Woman, 60, sofa surfing in three-year wait for Guildford council house

A 60-year-old woman with PTSD who has been sofa-surfing for three years says she’s at the ‘end of her tether’ waiting for a council house in Guildford. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, left her council house in 2021 after her ex-partner allegedly broke in to “muck about”, bruising her in the process. He was initially arrested then released without being charged.

For three nights, She said she tried to stay there but she was “scared all the time”. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) with a walking stick by her side, she explained she has back problems. Despite having a special orthopaedic mattress in her old house, she had to leave it behind.

Sofa surfing for three years, she is now waiting for the council to offer her new home as she says it is “triggering” returning to her old home. Her ex-partner, who she said was emotionally and physically abusive, still remains in the area.

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Always someone in front

The woman is one of 2,313 households on Guildford Borough Council ’s (GBC) housing register, each placed on a priority band based on their own circumstances. The average waiting time for a one-bedroom flat for Band C housing applicants aged under 60 is three years and nine months. “There’s always someone in front of me in the queue,” she said, frustrated that her C banding means she is not a higher priority for the council.

Currently on Band C, the most common band for people of ‘normal’ concern, the woman believes she should be higher on the list. The top band is for people in an ‘emergency’ and exceptional circumstances. Band B includes people with an ‘urgent need’ such as a medical, disability or welfare grounds.

“It kills me,” she told the LDRS, “the longer it goes on I can’t move forward”. The woman said she wants her “own place” and to have stability. Stuck in limbo- her old home is unsafe for her and unable to find a new one- she said her situation is “making me worse” as she is on antidepressants.

"No one is listening"

Letters from the woman’s GP have been sent to the council to advocate for her case. The woman was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) six months ago and a letter was sent to the council informing them of her change in circumstance.

The woman and her counsellor allege that GBC have ‘lost’ the PTSD diagnosis letter, which could affect her case. Guildford Council said they cannot comment on individual cases. Another doctor’s letter was sent in at the end of May 2024 and is waiting to be reviewed.

“They [council officers] can go home at night and close the door but I can’t,” the woman said. She added that she is “so angry no one is listening” to her, and the way she is being treated is “appalling”. She claimed the housing officers never call when they say they will and don’t keep her informed.

After weekly emails sent by the woman’s counsellor to GBC, the woman is still on the waiting list for a home. All the while her original council house is vacant except for her family photos and close possessions. Council tenants can apply online for a home swap, but they must not be in arrears on their account.

Waiting for a new home

Unable to return back to her property, the woman wants to move to a Guildford area where she has friends and can still go to the same GP. She said the GP “knows me and my story”, stressing that being part of the same medical practice was very important to her. “I’m not asking for much,” she added.

Applicants can choose where in Guildford borough they want to live when they apply for housing. However, housing availability in these preferred areas can vary. A spokesperson for GBC said: “The demand for housing in Guildford is very high. The length of time waiting can depend on how selective an applicant is over where in the borough they wish to live.”

In response to the claims a spokesperson for GBC added: “We’re unable to discuss individual circumstances. However, we remain committed to providing general information and support to all applicants.

“We reassess housing bands based on changes in applicants' circumstances, ensuring each case is treated fairly. Applicants should inform us of any changes to their situation for reassessment. Our case workers provide updates when there is one and we encourage those with questions or concerns to contact our housing advice team for support.”