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HomeNewsHillingdon woman felt 'suicidal' over shopping receipt request

Hillingdon woman felt ‘suicidal’ over shopping receipt request

A West London mum said she was left suicidal after being told to hand over her shopping receipts to prove how much she was spending on food for her three children before the council would offer her help. Sara Ahmed, from Hillingdon, contacted the council after her landlord issued her with a Section 21, or ‘no fault’, eviction notice, following a legal battle lasting more than two years over her inability to afford a £450 a month rent increase.

But she was horrified to be told, after already going through her outgoings with two different council officers, that she needed to hand over her food shopping receipts because she was ‘spending too much’, having told them her outgoings for food for a family of four were £700 a month. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “He said, ‘You’re spending too much money on food. Can you send me a receipt to prove that you’re actually spending this kind of money on food?’”

The mother-of-three says she was astounded by the request. “So I said to him, ‘What do you expect me to live on? £0 budget for food?’ He said, ‘Can you send me the receipt?’ And I said, ‘Where’s that in the policy?’”

Sara said that instead of being treated with compassion or care she felt scrutinised and ‘belittled’. She added: “When I approached the council, the manner in which they approached our application was not empathetic, or sympathetic to our situation. They just saw us as another number to deal with. But we are not a number. We’re human beings who will be made homeless. Not out of choice. This is not our choice.”

Hillingdon woman felt 'suicidal' over shopping receipt request Harrow Online
Sara Ahmed, Hillingdon. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Sara says she is doing the best she can juggling the rising cost of living and inflation – something that has particularly impacted food prices – with her youngest child having special dietary requirements which means his food must be gluten and dairy-free which can cost significantly more. However, it was the next part of her talk with the officer that converted her shock into anger.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve already completed going through this process, my application has been accepted. Why are you again, asking me this? Is this your way of saying we can’t help you? I’m not entitled to the council help?’

“And he said, ‘We can’t help everybody. You shouldn’t expect everything.’ I said, ‘I’m not expecting everything.’ At that point, I got angry. I said to him, ‘Okay, send me an email. I just thought I need to have evidence of this. I cannot believe he’s asking me these questions. I need to have evidence’.”

Sara has shared the email of the council’s request for food receipts with the LDRS. When asked about its approach the council says it takes a holistic look at a person’s finances in order to see if they can reduce spending, which may help officers find homes within a person’s budget. It said there was no official limit on how much a person could spend on food before they forfeit their right to get housing support and added that Sara would continue to receive its help.

For Sara, however, the impact of the invasive and ‘intimidating’ way her case was handled has left her in shock. “He didn’t even care about our mental anguish, that we’re going to be homeless, that we are the ones who are suffering psychologically. No sympathy, no empathy.”

Sara added: “That day I’m lucky that I didn’t do anything stupid. That’s how bad it was. Anybody else, a bottle of pills, done. ‘Problem gone’. That’s what [the council] would have thought.”

Sara says she later complained to the council and the officer in question called her to apologise but it is clear that her treatment has left a mark. She now awaits an offer of housing from the council, or homelessness when she is evicted, whichever comes first.

As a resident of Hillingdon for decades, Sara’s whole life has become centred around the borough. Her children go to school in Hayes, her family lives five minutes walk from her house and her job at Heathrow is within range of an easy commute. Her income means she can’t afford London’s spiralling private rental costs.

She said: “The warrant has been issued. I haven’t been given a date yet for the eviction, it’s most likely to be April. So not long. I work locally at Heathrow, my kids go to school local. I don’t want to move away from here. My help is here. My auntie lives around the corner from me. My child, the youngest one is special needs. We have a strong community here that supports us as a family. So for example, when I go to work, I’ve got family members who will look after the kids, so I don’t have to pay for childcare, which I can’t afford anyway.”

Hillingdon woman felt 'suicidal' over shopping receipt request Harrow Online
Sara Ahmed, Hillingdon. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Awaiting the council’s decision on where she and her children will be housed, she is anxious. A Hillingdon Council spokesperson said: “The council’s priority is to ensure that residents have the homes they need, which can include supporting their move into privately rented properties.

“When considering suitable alternative accommodation, the council has a duty to ensure that the property is affordable for the household. In each case, a detailed affordability assessment is conducted to help them establish stability and avoid any potential risk of homelessness in the future.

“In cases where residents are spending more than the expected average, officers will work with them to understand their individual circumstances and explore areas where they can save money in order to be able to afford the rent for an available property. We will continue to work closely with Mrs Ahmed to help her to find suitable affordable alternative accommodation.”