Mr. “Gardener” came to us in grave risk of homelessness and destitution. He is still visiting our centre regularly for help. This is his story:
In November 2014, Mr. “Gardener”, Polish national, came to us seeking advice. He came to the UK in 2006 and worked as a self-employed builder, often more than 45 h/week until September 2014, when his back problems started. His friends advised him to claim Job Seekers Allowance, telling him not to reveal his health problems.
When he came to us, we advised him to take sick leave, and after he got it, we immediately claimed Employment and Support Allowance. Moreover, we managed to convince DWP that Mr.” Gardener” claimed JSA by mistake and to consider his ESA claim as starting when his initial claim was made. The ESA claim was successful and the client got backdated payment after Christmas 2014. His case took a turn for the worst when we also applied for housing benefits, which he as entitled to. Although he had all his papers in order (tax returns and contributions), he was refused by Ealing Council because he is not a British Citizen and was not in full employment at that moment.
Knowing very well this is against EU regulations, we appealed to the council for a mandatory reconsideration of this decision which remained unanswered until May 2015, when we also made an official online complain. By this time Mr. “Gardener’s” situation was desperate, as he already had an eviction notice from his landlord because he was unable to pay his rent all this time. The lawyer we found was able to postpone his eviction, but not to annul it. Eventually, on the 15th of June 2015, the decision regarding Mr. “Gardener’s” Housing Benefits was changed as a result of our online complaint and he received his benefits dating back 28th of October 2014.
Unfortunately, it was too late for our client, as the landlord already had permission from the court to evict him by this time. Moreover, the backdated benefits couldn’t go to his account, but to the landlord’s account, even though he was evicted, making Mr. Gardener homeless. Ealing Council provided him with a temporary accommodation in a hostel not suitable to his needs. He stayed there until 18th of February 2016 when he was provided with a studio flat owned by a private landlord with a rent of £306/week, fortunately entirely covered by housing benefits. His previous flat, would’ve only costed the council £70/week in housing benefits. Eastern Europeans are in a higher risk of destitution.
In London , about 35% of rough sleepers are from East European countries. (Crisis, 2015)
As a result of all these problems and his precarious situation, Mr. “Gardener” started drinking and became an alcoholic again after 9 years and almost became permanently homeless. He was very sad he had to leave his old apartment, where he had a little garden where he liked to grow vegetables, activity which kept him away from alcohol and made him happy. Apart from his very few friends here, we were his main support in these very hard times. His case worker’s relentless dedication and persistence kept him afloat all this time. Without us he would’ve been destitute or even homeless. His very determined case worker managed to put his life back on track.
Unfortunately, Polish Nationals are often discriminated against by local authorities when applying for benefits in the UK, either because of a lack of knowledge, or because of systemic discrimination. The EERC is constantly fighting against such practices and is trying to influence policies that deal with systemic discrimination.