Croydon Council says it is investigating “as a priority” claims that families it has temporarily housed in a hotel in the borough are living in overcrowded, substandard conditions blighted by damp, infestations, criminal activity on the premises and the absence of basic amenities, including laundry facilities, with the situation worsening during the pandemic and some households staying there for more than a year.
The council’s promise of action follows campaigners, backed by local politicians, highlighting the concerns of past and present residents of the Gilroy Court hotel in Thornton Heath, who have described their teenage children having to share beds with them, drug-dealing taking place in corridors and members of hotel staff warning of reprisals if complaints are made.
During an online meeting held at the weekend, the MP for the area, Steve Reed, heard mothers living at Gilroy Court or who have recently moved out describe living space so cramped that electric cookers are squeezed into bedrooms and children do school work in bathrooms. Reed told On London the situation is unacceptable, especially at a time when the government is urging people to stay at home as much as possible to lessen the spread of Covid-19. “It is absolutely an obligation to provide basic facilities to these families,” Reed said.
Residents say internet access at the hotel has been cut off, making it more difficult for children to receive online teaching while schools are closed. They took part in the weekend meeting by using their phones. Reed, who is also shadow communities secretary, said he is already doing casework for some of them and that delays in receiving Universal Credit are making their circumstances more difficult. Clothes for whole families are being washed in sinks to avoid the cost of using a laundrette.
There have also been claims that the hotel has been levying a “service charge” from residents separately from their accommodation costs, which are met by their local authority, and that this is eating into any benefit entitlements.
A spokesperson for Croydon Council said the authority had “recently been made aware of serious concerns and allegations raised by members of the public and ward councillors around housing conditions and safeguarding at Gilroy Court” and that “if the standards we expect” are not being met there “we will take appropriate action”. The council added that if it suspects crimes to have taken place on the premises they will be reported to the police.
The campaign group, Hostel Action, is also hoping the hotel’s owner will respond to the complaints of residents. On London understands that businessman Gauhar Nawab, who became director of the Gilroy Court company in 2008, has expressed concern at the reports, says he is looking into them and is willing to speak to Hostel Action about them.
Nawab owns a string of hotels in various parts of London, several of them under the shared banner Euro Hotels. Gilroy Court was the subject of media coverage in 2012, when BBC Newsnight reported finding “families living in rooms barely bigger than the size of the beds they contained” and that some kitchens and communal areas contained “damp, rodent droppings, fire hazards and a lack of security, enabling intruders to get in.” At that time too, some families were staying there for far longer than they should have been.
Government figures show that nearly 63,000 households in London were in temporary accommodation of some kind as of June 2020, accounting for 64% of the total in England and up by nearly 10% from the year before.
Inside Housing reported earlier this month that councils are increasingly relying on bed and breakfast hotels to house their homeless people, and that in London nearly a third of them are placed outside their home borough – an indication that some Gilroy Court residents could be from boroughs other than Croydon.
A woman who lived at Gilroy Court for over a year with her family before moving to alternative accommodation and did not wish to be named said she welcomed the prospect of a meeting with Gauhar Nawab, adding that “it shouldn’t take the threat of bad press” for action to be taken. “We are only asking to be treated like human beings,” she said.
A spokesperson from Hostel Action said: “We will judge Mr Nawab on his actions. Families are living in dangerous conditions. We need change right now.”
Image from Google.
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