Earlston woman’s housing nightmare finally over after Southern steps in to help

Sharon Hamilton in her kitchen in Crown Crescent, Earlston which was damaged by the leaking shower.
Sharon Hamilton in her kitchen in Crown Crescent, Earlston which was damaged by the leaking shower.

A Waverley Housing Association tenant’s 14-month nightmare looks set to be finally over, after she bravely wrote to TheSouthern for help.

Sharon Hamilton of Earlston said her living conditions have been unbearable and she has been forced not only to live in a house that posed a risk to her physical and mental well-being, but also to reluctantly reveal that she suffers from depression.

Mrs Hamilton told us: “I can’t live in my kitchen or my bathroom, because it’s such a mess. I feel like it’s no longer my home. It is affecting my health, physically and emotionally, and it has gone on for over a year now.

“I feel like things are getting on top of me. I can’t get beyond it.”

Mrs Hamilton says the problems began in January 2011 with a small leak that went unfixed but resulted in her having to visit her GP and attend stress courses to cope with the anxiety. The situation also raised concerns about how tenants with mental health conditions are treated by social landlords.

But thanks to her letter and TheSouthern’s intervention, Waverley Housing Association yesterday told us in a statement that it apologised “for any inconvenience she may have suffered”, and that “we commit within the next two weeks to start the process of ensuring all repair work and redecoration is carried out to fix the damage caused by the leak at Mrs Hamilton’s home.”

“It’s been a very difficult year for her,” explains Wanda-Jane Field of the Borders Independent Advocacy Service (BIAS) in Galashiels, an organisation representing people who feel they haven’t been listened to.

In her letter to us, assisted by BIAS, Mrs Hamilton outlined her 14-month struggle.

“I reported a running outflow in January 2011. I then received an order form for work from Waverley to a third party contractor advising that I had mental health problems. The contractor did not contact me to complete the work. I feel this was because private information about my mental health was given out.”

Unknown to her at the time, exacerbating the leak outside was a shower leak which was causing water damage inside her house. “I didn’t realise I also had a leak in my property, which would have been identified had the contractor come to fix the overflow. This leak was finally repaired in the February – a month after my initial report – but my home was extensively damaged.”

Her upset at the damage, she says, was compounded by the unauthorised violation of her privacy. “I was absolutely gutted that personal information of this nature had been given out to a third party without my permission.”

Supported by the BIAS, she wrote a letter of complaint to the social landlords.

“In April I received an apology from Waverley regarding the giving out of my personal information. They offered me £100 compensation – which I have not accepted as I do not feel it to be sufficient to cover the upset and distress that this has caused – and [they] agreed to cover the cost of the repairs caused by the leak through insurance,” she said.

However, her ordeal was not over.

“[Waverley] also advised me that I must delay completing the redecoration and laying a new flooring until March 2012, to allow for the installation of a new heating system in line with their planned maintenance programme.

“I was so distressed and frustrated to be told I must live in these conditions for a further nine months that I requested to be rehoused in temporary accommodation until the repairs and central heating were completed. I also asked that the planned work to install the central heating be brought forward so I could return to normal life, and try to put the tremendous disruption behind me as soon as possible.

“Both requests were refused by Waverley Housing.”

However, the housing association later caved in to pressure after Mrs Hamilton’s MP, Michael Moore, wrote Waverley a letter, “asking them to reconsider their position”, and on 14 September, Waverley “finally agreed to install the central heating. It was completed in October”.

However, 10 months on and Mrs Hamilton’s situation was still not resolved, and she reached her lowest ebb.

“They also advised that because I had not submitted the insurance claim within the required time that I was liable for the cost of redecoration and laying of the flooring. While I was pleased to have central heating, my life cannot return to normal while I continue to live in the chaos caused by the leak. I cannot afford the cost of the repairs. I face living in this mess indefinitely.

“I feel Waverley have some responsibility in this matter. They had told me that I had to wait until March 2012 for the heating to be installed before proceeding with redecoration. My advocacy worker was present at the meeting when the claim form was given to me – and neither of us can remember being told that I had 30 days to return it.

“I consulted a local firm of solicitors who wrote to Waverley asking them to take some responsibility. Waverley’s response was to assert that they have no responsibility in this matter.”

But after TheSouthern forwarded Mrs Hamilton’s letter to Waverley’s chief executive Margaret Ross. Media House, a Glasgow PR company specialising in crisis management, responded on behalf of Waverley Housing.

“We recognise the complex issues surrounding Mrs Hamilton’s case and apologise for any inconvenience she may have suffered.

“We acknowledge that there was a breach of data protection in relation to Mrs Hamilton’s personal information and we have taken steps to throughly review our procedures to ensure such an issue does not occur in the future.

“Following the water leak and subsequent damage to the house, we entered into dialogue with the Borders Independent Advocacy Service (BIAS), who were assisting Mrs Hamilton in discussions regarding the required repairs.

“We issued an insurance form to Mrs Hamilton that stated that claims should be made within 30 days. Although the form was not returned within this period, we continued to ask BIAS, on behalf of Mrs Hamilton, to return the form as quickly as possible so that the claim could be registered. So far our request has been without success.

“An offer of compensation was also made to Mrs Hamilton as a result of the damage that occurred to her house from the water leak. That offer still stands.

“The installation of a new central heating system at the property has now been completed and we commit within the next two weeks to start the process of ensuring that all repair work and redecoration is carried out at Mrs Hamilton’s home.”