Disabled women removed from the housing list after refusing a flat she says was unsafe
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A Porthcawl woman who had been waiting on the housing list for nearly two years was taken off after she said the house she was offered was “unsuitable”.
“I live in one room with a commode and a microwave.”
That’s how Maria Edwards, who has been in a wheelchair for 36 years due to a serious car accident, described her current situation living in a caravan in Porthcawl.
Having once lived in a flat in Pontypridd, Maria has been moving from “caravan to caravan” for five years and said she is currently “living out of boxes and bags”.
Maria said she was “over the moon” when she was finally offered a flat in Pyle by Bridgend County Borough Council’s (BCBC) in November 2021.
However, her joy was short-lived when she found out that she did not have access to the rear exit of the flat and found it difficult to approach the entrance.
Bridgend Council eventually removed Maria from the housing list, claiming that she refused the property.
“I couldn’t even get to the front door,” said Maria about her arrival at 87 Beach Road, Pyle.
“I asked [the council] ‘why are you offering me number 87 when I can’t even get there in my wheelchair?’.”
Maria and her carer, Roy Edwards, said the property was unsuitable for a wheelchair user due to the tight space before accessing the back door from the outside and a large step, also just before accessing the back door.
They added that the gradient of the ramp going towards the front door made it difficult to access.
The property, Maria was told, had been considered suitable by an occupational therapist.
A number of alterations to the property had also been suggested that would have made it more suitable.
However, a number of advocates for Maria said that the work on these alterations – whether they had taken a few days to a few weeks – could have left Maria without access to the rear exit of the building in the event of a fire.
Maria’s carer, Roy, said: “All of these alterations that they were going to do were not under a time scale. It could have been 18 months.”
A review into the council’s decision took on the views of Shelter Cymru, the Bridgend Carers Centre and council member for Porthcawl Central East, Cllr Brian Jones.
An ex-firefighter, who offered their opinion on the matter, said a property should not be provided to anyone with a disability unless it is 100 percent safe to escape from through any exit at any time.
Referring to the rear exit, the ex-firefighter added that they would have serious concerns regarding someone in a wheelchair trying to exit at night in a smoke-filled environment.
The council upheld their decision.
Maria said: “There is no way on earth that I could have got out of that property in an emergency. I couldn’t have got in and and I couldn’t have got out, and I certainly couldn’t have lived independently anyway.”
She added: “I’m not doolally tap. I would have moved into that flat in a heartbeat to get out of this, but it wasn’t suitable.”
Maria claims that her request to view the property in Pyle with an occupational therapist and a Valleys to Coast housing officer was declined.
When asked to explain this, a Valleys to Coast spokesperson said: “When we received Miss Edwards’ nomination from Bridgend Council, our Community Housing Partner contacted Miss Edwards to make arrangements for them both to view the property with an occupational therapist.
“She spoke to Miss Edwards’ carer on the phone, but was not able to speak to [Ms] Edwards. The carer was not authorised to make the arrangements on Ms Edwards behalf, so we contacted Bridgend Council directly and gave them the information required.”
A BCBC spokesperson said: “Bridgend County Borough Council has made every effort to find suitable premises for the resident, and is satisfied that it has met all of its responsibilities in full.
“We located a two-bedroom accessible flat within their area of choice which had ramped wheelchair access and a door at the front of the premises wide enough for accommodating wheelchairs.
“We also offered to make additional modifications to the property to further meet their needs, including readjusting the rear door or replacing it with a new door entirely.
“At the time of being offered the flat, the resident enquired about a nearby bungalow.
“Both the flat and bungalow were inspected by an occupational therapist and officers from Valleys To Coast Housing who confirmed that while the flat was suitable, the bungalow was not.
“While the resident may have preferred the bungalow, the inspection further confirmed that it could not be adapted to meet the needs of a wheelchair user.
“The resident disagreed with this, and claimed that the two-bedroom flat they had been offered was also not suitable.
“As a result, an independent review into the matter was carried out which considered representations from Shelter Cymru, the Bridgend Carers Centre, the local elected member and more.
“The review concluded that the offer of the two-bedroom flat along with further modifications to meet the resident’s specific needs was entirely suitable, and the decision was upheld.
“This left the applicant with two choices – to refuse the offer and make their own arrangements for finding suitable accommodation, or to accept the property and the additional modifications while at the same time requesting that the application be reviewed.
“Against the council’s advice, the applicant opted to refuse the offer and was duly removed from the housing list. They were advised that they could appeal against the decision, but have not exercised this right.
“Bridgend County Borough Council continues to work closely alongside its partners, and will always ensure that people are offered appropriate accommodation which meets their specific needs.”
Councillor Brian Jones said: “To actually uphold their decision is totally wrong.
“If [Maria] had gone into the property in the condition it was in and if there was a fire there, there is no way on this earth she would have got out.
“They should review [their decision]. They should put her back on the list where she was before this all took off.”
Maria, who is awaiting a response on her case from the ombudsman, said she remains hopeful of finding a place where she can live as independently as possible.
Maria said: “I wasn’t turning down a suitable property. I was turning down a property that would have made me a prisoner.
“I wasn’t prepared to put myself in danger.”
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