What strikes you most when speaking with Safia is the sense of duty she felt towards her family, and the heavy burden that placed upon her shoulders. She was supporting six grown-up children, four of whom were living with her, working day and night shifts for the NHS, and was struggling to keep her head above water following the loss of her mother and ex-husband.
Safia had moved to the UK in 1996 with her husband and their children. Her husband had been a Sudanese diplomat and claimed political asylum in the UK. At the time, Safia was full-time
mother to her six children, having trained as a vet in Sudan.
Safia later went on to study bio-medical science at university, attaining her master’s degree, and has since been working for the NHS. Sadly, her relationship with her husband broke down and in 2008 they separated, leaving Safia solely responsible for her family and their home.
The secure joint tenancy Safia had with her husband was downgraded and Safia found herself struggling to maintain the home she lived in with four of her children. Safia was taken to court due to rent arrears. She was threatened with repossession of her belongings and told that because her children were ‘non-dependents’ she would have to downsize and move away from the borough where she had been living for nearly twenty years.
The whole situation placed an extraordinary amount of strain on Safia, especially with her mother also being ill. Thankfully, she was able to pay off her rent arrears in instalments and approached her housing association to see if they could help her secure her tenancy. Despite gathering proof that her children still lived with her, Safia received no help from her housing association.
“It was a very sad situation and disrupted everything,” Safia explains. “I work hard and I have a respectable job, but all of my salary goes towards providing for my children. They are graduates but they have been unsuccessful in getting jobs. They’re trying their best. One of my sons has only been able to get part-time work at a shoe shop on Oxford Street. He doesn’t earn enough to support himself even though he would like to move out.”
Amidst the stress of securing a home for her family Safia found out that her ex-husband had cancer. The news was devastating for her and her children. A friend recognised the mounting pressure which was building for Safia, who was getting nowhere with her housing case. Her friend suggested she contact the Centre, saying, “The Cardinal Hume Centre is very helpful. The people there will listen to you. They will consider your case.”
Safia started working with Natalie Smith, one of the Centre’s housing support officers, who was able to advocate on her behalf.
“Safia was dealing with Westminster Housing Options and City West Homes, so she was caught between two big departments and wasn’t getting anywhere with them,” says Natalie. “The nature of her tenancy meant she could be evicted at any time, and she was being told to downsize, despite still supporting four of her children.”
Natalie challenged both organisations about their lack of communication with Safia. However, further delays were brought about when they rejected paperwork proving that Safia’s four children still lived with her, despite the fact that they had submitted exactly what they had been asked for originally. The council changed their minds on a number of occasions about the type of paperwork they would accept as supporting evidence for Safia’s case. Natalie worked hard to gather the evidence they requested – from GP notes and letters from employers, to payslips and household bills. Once the final forms and paperwork were submitted it took six weeks for the council to come to a decision.
Thanks to Natalie, after years of insecurity, Safia was granted with a permanent secure tenancy on the house she shared with her children. “If the family had been trying to resolve this on their own, who knows what would have happened,” says Natalie. “It was at a time when they were going through a lot of stress, with Safia’s ex-husband’s cancer and her mother’s continuing ill health.”
Sadly, following the resolution of her housing case, Safia lost both her mother and her ex-husband. However, she is slowly trying to rebuild a stable life for her and her family, and following years of uncertainty and emotional turmoil, she finally has peace of mind:
“My children have suffered a lot and it has been very hard for me to see them suffer. But the support that Natalie gave me took the burden from my back. Natalie was so welcoming and she is so knowledgeable about housing law. She helped me to solve my problems.”