Five year fight for house

Philip and Maureen Hawthorne
Philip and Maureen Hawthorne
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A family who claim they were forced out of their flat by an anti-social neighbour have spent five years fighting to get a new council home.

Philip and Maureen Hawthorne say they are out of pocket renting a housing association flat which is too small.

They claim that during a long-running dispute North Lanarkshire Council failed to deal with their complaints properly and misled Cairn Housing Association about the reasons for giving up their council flat in Motherwell.

The couple say their problems began in 2006 after they moved into a ground floor flat in North Motherwell. They became involved in a dispute with the neighbour upstairs who parked her car on what she claimed was a driveway at the side of the property.

The Hawthornes said the vehicle blocked their access, making it difficult for them to get bins and bicycles past.

They reported this to the council and also complained about the woman’s large dog which, they said, was often left alone in the upstairs flat and annoyed them with its constant whining.

The Hawthornes produced video footage to back up their case, but the council decided there wasn’t enough evidence to take action against the neighbour.

The Hawthornes then complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman who ruled the council’s response had been ‘reasonable’ and declined to pursue the case.

The couple claim their lives became so miserable they had no option but to move and in 2008 took a housing association tenancy in Salisbury Crescent, Motherwell. However, they have continued to press the council, claiming they should be allocated another council property.

Mrs Hawthorne said they pay more in rent and council tax than they did before, but the flat is smaller and now their daughter must sleep on the settee when she is at home.

They were backed by Central Scotland MSP Alex Neil who called for the council to waive its housing allocation rules in order to re-house the Hawthornes, saying: “Their situation is a direct result of the failure by the council to implement its own policies, resulting in the Hawthornes being effectively driven from their original address.”

The couple fought to get the council to release documents relating to their case.

FAILED

The Information Commissioner’s Office investigated the council’s handling of the issue and concluded it had failed to comply with all requirements of the Data Protection Act, but took no further action.

One of the documents the couple secured was a questionnaire filled in by a senior council housing official when the family were moving to their new home.

Asked if there had been a history of anti-social behaviour or neighbour disputes during the Hawthornes’ council tenancy, the official replied no. Mr Hawthorne said this amounted to ‘falsification’ of a document and the official involved should have been suspended.

However, counci chief executive Gavin Whitefield defended the official, saying there had been no ‘major’ breach of the tenancy agreement by the Hawthornes’ neighbour and the answer on the questionnaire reflected that position.

Mr Whitefield said the family’s case has been ‘investigated at length’. They will continue to be considered for new accommodation under the council’s allocation policy.

A council spokesman added: “The Hawthornes’ situation has been fully considered.Numerous meetings have taken place to discuss realistic housing options. Should there be a significant change in the family’s circumstances, options will again be reviewed.”

But that’s not good enough for Mr Hawthorne who said: “ We want the council to put its hands up, admit it got this one wrong and re-instate us to council housing immediately.”