Coun­cil de­mand for dead Mum’s rent bill

Blun­der sees griev­ing daugh­ter re­ceive let­ter chas­ing six months’ worth of ‘ar­rears’

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By GEMMA DAVIDSON gdavid­son@wok­ing­ham­pa­

A BE­REAVED daugh­ter has spo­ken of her anger after she was sent a rent ar­rears no­tice for her mother’s shel­tered hous­ing flat, six months after she passed away.

An­drea Dun­lop’s mother, Hazel Smith, died at her home in Dick­ens Court in March, aged 65, but her body was left undis­cov­ered in her flat for so long that pathol­o­gists were un­able to de­ter­mine a cause of death.

On Fri­day, Septem­ber 29, Mrs Dun­lop re­ceived a let­ter from Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil (WBC) de­mand­ing rent ar­rears for the prop­erty in Dick­ens Court to­talling £309.23 for the pe­riod be­tween April 2 and Septem­ber 26 – six months after Mrs Smith’s death.

Mrs Dun­lop, who lives in Shin­field, told The Wok­ing­ham Pa­per: “The lack of sen­si­tiv­ity, to be hon­est, beg­gars be­lief.”

Mrs Smith moved into Dick­ens Court, a Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil (WBC)-run shel­tered ac­com­mo­da­tion in June 2015 and passed away ear­lier this year, but an in­quest was un­able to de­ter­mine the ex­act date of her death. Her post­man had raised the alarm.

At an in­quest into her death, held on June 13, hous­ing of­fi­cers Ann Mol­loy and Jude White told the coro­ner, Ali­son McCormick, that Mrs Smith had re­quested no con­tact and had re­fused to sign a doc­u­ment re­lat­ing to sup­port.

This claim was re­futed by Mrs Dun­lop, who has since found the doc­u­ment that Mrs Smith signed, which states she agreed to weekly checks.

Now Mrs Dun­lop has been left reel­ing after re­ceiv­ing the un­ex­pected rent de­mand.

“The last few months I have been com­ing to terms with it all. It’s not a ques­tion of ‘ could she have sur­vived?’ I guess I’ll never know that, but for me it’s the fact that she was left for such a long time, there’s so many ques­tions that come to mind that I can’t seem to nav­i­gate around.

“I never heard from [WBC] again after the in­quest, they never fol­lowed up, there was never any ac­knowl­edge­ment that any lessons had been learned.

“I run my own busi­ness, and if you make a mis­take you need to en­sure that it doesn’t hap­pen again, and I sup­pose I haven't re­ally dealt with what hap­pened, so hav­ing that let­ter come through made me re­con­sider what I wanted to do about it.

“I am now in a bet­ter place to do some­thing and I want to tackle them around mak­ing sure no-one else falls through the gaps like my mum did.”

Mrs Dun­lop feels that there are se­ri­ous in­ad­e­qua­cies and a ‘lack of com­mon sense’ within the coun­cil’s shel­tered hous­ing pro­gramme which need to be ad­dressed.

She said: “It’s ob­vi­ous they have no gov­er­nance or con­trol. I am a rea­son­ably strong per­son, but can you imag­ine if this is their gen­eral ap­proach to the de­ceased and how they pur­sue for money? It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary.

“I think from the coun­cil’s per­spec­tive, they are there to pro­vide ser­vices to the com­mu­nity and they have lost sight of that.

“Given how hos­tile I found the coun­cil dur­ing the in­quest process, one of the things that comes to mind for me is that there is a cul­ture at Wok­ing­ham that isn’t pos­i­tive, and clearly they lack the com­mon sense fac­tor. That comes from the top, it isn’t the peo­ple on the ground, gen­er­ally these pro­cesses are man­age­ment-led.

“There were a cou­ple of things about how the shel­tered hous­ing was work­ing that came out dur­ing the in­quest, I got a sense that there is no duty of care, and I think in hind­sight, that wasn’t ob­vi­ous to me when she first went in. The whole point of it, to me, was that there was go­ing to be some­one there check­ing in, be­ing aware of her rou­tines and what she was do­ing, just giv­ing you that ex­tra set of eyes, but what came out of the in­quest was that they re­ally don’t have that ca­pa­bil­ity.

“My guess is that it’s prob­a­bly the case, not only in Dick­ens Court, but in all of the shel­tered hous­ing, it will be mir­rored across all of them.”

Coin­ci­den­tally, Mrs Smith’s in­quest was held on the same day as Ian An­drews’, a man who lived in a shel­tered hous­ing unit in Martin Close, Wood­ley, whose body was left undis­cov­ered for up to two weeks after he died in Jan­uary.

Mrs Dun­lop con­tin­ued: “I run my own busi­ness, I know that em­pa­thy costs noth­ing. If I had been the leader of that coun­cil, just reach­ing out to some­one and hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion to say, ‘This went wrong, we know and we’re sorry’ – that costs noth­ing, but the ben­e­fit of it is huge. That is what dis­ap­points me, it doesn’t sur­prise me, but it dis­ap­points me.

“When we were clear­ing out my mum’s flat, the hous­ing of­fi­cers were there and it was very much a case of they wanted you out asap. Mum had a lot of fairly new fur­ni­ture and ap­pli­ances, and I asked the hous­ing of­fi­cers if the peo­ple liv­ing in the de­vel­op­ment could be given first re­fusal, as that is what my mum would have wanted.

“They told me it would be fine, but a few weeks later I spoke to one of the neigh­bours and they said that been re­fused the fur­ni­ture.

“I con­tacted the coun­cil who told me that they ‘couldn’t al­low it’ as it went against their coun­cil process, and the stuff had been given to good causes, but they couldn’t tell me what those good causes were. The neigh­bour then told me that it had all been de­stroyed. I don’t know whether it’s true or not be­cause you can’t get a straight an­swer out of the coun­cil.”

Mrs Dun­lop said she is con­cerned that the coun­cil has not ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pened to her mother, and has vowed to pres­sure them into ad­mit­ting they were at fault.

She said: “I am go­ing to start lob­by­ing the coun­cil to put a bit of pres­sure on them to demon­strate what they have learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence. I think for my own san­ity over the whole episode I need to do some­thing.”

A spokesper­son for Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil said: “We are deeply sorry that this let­ter was sent and for the dis­tress it has caused. We are writ­ing to Ms Dun­lop to apol­o­gise and will also call her to do so in per­son. The rent ar­rears have been can­celled so there is no re­main­ing debt to the coun­cil.”

Hazel Smith, who died ear­lier this year

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