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Rats, cockroaches, mice and mould: young mother living in Peckham temporary accommodation hell

A young mother was told by Southwark Council that her rat, mice, cockroach and mould-infested flat in Peckham “might not be [her] dream home”.

Peckham-born Lauryn Carter, 24, has lived in the one-bed flat on Queen’s Road since July 2020, when she was given it after she gave birth to her son Romi. She said she noticed cockroaches around the outside of the property when she moved in, but was in denial at first.

“A week or so in, I started to see little things running across the floor, and I was thinking ‘what is that?’ I was looking, and I thought ‘no way, that looks like baby cockroaches’. I thought ‘that’s disgusting’.” It was only a few months in that Ms Carter decided to raise the issue with Southwark Council, who sent the pest control team round.

Officers have put in place measures to catch the cockroaches, as well as fumigating the flat – but seemingly to no avail in the intervening year and a half. A recent pest control report still showed there were cockroaches in the property.

Former nursery and after-school worker Ms Carter said the cockroach infestation was bad enough. “It’s a hygienic thing. I would say that I’m very clean. Cleaning is something that I love to do. I keep my things in organised ways. I try and keep on top of the surfaces. [The infestation] makes me feel like I don’t know what to do, like I’m not doing the right thing for my son.”

But a few months ago, the situation deteriorated further when Ms Carter found that her son was refusing to take his shoes off inside the flat.

“I said ‘we’re inside of the house, don’t be silly’. I was thinking ‘this is a bit strange of him’. He was standing there, and he started really crying and I turned and I could see this rat. The thing was huge – you could see it wasn’t a bloody mouse, it was nasty”.

Ms Carter was scared that the rat, which she believes is pregnant, could have bitten her son because he was pointing at his hand while in floods of tears. “But there wasn’t a bite mark, no blood, it didn’t actually get to him, but it must have really scared him.

She sprang into action, realising she needed to tackle the problem.

“But at that point it tried to climb up the wall, it was looking like it was going to jump at us. I grabbed my son and ran away. I believe it is behind my washing machine. I can hear it screaming, this high pitched sound.”

The rat has since been joined by mice, which Ms Carter can still hear. “I heard one inside my wall nearest to my bedroom. There may be other ones now. I’ve seen it, it keeps going back.”

To add insult to injury, the flat is also mouldy, and the heating and hot water have been off for the past week amid the recent cold weather.

Ms Carter said she is desperate to be moved on, and feels that the council haven’t taken the issue seriously enough. An email sent to her by her housing officer said “please note that your property is a temporary accommodation, it may not be the ideal property of your dream, but we try to ensure at all times that they are in good condition to ensure quality of life while you bid for your permanent accommodation.”

Ms Carter told the News: “I have no quality of life… It makes me feel like crap. I have a baby, it’s a health and safety matter for him. I’m afraid to have him here. I have nowhere else to go. It pushes me into a corner where I’m depressed about it.”

The officer said in a separate email that her rat, mice and cockroach issues are not a good enough reason to get her moved, because they are technically “treatable” – even though the problem has been going on for eighteen months.

In March 2021, the council adopted a ‘good homes standard’ for temporary accommodation, which among other things, includes ensuring that flats have “appropriate… levels of cleanliness and that they are free from hazards and pests.”

As well as an awful personal situation for a young mother to be in, the story is a powerful illustration of the pressures on the council’s housing waiting list. Some 16,000 households are on the list, and 3,500 are in temporary accommodation.

As we have reported extensively, Southwark has been battling with campaigners to get more social housing built on existing estates to tackle the waiting list.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, the council’s cabinet member for social housing and homelessness, said: “It’s fair to say that occasionally, some properties do not meet our current Good Homes Standard, because they were let before it was introduced, but we hope that going forward, our standard of [temporary accommodation] and satisfaction from residents will continue to improve.

She added that she was “sorry” that Ms Carter “has had some issues in this case” and that pest control hadn’t found vermin at a recent inspection, despite a recent report seen by the News showing there were rats, mice and cockroaches at the property.

“We will continue to monitor that situation while she waits for a permanent home,” Cllr Cryan added.

 

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