“I can close my door at night and know nothing will happen to me anymore. My children and I are finally safe.”

Sarah is a single mother facing challenges with literacy and multiple mental health issues. These difficulties necessitate regular assistance with her daily routines and managing her medication. Sarah endured severe domestic violence and abuse at the hands of her ex-partner and his family. Her ex-partner was convicted of kidnapping and causing grievous bodily harm. After his release from prison, Sarah was terrorised daily by men wearing balaclavas who threatened her. Additionally, she was assaulted outside her home. 

No longer feeling safe at her own home, Sarah fled the property with her two children and went to stay with her family nearby.  

“I felt absolutely terrified. I was leaving the home that I had. I didn’t think that I was going to get any help from the council.  I felt completely lost. I was in a very bad place. I thought the council would force me to go back.” 

Although she filed a homeless application, the council failed to provide temporary accommodation. To make matters worse, they decided it was safe for her to return home to the place where she had been assaulted and threatened. The council decided that there was no risk to Sarah despite the assault being reported to the police.  

“The council made me feel like I was lying. They did not take me seriously. They would not acknowledge me. I tried to stop someone to ask for help but they were so obnoxious they just told me and my two children to leave. When I told them I had nowhere to go they told me they would get me removed from the council. ” 

Sarah found herself in an extremely difficult situation. Her family could no longer accommodate her, and she felt unsafe returning to her own home. Despite this, the council expected her to return and endure further abuse before acknowledging her safety concerns. 

It was then that Sarah was advised by a friend to come to the law centre, where she was seen by Jeinsen and Florence. It quickly became apparent that the council were not following national guidance which is aimed at ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are safe, and appeared to be trying to avoid providing safe accommodation for Sarah and her children. 

Jeinsen and Florence helped draft written submissions to the council challenging the not homeless decision and requesting temporary accommodation. The council continued to avoid their legal obligations and it became necessary to instruct a barrister to prepare court papers so that a judge could decide whether she was entitled to be housed. 

It was only once the case had been passed to the council’s legal team that the homelessness department backed down and placed Sarah into temporary accommodation. Sadly, being moved into temporary accommodation was only the start of Sarah’s problems.  

The council’s housing benefit department failed to pay the rent for the temporary accommodation leading to rent arrears and the job centre continued to pay rent on her previous home to her old landlord despite the fact she had left months ago. The job centre subsequently wrote to Sarah and said they would be recovering £3.8k in rent arrears from her. Sarah had asked the council to help wither benefit but she was told that wasn’t something they offered. 

“I felt like the council tried to fob me off. I have a housing officer but he never answers the phone or calls me back. Nobody gave me any help. In fact, from start to finish, I have had no help at all from the council” 

Unable to pay her rent on her current property or the debt on her previous property, Sarah was again facing the prospect of homelessness. 

“I felt overwhelmed with stress. I did not know how I was going to pay back the money to my old landlord. I felt like the housing benefit claim on my temporary accommodation would never be put into payment. I constantly felt I was going to be thrown out with my children at any moment.”

After a holistic view of the case, our housing solicitors decided that despite the fact that legal aid does not generally cover benefits, they needed to step in to protect their client.   

They successfully appealed the refusal of housing benefit for Sarah’s temporary accommodation and challenged the recovery of the housing costs overpayment on her old tenancy resulting in £3.8k of rent arrears being cleared.   

The council have now accepted that they are under a duty to provide continuing temporary accommodation to Sarah and her two children. The council continue to look for permanent accommodation for Sarah and it is hoped she will soon have a stable home she can look forward to without fear of violence and abuse. 

“To be honest, when I went to the law centre they  gave me confidence. I felt like I actually had someone who wanted to help me..I would not have managed to get anywhere without the law centres’ help. I am genuinely very grateful for the help of Jeinsen and Florence.” 

“I am over the moon. I do believe in the end that I will get a place for me and  my kids. The stress has been lifted from me. I feel like there is nothing left to get messed up. I am not a bad tenant. I pay my rent.” 

“I feel safe. My mental health has improved. I feel more confident in myself. I feel like a different person. I can close my door at night and know nothing will happen to me anymore. My children and I are finally safe.”

Commenting on how legal aid has assisted her and what she would say to others who face similar gatekeeping from the council, Sarah said as follows: 

“The only advice I can give form my heart is that if you are going to the council [to make a homeless application] you need a good solicitor behind you because they [the council] will use every power they have to get rid of you. The council are very clever and I did not have a clue what was going on. Without Jeinsen and Florence, I would have been lost.” 

*Name has been changed