‘They asked how I could afford takeaways’: Council U-turns on mum-of-three’s eviction

Helen O’Grady was forced to hand over years of bank statements after she was accused of cheating the system

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

A homeless mum and her three children were threatened with eviction by Waltham Forest Council after its housing team accused her of lying about her finances two years ago.

Helen O’Grady’s family was made homeless by a “no-fault eviction” from their Chingford landlord in November last year and placed in emergency housing by the council.

After over a month bouncing between four different hostels and hotels, they were finally given more stable temporary accommodation, in a flat in Newham, in early January.

However, the family soon found themselves at risk of homelessness again when Waltham Forest’s housing benefits team refused to approve rental payments for the flat.

The team accused Helen of “unlawfully” obtaining income support in 2021 and demanded that she hand over years of evidence about her finances. On 14th March, she received a “notice to quit” her flat within 28 days unless she found the money to cover several weeks of rent at once.

Thankfully, with the help of Waltham Forest Housing Action Network, Helen has since been able to convince the council to reinstate her rental payments and cancel the eviction.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I was homeless, given a home, then potentially homeless again, all while suffering with mental health and [caring for] kids. The turmoil of it was too much, it made me ill.”

Helen said she believes the problem with her benefits stemmed from a “system error” in 2021, which the council’s benefits unit manager Samantha Cornelius apologised for after an investigation.

Evidence the benefits team demanded included three years of bank statements to scrutinise Helen’s spending. She said: “It’s just not OK to treat a family trying to live like this, they scrutinised every single item of evidence and every word I’ve used.

“They genuinely think I’ve got money stashed under my bed that I’m not declaring, are single mothers not allowed to have a car?

“They wanted two years MOT to look at its mileage, then there was another thing and another thing, they wanted my kids’ bank statements… they even asked how I could afford takeaways!”

Waltham Forest Council was first contacted two weeks ago but has not responded to requests for comment on Helen’s case.