Election 2021: 'My carer has to sleep on the floor'

By Grace Holliday

Image source, Melyssa Dawson
Image caption,
Melyssa Dawson says the flat she has lived in for seven years is too small to accommodate her carers

Housing charity Shelter says a shortage of social housing means too many people are living in "appalling" conditions. Melyssa Dawson, who has complex health issues, says she is one of them - stuck in a damp, one-bedroom council flat where her carers have to sleep on the floor. Leeds City Council says it is working with Melyssa to ensure she is adequately housed but she says she has faced a long struggle to find a suitable flat.

When Melyssa, 36, from Pudsey, moved into her council flat in 2014, issues with size, accessibility and extreme damp were already apparent.

"I was told to accept it or lose my priority; they said I would be waiting years for an alternative," Melyssa said. "Out of desperation, I did. I've been here ever since."

Melyssa has been deaf since birth and suffers with respiratory issues, asthma, IBS, OCD and severe panic attacks.

'Keeping me alive'

She is unable to work due to her health and survives on Employment and Support Allowance from the council, with severe disability premium and personal independence premium (PIP).

"Financially I'm receiving the maximum I'm eligible for, but I still struggle," she said. "I can only afford informal care, but it's essential in keeping me alive."

She says her regular panic attacks are particularly bad at night when, because of her deafness, "I wouldn't know if someone broke in or if there was a fire or other danger".

"As a result of this fear, and the fact that I have to take medicine through the night for my health issues, I need an overnight carer in addition to daytime care," Melyssa said.

Image source, Melyssa Dawson
Image caption,
Melyssa who is asthmatic says the flat is mouldy and damp

However, she was assigned a one-bedroom property by the council, meaning her nightly carers must sleep on the floor.

Melyssa says her medical equipment takes up a lot of space and the flat is not fully accessible. There is no walk-in shower, and the toilet room is not wide enough to fit her toilet frame through.

She filed a formal request for a suitable two-bedroom property, but says it was dismissed without being properly considered.

In addition to her living conditions, Melyssa fears falling further into debt when she transfers to Universal Credit by 2024.

Money Buddies is an initiative run by Burmantofts Community Project (BCP) in Leeds that has been helping her to manage her finances.

BCP chief executive Sylvia Simpson said: "The council don't seem to realise the seriousness of the situation tenants find themselves in.

"Melyssa's need for a night-time carer is life or death; she could choke during the night without the support and supervision of one.

"While on paper it might look like one person only needs a one-bedroom property, the reality is that she needs a second bedroom to accommodate this essential care."

Image source, Shelter
Image caption,
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said Melyssa's situation was "awful"

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "[Melyssa's situation] is awful and, sadly, our frontline services hear from too many people in situations like this, forced to live in unfit and appalling conditions as a result of our housing emergency.

"Home is everything, no-one should have to live somewhere that threatens their physical or mental health.

"Decades of neglect have meant that we have not only failed to maintain the social homes we have, we've failed to build more of what we need."

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Note: This lookup covers national elections in Scotland and Wales, the Hartlepool by-election, as well as council and mayoral elections in England and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales. There may be parish council elections or council by-elections where you are. Check your local council website for full details. Last updated: May 11, 2021, 12:35 GMT

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is the government body tasked with monitoring registered providers of social housing, including local authority landlords. In 2019/20, only 143 cases nationwide met the necessary standard for investigation.

RSH spokesperson Angela Maher said: "It is a very high bar. By law we can only take action on breaches of consumer standards where there is serious detriment to tenants. In other words, tenants must be at serious risk of harm or potential harm."

The RSH has agreed to take Melyssa's case through its consumer regulations process, but says complaints should first go to the Housing Ombudsman.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: "We take all issues raised by tenants about their housing needs and the condition of their home extremely seriously and are working with Ms Dawson and her support network to address her concerns.

"A number of repairs have been completed recently and we have a full plan in place agreed with Ms Dawson to complete some further works.

"We have also arranged a full technical survey of the property to determine any additional work that may be needed.

"This is happening alongside working closely with her on her broader housing situation to ensure that the appropriate help and support is provided and that she is adequately housed in line with her specific needs."


What elections are happening? On 6 May across England millions of people will be voting for new councillors, mayors and police and crime commissioners. Register to vote here.

Why does it matter? When political parties win control of a council, they decide policies for your area which could affect services ranging from social care to rubbish collection. Read on what councils do.

How do I vote? Not all councils are up for election, and not every area has a mayor, but everyone in England will be voting for someone in the their local area - find yours here.

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