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Fed-up family of nine living in “severe threat” in an overcrowded three-bed house


A family of nine have spent the past two years living in a three-bedroom council home – and they’re now speaking out about the lack of help for larger families.

David Payne, 49, and his wife Danielle, 34, from Godalming in Surrey have seven children. The family was warned by Waverley Borough Council’s own environmental health officer last November that the home is “seriously overcrowded” and poses a severe threat to the family’s health and safety.

The youngest child who is two years old is forced to sleep in the parent’s bedroom with them while the oldest who is 16 sleeps in the living room downstairs. Meanwhile, the other five children share the remaining two bedrooms.

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Mr Payne said: “We don’t get anywhere with the council, they don’t communicate with us. They have been utterly terrible, and they don’t do anything for bigger families. We have our rights, but they’re shutting the door in our faces. It’s wrong.” The family moved to the Godalming area in 2017 where they rented a house privately for three years until the landlord decided to sell the property.

Afterwards, the family struggled to find alternative accommodation suitable for a family as large as theirs. In a desperate attempt, they appealed to Waverley Borough Council for help in January 2020.



David and Danielle Payne of Godalming with their five of their seven children

The council agreed it had a responsibility to help prevent the family from becoming homeless and offered a small three-bedroom property on Aaron’s Hill which was in range of the children’s schools. The semi-detached property was offered as a private lease instead of the usual council tenancy to be fair to the other households in the area who were on the waiting list for a council tenancy for the past few years.

By early June, the family moved into the house and quickly realised it was far too small for their needs. David suggested to the council that the outhouse be turned into an extra bedroom but was unable to get permission for the refurbishment.

Despite this, he decided to do it anyway with money from his own pocket. Unfortunately, the room was too cold to live in during the winter months and suffered from severe dampness.



One of the small bedrooms

In January 2021, David and Danielle contacted the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and claimed that the council was not fulfilling its obligations to place the family in suitable housing. Nine months later an investigation was completed by the Ombudsman which found that the council was at fault due to not completing a health and safety assessment when placing the family into such a small home.

Because of this, the council was instructed to carry out an assessment within six weeks. After doing so, an environmental health officer concluded in November that the house was a Category One Hazard – that is, it posed a “severe threat” to the health and safety of the occupants.

The report also noted that the outhouse was too small to convert into a suitable bedroom. Despite this, the Payne family still lives in the small house and has not been offered alternative accommodation.



The kids share one of two bedrooms available

David noted that the situation has caused severe problems for Danielle’s mental health to the point where she has had to sign off work while he also has had to stop working as a carer to look after his wife and children. According to David, the council informed him to bid for three-bedroom houses on the council’s housing register.

However, the family was assessed to need a five-bedroom property. He added that after checking the register weekly since moving into the house, he has never seen a four or five-bedroom house listed.

SurreyLive sent a detailed email to Waverley Borough Council regarding the Payne family’s case and asking for clarification on a number of points, including Mr Payne’s claim that they are still advising him to bid for three-bedroom properties on its register. They also asked what steps the council are taking to prioritise finding more suitable accommodation for the family.

A council spokesperson chose not to answer our questions individually, but provided a statement saying: “Waverley Borough Council takes its housing responsibilities very seriously. We work extremely hard to manage the high demand for affordable housing in our area and support people into accommodation that meets their needs. It is our policy not to comment on cases involving specific tenants.

“We allocate properties according to the tenant’s priority level and the amount of time they have been on our waiting list. Our stock of properties with four or more bedrooms is limited, and it can take a number of years for tenants to be allocated one of these. This is especially the case if the tenant wishes to remain within a tightly defined local area.”

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