Peterborough’s Labour MP wants a company which accommodates dozens of the city’s homeless residents to be grilled in public after becoming “distressed” by their living conditions.
Fiona Onasanya said she will try to get housing firm Stef and Philips brought before MPs on a House of Commons Select Committee after visiting St Michael’s Gate residents with the Peterborough Telegraph.
Ms Onasanya said it was “absolutely disgusting” some homeless families who are being moved into the estate by Peterborough City Council have to pay a £245 a week charge, while she was also critical of the properties she saw.
The MP’s anger was also directed at the council which she accused of communicating “without compassion” to a mum of four who claimed she was given 24 hours to move into St Michael’s Gate or be put in a Travelodge. The mum said the sudden move had distressed her youngest son who has severe additional needs. The boy was not even given time to say goodbye to his cancer-stricken dog who the family were forced to give up.
Ms Onasanya told the PT: “I think it’s really distressing. It’s a grave concern people are being told they have 24 hours to move or risk losing the opportunity to have a property.”
St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell hit national headlines in September 2016 after the PT exclusively revealed that new owners of the estate Paul Simon Magic Homes was removing 72 tenants from the estate. Stef & Philips, the managing agents of the properties, then offered the homes to the council to use as temporary accommodation for homeless people in a three-year deal worth nearly £3 million. The council argued that if it did not sign the deal, another local authority would move its homeless households into St Michael’s Gate instead. However, council leader Cllr John Holdich has since backed a PT campaign for the Government to change the law to prevent a repeat of the St Michael’s Gate saga.
Ms Onasanya added: “The heating is atrocious. You could not live like that.
“I’m going to bring it up not only with the council, but I will speak to the housing minister and shadow housing minister as well. This is not going to be a unique problem with St Michael’s Gate. This company has properties elsewhere. I want to try and get Stef & Philips before a Select Committee. It’s distressing to me to see this.”
Stef & Philips had not responded to Ms Onasanya’s comments at the time of going to press but did reply to an earlier PT email (see below).
Cllr Peter Hiller, the council cabinet member responsible for homelessness, said he will investigate the concerns raised by the MP with the council’s housing team. But he added: “This is not the situation I recognise at St Michael’s Gate. It is fundamentally a good facility and a timely facility. It’s very easy to parachute in and shoot from the hip with negativity, but until we investigate the issues I can’t really comment on them.”
A tenant at St Michael’s Gate, who did not wish to be named, spoke to the PT about her current circumstances.
The working mum of four said: “We had to sign for the house four days before Christmas or would end up in a Travelodge. The council said you’ve got 24 hours to move.”
However, her youngest son has severe additional needs and the sudden move proved hugely distressing. As did the fact his dog who is a massively calming influence had to be rehomed. “My son did not have a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “He was distressed. The first few days he wet his bed - he was screaming.”
The mum, who was made homeless when her previous landlord sold up, is now having to pay rent of £245 a week for the three bedroom home. That does not include the £50 a week electricity bill she said she pays through a prepayment meter, although Stef & Philips said residents can change energy providers.
Some of the electricity money will be spent on storage heaters which the mum - and another St Michael’s Gate resident - said do not work well, meaning their houses are cold. To make matters worse the mum said her two youngest children have had asthma flare ups since moving into the house, so have been given medication. She also said the family are not allowed Wi-Fi or visitors, that she is not allowed alcohol at the property, and that a housing officer from Stef & Philips can enter the property when nobody is in.
Firm’s response to PT
The PT emailed Shaz Wasim, Stef & Philips business development director, about some concerns tenants had.
He accused the PT of taking up a “misguided crusade” and not reporting on anything positive.
He added: “I will clearly state that I do not appreciate the amount of work these frivolous queries create for us. Until yesterday the media was against PCC and S&P’s joint initiative to offer homes at St Michael’s Gate to the homeless families.
“I am sure all of them have appreciated a warm Christmas indoors this year.”
Labour East ward councillors also spoke to the mum at St Michael’s Gate.
Cllr Jo Johnson said: “I think the property should be condemned.”
Cllr Matthew Mahabadi said: “I was disgusted when this was brought to my attention.”