-term solution was found. The council is pleased that a satisfactory resolution has been found, and that Ms Kovacs and her son have a safe, secure home adapted to her needs.
“The council is clear in that it has fully complied with its legal responsibilities.”