An investigation by the Guardian newspaper reveals that 18 women and 15 children, all asylum seekers, are living in a single ‘filthy and dangerous’ house in Hounslow, London provided by the Home Office through its contractors, Clearsprings Ready Homes and Cromwood Housing.
The property is two terrace houses knocked together and is accommodating 33 women and children who have fled conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. Some are survivors of rape and torture.
Two private contractors, Clearsprings Ready Homes, one of the largest providers of Home Office accommodation, and Cromwood Housing have contracts to manage the accommodation. The owner of the property, Imtiaz Aziz, lives next door in a vastly different house to the one provided for the asylum seekers.
The women have complained about an infestation of rats in the kitchen, filthy conditions, leaks, naked wires left exposed and infestations of bedbugs. They say there are periodic infestations of cockroaches.
They have also expressed concerns about the overcrowding and the fact that the 33 people in the property have to share one kitchen. Some of the larger rooms have a cooking hob and sink in them but many do not. The women say that the toilets sometimes do not flush and they are forced to use buckets.
“I was cooking an egg and opened a kitchen cupboard. Two rats ran out and crossed the kitchen. I was scared and couldn’t eat my egg after that,” said one woman.
The women have also complained about the lack of a garden for the children to play in. The Aziz family have taken the back garden that belongs to the accommodation as part of their garden and, following a request from Cromwood, have provided a small, overgrown patch of ground to the asylum seekers, which they say is too dangerous for children to play in.
The women say that what makes things worse is the fact that their children look out of the windows and see the Aziz family’s beautifully manicured garden that they cannot enter.
“In this house the children do not like the school holidays because they have nowhere to play; for a child to hate the school holidays you know something bad is happening,” said one woman. All are fearful of being identified individually in case raising complaints causes negative repercussions from the Home Office or the contractors.
“Everything is overcrowded here,” said one woman. “I am sharing a small room with another woman and it is a real squeeze, the kitchen is so, so bad. There is no space for everyone to put their pots and pans and so some women have brought their clothes cupboards into the kitchen to use to put their cooking things in. I’m worried that this is a fire hazard. We have had leaks in the kitchen and one woman complained about water pouring through her light fitting.”
Mothers have also complained that sometimes they cannot get their children and buggies in and out of the front door because cars are parked too close to it. When the Guardian put questions about the bad conditions to the Aziz family they invited us into their home to respond. The house is spacious, immaculately clean and the decor is both tasteful and luxurious. It is hard to reconcile the two worlds living next door to each other.
Aziz said that when he had made a decision to convert the property into a house of multiple occupation (HMO) he stipulated that he and his family would retain use of the forecourt and back garden of the property next door.
When asked about the women’s claims about the conditions of the housing, Aziz said: “Our contractors haven’t always been reliable. We have been through several different contractors.”
He confirmed that there had been problems with damp, leaks, overcrowding and infestation of insects. He said he was not aware of an infestation of rats although there had previously been an infestation of rats in the property next door to the asylum seekers’ accommodation, which he also owns.
He added: “There are legal requirements that we have to meet as landlords of an HMO. We meet all the legal requirements. It’s for Cromwood to maintain the garden, if it’s unsafe Cromwood would need to deal with that particular issue. When I visited the kitchen I wasn’t happy with the state of it, it clearly needs a refresh. We were planning to redo the kitchen but it just hasn’t transpired. The house generally feels a bit dark.”
“Probably in the last four years there hasn’t been the attention to detail that we would have wanted but we are busy people and we have to rely on the information that’s given to us. If they have concerns we are here to help, let’s see if we can deal with it. We have tried to behave as responsibly as we can within the constraints of not being experts.”
One woman said: “If you see the way we live here you would think we are animals, not humans. Look at the way the landlord next door is living compared with our conditions. This is the kind of place to put goats or chickens, not humans.”
“I blame the Home Office. The landlords and contractors know they can get away with this because the Home Office really doesn’t care. At the end of the day the landlord gets paid and he and his family don’t have to live in these conditions.”
“My health has suffered so much here, my whole body is itchy from bedbug bites and my breathing has got worse because of all the dust. This place is like a cage. We are degraded to almost nothing but we have got no choice. We want the outside world to know what’s really happening behind closed doors.”
Both Clearsprings and Cromwood said the Home Office would respond on their behalf.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Providers are monitored extremely closely to ensure they meet required standards and the contracts include measures to ensure any issues are quickly addressed.”
“Where a contractor is found to be falling short of these standards, we work with them to ensure issues are quickly addressed and when they are not we can and do impose sanctions.”
Following concerns raised by the Guardian about the property, inspectors from Hounslow council have made two visits. A Hounslow council spokesperson said: “Council officers made an unannounced visit to the licensed HMO (house of multiple occupancy) on 28 July.”
“All communal parts of the building were inspected and some issues were noted that we will be taking up with the management as a matter of urgency.
Officers were only able to get access to some of the rooms and will return to do a full inspection.
If further issues are found we will, of course, take all appropriate action to ensure safe conditions for residents.”
The council inspectors later met with the owner and contractors who were on site and who were cooperative and had begun work on issues identified by the council officers on earlier visits. A pest company had also visited the property and found no evidence of cockroaches but did set baits which they will return to inspect.
The Hounslow council spokesperson stated: “The property is licensed to house 31 people and the number of people living there was not found to be over that. A decision will be made on whether the licence should be reviewed with conditions. There will be further visits by the council to monitor the works being carried out by the owner.”