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Family of seven in one-bed flat 'not overcrowded', south London council says

Dareen (right) alongside her twin sister Haneen (left) (HASL)
Dareen (right) alongside her twin sister Haneen (left) (HASL)

A family of seven living in a mouldy one bedroom flat were told they were not overcrowded by a South London council.

Amin Nuru, 42, his wife and five children have just an open plan living room kitchen and single bedroom where they must live, eat and sleep in their privately rented property in Brixton.

His 11-month old daughter Dareen has already been admitted to hospital six times with breathing difficulties, which Mr Nuru links to conditions in the cramped and mould covered flat.

He said: "When she was born she had a hole in her heart and she still has problems breathing. The mould is very bad. It’s everywhere in the house.

Mould in the family's one bedroom flat in Brixton (Amin Nuru)
Mould in the family's one bedroom flat in Brixton (Amin Nuru)

"We want the council to rehouse us. They told us we’re not an emergency, they’ve given us band B. We’ve looked at four bedroom and even three bedroom private housing, but we can’t afford it. The rent is too much."

But a Lambeth Council inspection of their home in July 2023 concluded the couple and their kids weren’t "statutorily overcrowded".

The Housing Act 1985 defines statutory overcrowding by using two rules: the room standard and the space standard. This is a UK-wide legal definition that the council used as the basis of its position on the family's case.

Campaign group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) believes the council official who wrote the report made a mistake.

Under the space standard, a property becomes statutorily overcrowded if more than three people are sleeping in two rooms. The same rules count children under 10 as half a person, while those under one year of age aren’t accounted for.

According to these rules, Mr Nuru’s family is made up of 3.5 people. He and his wife count as one person each. His three children under 10 count as half a person each, while the family’s two twin baby daughters are not accounted for.

Dad-of-five Amin Nuru at Lambeth Civic Centre in Brixton (Robert Firth)
Dad-of-five Amin Nuru at Lambeth Civic Centre in Brixton (Robert Firth)

As the family just have two habitable rooms between them, they should have been defined as overcrowded in the report, HASL claims.

The housing group says it pointed out the alleged error with the official who completed the assessment, as well as complained and raised the issue with senior staff in the council’s housing office, but didn’t receive a response.

When the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) asked the council to explain why the family weren’t assessed as statutorily overcrowded in the report, Lambeth replied saying that it didn’t believe 3.5 people sharing two habitable rooms met the standard for statutory overcrowding.

Mr Nuru thinks his family’s circumstances mean he should qualify for an emergency move by the council.

Sit-in protest at Lambeth Civic Centre in support of Amin Nuru and his family (Robert Firth)
Sit-in protest at Lambeth Civic Centre in support of Amin Nuru and his family (Robert Firth)

Elizabeth Wyatt, a HASL member and spokesperson, said: “It is shocking that the environmental health officer has incorrectly calculated the level of overcrowding and has been refusing to take any action on the family’s case despite the hazardous conditions he would have witnessed on his inspection. It is both morally and legally wrong.

"Despite escalating our complaints, no one in the council appears to want to take any responsibility. The council have also had numerous warnings from medical professionals about the hazardous and life-threatening conditions of the property, but seem to be ignoring these."

Lambeth said it had "fully taken account" of medical and overcrowding issues in assessing the family’s housing transfer application.

But the council said it would now review Mr Nuru’s application "to ensure that the correct banding has been awarded".

A spokesperson added: "Lambeth’s medical team has also approved the family for level-access ground-floor properties, CAT3. This indicates that their present living conditions are affecting their health to a marked degree, and a move is recommended to improve their health. They will have additional priority for level access ground floor flats that are advertised.

"We are working hard to help find a new home for Mr Nuru and his family, but there are many applicants seeking family homes of this size and very few homes available."