Original article from Kent Live
A couple have accused Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council of leaving them homeless after they were encouraged to borrow money for a property they couldn’t afford.
Shaun and Hayley Cottis, both 43, claim they were made to take out a loan for a deposit on a four-bedroom property in Golden Green two years ago which they made clear they could not afford.
The couple were living in Hadlow with their four children when they received a Section 21 eviction notice because the landlord wanted the property back.
The council found them a house in Golden Green but despite saying they couldn’t afford the £1400 monthly rent, the Cottis’ claim they were forced to take it, leaving them in rent arrears.
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The couple were given a debt relief order and an individual voluntary arrangement which has affected their credit rating and left them unable to rent privately.
To add insult to injury, the pair also claim the council told them, that because they voluntarily left the property, they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ so they could not help.
Shaun said: “My entire life I’ve been doing everything right, getting up and going to work, and I have nothing to show for it.
“We’re not trying to abuse the system.”
Living in a car
While the couple’s older children were able to take out a loan for a property together, Shaun, Hayley and their 16-year-old son Eaily were left living between their car and friends’ houses.
They were told their youngest son would be placed in care if they were unable to find a house, so he moved in with his older siblings and has not lived with his parents since.
Shaun added: “He’s virtually sick every morning he’s not with us.”
Both parents and their youngest son suffer from severe anxiety and depression as a result of their circumstances, and more recently Hayley developed Bell’s Palsy due to the stress.
The pair were put into emergency accommodation in a motel after Hayley became ill but fear they will be homeless again once she is deemed well enough to leave.
Hayley said: “We feel worthless, we just want somewhere to be able to cook, to wash, and to sleep.
“It’s only our children that are keeping us here.”
Reverend Tim Saiet of St. John’s Church Hildenborough launched a community appeal to put the pair up in a Travelodge over Christmas after hearing they spent the entire first lockdown living in a car.
The community raised more than £2000, which meant they could spend Christmas with their youngest son and were able to put their car in for an MOT.
'Genuinely embarrassed on their situation'
Reverend Saiet said: “Shaun is a hard-working guy and so polite, he was ashamed, genuinely embarrassed of their situation.
“He’s not someone who wants to live off the state, he wants to work and provide for his family.
“I get a lot of people spinning me lots of stories but in their case I genuinely believe everything they’ve said.”
The reverend contacted the council, Citizen’s Advice and local MP, Tom Tugendhat, on the Cottis’ behalf, but was told there was nothing they could do.
He said: “I can understand that they have legislation but sometimes common sense has to prevail.
“If you put certain people in accommodation, you have to include their ability to afford to live there with the benefits they receive, and if the benefits won’t cover this, the blessing starts to become a curse.”
He stressed the need for urgency when it comes to situations like the Cottis’ and suggested the council set up a hotline to allow clergy to contact them directly.
'We recognise the distress'
Eleanor Hoyle, Director of Planning, Housing and Environmental Health for Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council said: “We recognise the distress that situations like this cause families and have been working with Mr and Mrs Cottis over the last two years to help find them a home, including providing temporary accommodation on two previous occasions while assessing their case and are currently providing them with a place to live.
“We are also trying to provide them with further help through our partners who specialise in supporting homeless families, though we understand they have declined this offer.
“While we do all we can for families in this situation, demand for affordable housing far exceeds the number of homes available.”
Hayley and Shaun have worked with Kent homeless charity Porchlight to try and resolve the issue but said they were also told there is nothing the council can do.