Westminster mother fights ‘social cleansing’

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A mother of five is taking Westminster City Council to the Supreme Court in what her lawyers are calling a ‘landmark case’ that could prevent councils from freely moving housing applicants out of the area.

Titina Nzolamesois is currently homeless after losing her Court of Appeal battle against being rehoused in Milton Keynes. In November 2012, Nzolameso was evicted from her flat. She could no longer afford the rent after the introduction of a national benefits cap. When she turned to Westminster Council to provide shelter for her family, she was offered a property in Milton Keynes, with no local alternative.

Ms Nzolameso asked for a review of this offer on the grounds that she relies heavily on the support of her local network of family and friends and, should the move go ahead, her children’s education (aged 8-14) would be severely disrupted.

A reviewing officer upheld the decision stating that Nzolameso, “could make new friends who would provide her with the emotional and practical support she needed.”

Ms Nzolameso still refused and her children were put into care until the family found a permanent home. The council decided that it had, “discharged its duty,” to house Ms Nzolameso and is no longer looking for accommodation for her.

The original appeal case hinged on whether the council had reviewed all the housing alternatives in Westminster before they considered moving her over 50 miles. However, at the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Moore-Bick upheld Westminster City Council’s original decision, saying it was “reasonable” to offer the Milton Keynes property, taking into account the shortage of available properties in Westminster. But he also warned that the court should be vigilant to any council applying policies, which led to rehousing, “outside their own districts in a routine and unthinking manner.”

Cllr Daniel Astaire, Westminster City Council cabinet member for housing, said: “Had this ruling gone the other way, it would have forced local authorities to disregard the needs of those who had a more pressing need to stay in their area. It would also have required councils to scour every neighbouring borough until they found an available property, without regard for the needs of those already waiting for accommodation; imposing an unreasonable burden on local authority resources.”

Jayesh Kunwardia of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, will be pursuing a challenge on Ms Nzolameso’s behalf in the Supreme Court. He said, “this judgment could have dire consequences for vulnerable families across the country. It gives the green light for councils to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale. Council tenants are being threatened with homelessness unless they agree to uproot themselves from communities they’ve lived in for years”.

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