The Flat, by Franz Kafka   2 comments

Dear Susan S……/Senior Office Review Panel,

Thankyou for your letter dated 12th November informing me that I would be able to present my case to the Senior Officer Review Panel again. Obviously this is welcome news to me, so thankyou for getting in touch.

You mention that I should re-present the evidence that I have already provided, which I am happy to do, although slightly concerned that as this evidence has been judged to be insufficient in the past then it might be again. I am also unclear as to whether you are asking for all the evidence that I have already submitted (two letters from my son’s mother, letter from the landlord, letter from two of my housemates, scans of my diaries 2008-2010 and photographs of my room) or just the information to which you specifically refer in the letter. In addition, you mention that I “may want to provide evidence from your son’s school about the days that I drop him off and pick him up.” Unfortunately this particular request was the one thing I was unable to provide to support my application for housing before, the reason being as I said at the time was that although I pick my son up at school whenever I have him overnight and drop him off the next morning (and pick him up from after-school club/school events/pay dinner money/sign permission slips etc) there is no formal recording process of me doing this by the school. I did ask last time round if the school would provide me with such evidence but was not surprised when they said it wasn’t their place to do so. Given that I drop my son off in the playground and pick him up from the playground in an informal and unsupervised manner it is hard to see how anyone at the school would be willing to provide written evidence stating when I did. Furthermore, since the system I have with my son’s Mum for looking after my son is a rolling system where we each have my son for 2 or 3 days at a time with no fixed days of the week or month when either of us has him, it is particularly hard to see how the school would be able to provide a record of this. In addition, I would expect any school to be wary of providing documentation to a parent in this manner without knowing exactly how it might be used, even though in my case there is no dispute between me and my ex-partner over custody/access etc, especially since as I say there is no way for them to know exactly what staying contact my son has with me. In that sense their refusal to provide this kind of evidence seems right and proper to me, even if it doesn’t suit my purposes in this matter.
Given my anxieties stemming from this confusion as to what the evidence (and furthermore proof) might consist of, and having re-read the ombudsman investigator’s letter where her proposed remedy advises the council should allow me to “submit further evidence and give him guidance on what evidence it would need to see in order to determine he has 50% care”, I feel I should say that I do require further guidance at this time. I am aware that I have asked what constitutes proof of 50% care frequently since my first application, and have only ever been told to provide a letter from ex-partner/landlord/school. As this evidence was found wanting in the first instance, and I had to make suggestions of what extra documentation might help in my appeal (i.e scans of my diaries, letters from housemates, photographs of my room were all things I had to suggest) and have only been told “as far as further evidence is concerned I will present to the Panel whatever you send me” (email from Tim P……). At one point I asked whether it would be appropriate to be interviewed in person by a representative from the council, perhaps with my ex-partner or each of us separately, but beyond this I am struggling to see what I have that I can provide that is going to make a difference if I don’t know by what criteria 50/50 staying contact can be proved. By all means contact my ex-partner directly, or my landlord, or the school, as I am confident that anything they might say will be completely consistent with what I have said in this letter and previously. If I might just quote the provisional view of the Ombudsman just to be clear about why I am worried that the evidence requested in your letter will not be enough to persuade the panel:

The Council has not been transparent in how it has applied section 5.6.2 of its lettings policy to Mr A’s application. I can say this for the following reasons:

There is no evidence that the Council has drawn up any guidance or criteria to guide officers when determining what constitutes shared care.
Officers could not give Mr A sufficient guidance on what evidence he needed to provide to the council to prove 50% shared care.
The council failed to keep sufficiently detailed notes of the Senior Officer Review Panel’s consideration of Mr A’s appeals.
The Council failed to give Mr A reasons to enable him to understand why his appeals were unsuccessful.

As a result Mr A could not be clear about how his application for a two-bedroom property was to be considered, what evidence he needed to provide and how that evidence was considered and why his appeals were unsuccessful. He has therefore been caused some uncertainty and this should be remedied.

I will attach with this email copies of the letters from my ex-partner and my landlord, together with the photos and the scans of the diaries, but I hope to hand-deliver print copies of everything, including the calender you have provided (filled out with dates) to Mandela House as soon as possible, so please do let me know if there is anything else I can include by way of evidence.
With regards to the personal letter that you mention I should write to the panel I am going to include a big chunk of the letter I sent to the Ombudsman to try and explain my point of view with regards to the ongoing situation. I was trying to summarise my grievances, specifically address the points the Independant Complaints Commissioner had rejected my complaint for, and also write something that referred to the actual circumstances that myself and my son found ourselves in as a result of the council’s decision.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My first grievance is that at no point have I had any indication of what constitutes proof that I have 50/50 care of my son, even when I have expressly asked what such proof might be.
Secondly I have never had an opportunity to speak to the people making decisions about my situation. When my first application and my appeal were rejected by a panel, there was no communication before or after with this panel.
Also when I was invited to appeal I wasn’t told that this represented my final chance to be considered by the council before having to go through complaints procedures etc, and even though I think I did my best to present as much evidence as I could to that appeal, I think I would have tried to put something in writing that would have drawn attention to the fact that I was struggling to present a case through no fault of my own.
Reading the Complaints Investigator’s review again it seems to suggest that the Lettings Policy has been changed at some point and the investigator concludes that “it is reasonable to assume” that this was in May 2007 because that is when the document was dated and yet the photocopy I have was given to my by Ian Tyes the solicitor at CAB well into 2009, which I understand he printed off the council website. In addition I was told on two separate occasions at Mandela House that I was indeed eligible to apply for two-bedroom properties as a parent with 50/50 care. It seems to me that my struggle to get them to implement their own policy has made them decide that it is unworkable and then change it. Actually I will quote that section of the letter in full for clarity’s sake:

“I have considered the Cambridge City Council Letting Policy dated May 2007. I should point out that certain sections of the policy copied to me in the formal complaint letter of 11 May 2010 are no longer in use and, it is reasonable to assume, have not been so since May 2007. I cannot determine where these copies originated but suffice to say that sections 5.4.2-5.4.4 are no longer part of the policy. In effect this does away with table 1 dealing with bedroom requirements.”

With regards to the specific reasons the Complaints Investigator mentions as reasons why my 50/50 staying contact has not been proved the following factors (text in bold are quotes):

Diary evidence was capable of alternative interpretation.
(i.e. The diary dates might not refer to when I have Syd but rather when I pick him up from school or take him to out of school activities.
Well, possibly, but they could also represent circumstantial evidence backed up by the letter from Syd’s Mum, the landlord, my housemates and my own testimony.

Staying access appears somewhat fluid rather than a clear-cut arrangement.
Staying access is indeed a fluid arrangement to some extent but it has been the same arrangement since July 2008. At the beginning of the month my ex-partner and I have sat down and organised childcare for the month ahead, usually in chunks of two to three days at a time. This enables us to be flexible, which has been particularly useful for my son’s Mum and her work as a caterer who occasionally works long days or has to be away for periods. It also means that neither of us are without contact with our son for too long, or he with us, which we consider important for all of us.

The fact that Mr Gregory’s son lives very close by also led to the suspicion that perhaps he did not necessarily stay in the bed-sit with him, particularly given the cramped conditions.
 Syd divides his time (equally!) between my shared house and his Mum’s one-bedroom flat, which is 3 doors down. In some ways this is convenient but given that Syd’s Mum and I are living in the aftermath of a broken relationship it would be a relief for both parties if we had some distance between us as soon as possible This is being prevented from happening by the council’s inability to accept the circumstances as they really are. To be living in such cramped conditions, in such close proximity to Syd’s Mum, is far from ideal, but to be told that those factors actually count as evidence against me is particularly galling. To put it another way: my son is staying in cramped conditions with me because the council don’t believe he is staying with me because the conditions are cramped. My son lives with me with his mother nearby because the council don’t believe that he is staying with me because his mother lives nearby.

Argyll Street Housing Co-operative do not mention any application to them for better housing, or consideration on their part for alternative accommodation.
Argyle Street Housing Co-op only have 8 one-bedroom flats in their housing stock. They are allocated (when one becomes vacant) by a panel made up of members and voted on at a general meeting. They are very sought after and rarely become free. Given the reasons explained above to do with providing distance between me and Syd’s Mum it would not be appropriate to apply. In any case no flats have come up during the time I have been in housing need and had I applied I would have to persuade the co-op members that two parents would require separate flats for their shared parenting of a single child. Furthermore, it is my belief that a one bedroom is not appropriate for my and my son’s needs because since he is with me half the time the bedroom would be his. For the record, I would be very happy to continue living in the co-op and regret that it is not possible for the reasons mentioned above.

Mr Gregory’s failure to bid for alternative accommodation (i.e. 1-bedroom flats).
I didn’t bid for one-bedroom flats because I believed the policy made me eligible for a two-bedroom flat and as I say that this was suitable for my needs. I have been applying for one-bedroom flats out of desperation for the past few months and out of the eleven flats that I have bid on all of them that have been let have gone to people in Band A. Denying me Band A status is therefore effectively barring me from access to one-bedroom accommodation.

Obviously on the whole I think that there has been some failings in the way that the council’s procedures have operated in my case,but I think ultimately the main issue is a lack of clarity with regards to their policy and its implementation. I don’t believe I have a divine right to be housed in a two-bedroom flat, but I do believe it was reasonable of me to pursue an application for a two-bedroom flat with the information I had. If I had been told that the policy had changed and that the local authority had decided they were not obligated to house me then my options would have been a lot clearer. But if this was the case, why is it that the main reason I seem to have been rejected is doubt about my staying contact with my son? It seems to me that the issues are kind of blurred, but that the central plank of my eligibility status is to be based upon an undefined piece of evidence that therefore makes it impossible to prove.
There is of course wider issue here about the role of fathers in society with regards to the state. Without going into that here I think it is pertinent to mention that I receive no Child Benefit for Syd for my 50% care, and am not eligible for Working Tax Credits as a parent and other benefits such as the special circumstances parents can claim for housing benefit etc. For a while Ian Tyes and I were going to embark on some sort of parallel battle that may have ended up in the European Court Of Human Rights, but because it seemed of paramount importance to me to simply put a roof over my son’s head and because I didn’t want to damage the good relationship I have with Syd’s Mum I decided to focus on my struggle to get housed. But because I work as a Support Worker with vulnerable adults for a very low wage, have childcare obligations (and value time with my son) and have no access to relief on childcare costs (I think Syd’s Mum gets about 70% of hers paid) I couldn’t afford to work full time even if I wanted to, and therefore cannot afford private rental of a two-bedroom property. To a great extent this places me and my son at the mercies of the council’s lettings policy and its application, as I’m sure you will understand. My son was a few months over 7 years old when his mother and I split up, and he will be 10 in February, and I feel terrible that such formative years have been blighted by the poor quality of life our cramped and unsuitable conditions provide. In addition to the fact that my son has shared his living space with an estimated 15 or so other adults during the past 2 and a half years, the co-op has experienced considerable problems to do with noise and anti-social behaviour recently, which obviously adds to my belief that my son is being deprived of some sort of normal domestic environment. The sense of being trapped in this situation, together with the feeling of injustice (mainly through being disbelieved/powerless/voiceless) over such a long time is starting to have an impact on my physical and psychological well-being. I’m experiencing skin complaints, digestion problems, stress, depression and insomnia, and typically wake in the early hours to start mulling over my problems. This is starting to intrude on my ability to take part in other areas of life. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but these are the facts. Ultimately though, it is the effect on my son’s well-being that pains me the most. A month or so ago he remarked that his friends “don’t know how lucky they are” to live in their own houses with their own bedrooms etc, and only yesterday he attributed the fact that his friend would only play with him if it was at his house and not ours to us “not having a good house”. Another particular bone of contention is that obviously we can’t have sleepovers due to lack of room, and I have never had anyone babysit my son at my house since the living room is 3 flights down and in a shared house. This has had a fairly obvious effect on my social life, but on those rare occasions where I have needed to find someone to look after Syd I have had to ask if he can stay at his friends or cousin’s house without being able to return the favour. All of this adds to the sense that despite my best efforts I am letting my son down, and as someone who is trying very hard to be a good and responsible father I feel I am am becoming increasingly desperate with the situation as it stands.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Also, could you please let me know when the panel are due to meet so that I have some kind of time framework for assembling the print copies of documentation etc.
Yours sincerely,

Pete Um

Posted December 8, 2010 by peteum2013 in Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Flat, by Franz Kafka

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  1. Shit.

  2. Bloody hell Pete, hope they see sense soon.

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