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Hillingdon councillor considering legal action over sheltered housing conversion, displacing 25 residents

A Hillingdon councillor says she is considering taking a case to judicial review after the council voted to convert a sheltered housing community into temporary housing, displacing around 25 residents.

Labour’s Cllr Sital Punja says that the council’s cabinet has failed to properly ‘explore alternatives’ to the plan which will ‘break up a community of vulnerable people’.

In a cabinet meeting, Hillingdon councillors detailed how the borough has an oversupply of sheltered housing and a lack of emergency and temporary housing for homeless people. The decision was made to turn the Gouldings in Uxbridge into general housing and Yiewsley from sheltered housing into housing designed for short-term letting.

However, in a meeting with residents of Yiewsley Court Cllr Punja said that there were other options including freeing up larger houses within the council’s portfolio by downsizing tenants that no longer required family homes. The councillor says she will fight for the residents, 17 out of 25 of whom signed a petition objecting to the plan.

“For me, when a decision is made especially of uprooting people and impacting on people’s lives especially vulnerable people, they did it with our nurseries where they didn’t take into consideration stuff and that went to judicial review, we now have this, it’s almost like cradle to grave.

“It’s like let’s pick the most vulnerable people that we can and turn on them because they don’t have a say or because they don’t have to power or ability to speak for themselves.”

Judicial review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. If a review is successful, the decision made by a public body can be deemed to be unlawful.

Cllr Punja says that a consultation process, which allowed residents to voice their concerns directly to councillors and officers has effectively been ignored by the council. Roberta Currie, a Yiewsley Court resident who took part in the consultation told LDRS: “There was no option when they asked to say you didn’t want to move, just where you wanted to move. That didn’t seem right.”

The question of where to go next is also clearly a concern for residents if the review fails. The council has sent a list of other sheltered accommodations in the borough to residents but with no details about specific rooms, how many spaces are available in each and when they might be moved.

Cllr Punja says this has caused unnecessary stress for residents. “There were questions [from residents] about what is available, officers couldn’t tell anybody what was available, just that there was a surplus.

Hillingdon councillor considering legal action over sheltered housing conversion, displacing 25 residents Harrow Online
Cllr Sital Punja, Alex Stringfellow, Yiewsley Court. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

“They didn’t know what that surplus was, didn’t know about the elderly people’s conditions where they have had to make their homes adaptable to their abilities or disabilities. So there is no idea [at the moment] for like-for-like accommodation.”

In a meeting in the sheltered housing’s main lounge, many of the 15-20 residents gathered complained that the process of having the fate of Yiewsley Court in the balance has been extremely taxing. One resident who has lived there for 20 years describes it as having “the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.”

One of the oldest residents seemed desperate for clarification: “They had this [cabinet] meeting which they have already put off three times. We don’t where we are going to be in a year’s time which makes it really difficult to plan ahead and at 80 and after being here for 20 years I am not that keen to move but at the end of the day if they are going to do it, get on with it and do it, don’t keep putting it off for 6 months and saying ‘we will let you know in August, we’ll let you know in September.’”

The resident added glibly: “I’d like to know if I’m going out in a box or a moving car.” Alex Stringfellow has been assisting with the residents from the beginning. He and his wife Doreen have been helping the more vulnerable and less tech-savvy inhabitants keep up with the machinations of the council.

Doreen’s mother was a former resident of the accommodation before a turn of ill health meant she was moved to a care home. Her daughter recalls her mother’s reaction when she first received the letter that residents might have to move.

“I still remember her face when she saw the letter,” Doreen said, “she was in tears.” She hints at the idea that the stress of potentially losing her home may have aided in her mother’s decline. Alex says that since the petition was signed 2 signatories have died, while his mother-in-law has moved out.

The council has offered residents up to £7,800 to help with moving costs and other costs incurred in relocating but Cllr Punja says that “for these people it’s not about the financial incentive, they just want to remain in their homes.”

To many Yiewsley Court seems perfect for their needs. The front gate has two bus stops opposite each other making travel in either direction easy, dentists and GPs are nearby and it is clear from the room full of people that there is camaraderie and friendship within the ranks of those who live there.

However, this is not the case for every resident. Geoffrey Wharton, says he doesn’t want to stay in his current housing situation. “I should never have been here in the first place,” he told LDRS, “I had a very serious accident back in ‘97 and I got this place through the Centre of Hope which is a brain injury charity. I was only supposed to have a ground floor place, because of my disabilities.”

Geoffrey says that before moving to Yiewsley Court he had lived in Hayes which he hated and so jumped at the opportunity at a flat in the building even though it was on the first floor. Despite being keen to move, Geoffrey says he has yet to hear from the council about the next steps.

It seems that for residents, one of the biggest frustrations has been the council’s lack of regular communication and updates. One in particular during the meeting was their annoyance that they found out about the cabinet decision that meant they would be moving out from an article in the local paper rather than directly from the council.

However, as a council spokesperson points out in a statement provided to LDRS it was following procedure: “In line with its obligations under the Housing Act 1985, the council consulted with all residents affected by the proposals earlier this year, before seeking Cabinet approval.

“The council was unable to write to residents to inform them of the outcome until after the call-in period required for Cabinet decisions had ended. Residents have now been notified by letter of the decision and in the coming weeks we will begin providing one-to-one support to residents who will have to relocate. This support will be ongoing throughout the process along with financial compensation to those residents to cover the costs and disruption.”

Speaking of the decision, Cllr Eddie Lavery, Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said: “We’re committed to creating a borough with happy, healthy households where residents can thrive.

“So, initiatives like this will helps us ensure that everyone who needs a home has the opportunity to find a good one in our borough, particularly those groups or individuals with more acute needs.

“This is easier said than done in a dense, urban area like west London, so in this instance, we’ve looked at how we can use our provision of sheltered accommodation in a more efficient manner, rather than having buildings under capacity at a time of housing crisis.

“In return, this has freed-up buildings which will provide vital homes for other priority groups.”

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