Council charges bereaved woman £324 for privacy space at mother’s inquest – reduced from £1000

“A bereaved woman was asked to pay more than £1,000 for the use of a room at an inquest this week into her mother’s death.

Christie Dyball is due to attend a three-day hearing at Reading town hall and requested a family room – a private space away from the courtroom – which is a standard facility at most coroners’ courts.

The inquest into the death of her mother, Anne Roberts, 68, who was detained in hospital, starts on Tuesday and will be held before a jury.

Dyball was initially told the cost of the room would be more than £1,000. After protests from her solicitor, Merry Varney, the sum was reduced to £324.

Inquests in Reading are held in the town council building because there is no dedicated coroner’s court in the area.

Dyball said: “It was a huge surprise. It’s disgraceful. What do they expect us to do? Huddle in a public corridor and discuss behind our hands with our lawyers? How can we express our feelings in private?

“It’s a shame that the council would rather keep the room empty than let us use it. It’s been a real disappointment and added to the stress. I have had to pay the £324 in advance or else lose the room.”

Dyball, who lives in north Norfolk, sought the help of her local MP, Norman Lamb, to obtain legal aid to ensure she was represented at the hearing. The Legal Aid Agency declined to pay for the family room.

Varney, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “This is ridiculous for such a charge to be made against a bereaved family who are there through no fault of their own.

“The response from the town hall was that it’s a commercial venture and that’s why they have to charge. It is totally unreasonable for a bereaved family member to pay a fee for a facility offered routinely to other bereaved families up and down the country when attending a loved one’s inquest.”

Inquest, the organisation that supports relatives at coroners’ courts, condemned the demand. Selen Cavcav, a caseworker, said: “Bereaved families must be at the centre of the inquest process. This cannot be achieved when they are forced to pay for a basic requirement.

“When families are expected to sit next to those who may have been involved in the care of their relative, their trauma is only exacerbated. It is essential for the family to have a private space where they can go during distressing periods and to speak to their legal representatives in confidence.”

Reading borough council said: “Family rooms are not generally requested at inquests, but where they are there is a standard charge.

“We aim to provide a sensitive service for the bereaved and we intend to do everything we can to assist the family to find an area where they can have some privacy during what will no doubt be a very difficult time, but we cannot always guarantee to have rooms routinely available. In this instance the family were given a discretionary discount on the hire of the room.”

The new slums: 250,000 (including children) living in squalid rented homes

“A quarter of a million families bringing up babies and infants in England are living in privately rented accommodation that fails to meet the decent homes standard, it has emerged.

The number of households bringing up children aged under four in squalid conditions, which can include damp walls, broken heating and infestations of rats, has increased by an estimated 75,000 since 2007, according to analysis of official figures.

The study of England’s private rented sector says renters of all generations have been failed by successive governments. The number of rented homes has more than doubled since 2000, to 4.8m, as the construction of private and social housing has slowed dramatically since the financial crisis and hundreds of thousands of new landlords have entered the market seeking better investment returns amid low interest rates.

“It is scary for me to think we have a lot of families in these circumstances,” said Julie Rugg, a senior research fellow at the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy who co-authored the report. “There is a disproportionately high percentage of households with babies and infants living in the private rented sector and there is a particular concern for the longer-term health consequences of living in damp, mouldy property with poor thermal comfort.”

The problem conditions are not confined to young families. One in three homes at the lowest rents and one in five of the most expensive homes are classed as non-decent. In 2016/17, half of new households were private renters, twice the number who became owner–occupiers.

The Centre for Housing Policy also warned of a new kind of “slum tenure” at the bottom of the rental market spreading as a result of welfare cuts and the introduction of universal credit causing landlords to cut back on maintenance and allowing properties to fall into squalor.

The findings come amid growing pressure on the government to toughen regulation of private rentals, especially as more vulnerable people who would previously have been in social housing are relying on the sector.

Campaign groups including Shelter, which has described private rent as like the “wild west”, want the government to start making public its database of convicted rogue landlords and to insist on minimum three-year tenancies to give tenants greater leverage to challenge poor conditions. A new fitness for human habitation bill will mean tenants can take landlords to court with evidence that their homes are unfit.

“Declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting, particularly families with young children,” said Rugg. “Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative. We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role that private renting plays in our housing market.” …

Misleading headline about future of Sidmouth’s Drill Hall

The Midweek Herald website has an article entitled “Concerns over Sidmouth’s redundant Drill Hall site quelled”. On reading the article it will become patently clear that, far from being quelled, the future of the Drill Hall looks extremely insecure:

“… In June, community groups were given six months to make a bid for proposals to redevelop the site – they have until February 4, 2019.

Exeter-based agent JLL, which was appointed by East Devon District Council (EDDC), plans to open the bidding up to the commercial property sector in the Autumn, giving them three months to put forward a bid.

Two members of the public came forward at the latest Sidmouth Town Council meeting on Monday. Resident Di Fuller raised issues with there being no published criteria on what the bids would be judged on. While, resident Simon Fern spoke out about his fears that the owners of the Drill Hall (EDDC) will simply sell to the highest bidder.

District and Town Councillor David Barrett said: “It would be impossible for me properly discuss the details of that criteria until it is discussed in the forum that decides the criteria.”

He added that the forum was hoping to meet soon and that he believed they would be looking at the criteria then.

Town Clerk Christopher Holland said: “My understanding is that it isn’t this council that gets the final say on this, it is not even this council who will have a say on this as such. We are being consulted and that is about it.

“My understanding is that when the criteria has been agreed they will be made publicly available to everybody but that will be through the agent. It won’t be through us, it won’t be through EDDC. It will be through the appointed agent so that they are fair to absolutely everybody and that is commercial and community bids both. They have to be fair to everybody and treat everybody in exactly the same way. So approaching us or EDDC for other information is just not going to work, you have to deal with the agent.”

Are your fears quelled? Owl’s are not!