January 25, 2023

Two housing blocks in East London’s Tower Hamlets have been without heating and hot water for 91 days, according to residents whose conditions led to children falling ill.

Residents of Milo and Diagoras House in Bow have had no heating or hot water since September 22 after problems with the gas system were found. Internal work to rectify the situation did not begin until October 31.

The blocks are owned and managed by Swan, a housing association that manages some 12,000 homes.

Morium Bibi, 35, who lives in one of the blocks, said she had “suicidal thoughts” since the situation began.

“I ended up having someone come over and stay with us every day to make sure I and my kids were okay because I started having suicidal thoughts, thoughts I’d never had before,” she said.

Bibi lives with her three children aged 12, 10 and 4, who all have eczema. “They have to shower daily before I put in their medication,” she said.

Bibi was initially offered temporary accommodation. She was sent to a nearby Travelodge and given one room for her entire household, but was not kept in the same room throughout. Swan has said this was due to the unavailability of hotels.

“They kept expanding the property every few days, so I had to keep moving rooms in the hotel,” she said. “Every other day I was packing, checking out and waiting a few hours to check back in. At one point they moved us to King’s Cross for one night, it was madness.”

Swan stopped offering temporary housing on October 7 and instead offered every household an electric shower and heating. The works had not yet started at that time.

There have been numerous reports of children getting sick on the block. Bibi said that in the 11 years she has lived there, there has never been mold on her property. “My kids kept getting sick. My youngest’s eczema kept flaring up, and then I discovered mold in their bedroom a few weeks ago,” she said. Another resident, Joynoor Hussain, 44, said he and his children got sick every few weeks.

Residents say they have been paid £30 a month in compensation for electricity costs. Residents also received a one-off “goodwill payment” of £10 and £2 per day until the gas was restored and a £100 allowance for an electric cooking stove.

Candice Franks, 36, said she, her husband and son “were sleeping in their clothes”. She also said that her household kept getting sick. “We can’t shake it off,” she said.

Franks said her son, age 13, had trouble getting up in the morning because it’s so cold. “He sits in his bedroom with his uniform shivering before going into a cold bathroom with cold water and then out into the cold.”

Franks said the situation affected his school attendance. “When he is in school, he does so well, but it makes him go to school. Like us, he is tired and cold all the time.’

When a senior manager addressed residents in an online meeting in October, residents said he didn’t see the problem when concerns were raised about hygiene and the lack of hot water because he has a dishwasher at home and prefers to wash his hands with cold water. Swan disputes this characterization of the incident.

In a letter accessed by the Guardian, a customer service representative said: “I accept that the staff did not show the level of empathy I would expect, especially at a time when your homes have been disrupted”, and said the manager asked to offer his sincere apologies”.

Peter and Sylvette, who declined to give their last names, have a five-year-old daughter and called the senior manager’s comments “frustrating”.

“We need access to hot water for basic food hygiene, especially if you have a child who can get quite sick with foodborne illness,” Sylvette said.

When asked if the works were delayed by six weeks because it tried to get the company that originally installed the gas system to pay, Swan replied: “Yes. As part of any pre-action protocol, an organization is required to give the original contractor an opportunity to correct.”

A spokesman for the Swan Housing Association said: “All residents of Milo House and Diagoras House have been offered electric showers, heaters and alternative cooking facilities.

“We also provide weekly progress updates and there is a face-to-face surgery twice a week for residents who have questions.

“All residents receive compensation payments for the additional costs of using the heating provided. There is an ongoing work program to connect all gas stoves before Christmas.

“Projects of this size require planning and are subject to lead times to source materials and obtain clearance/certification to proceed. We understand that residents of both Milo and Diagoras House are frustrated and simply want their gas connections repaired. We are working as hard as we can to make this happen.”

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