A HOUSING association who allowed a terrified disabled woman to live with a rat infestation for months which has seen rodents gnaw their way through her kitchen floor, only took action after The Chronicle took up her pleas for help.
For months Stella Weston who has a spinal cord injury, has endured a living hell fearing that she would wake up with a rat on her head.
Pleas for help to her Housing Association Wandle went unanswered and six months later she was still without the use of her washing machine and dishwasher at her home of 22 years in Reservoir Close, Thornton Heath.
The destructive rodents first chewed their way through the cavity walls of her house, eating pipes and electrical wires making her kitchen a no go zone back in July. They burrowed their way in to her oven leaving her kitchen smelling like a sewer and stinking of rat urine.
Instead of tackling the source of the problem, which was identified as being caused by the drains, pest control repeatedly set traps returning only to remove the dead rodents and to poorly patch up holes caused by the vermin who had eaten their way up through the kitchen floor.
When The Chronicle contacted Wandle in November they had finally conducted a drain survey and found the drain to Stella’s house had collapsed which had caused the rat infestation but still they were refusing to replace white goods damaged by the vermin or recompense Stella, who can only get about through the use of a wheelchair. Her washing machine was only recently reconnected.
Pest control have put a rat blocker in the pipe but Stella is facing months of disruption with the house needing rewiring – because the rats have chewed through the electrics – and outside decking removed to make repairs to the collapsed drain. This work was meant to happen before Christmas but Stella hasn’t been given any updates.
She said: “Pest control are still visiting every two weeks but that’s all and they say the problem will continue until the drains are repaired because the rats have free access.
Last month she told The Chronicle:”Wandle have also rejected my request for compensation or reimbursement so I’ve had to escalate my complaint to the next stage. They did not address any of the points I raised and said all procedures had been followed.
“In addition, the rats have eaten the back of my dishwasher and I was told Wandle wouldn’t replace it because they didn’t put it in. Also they won’t do any decorating after the re-wiring. It’s such a fiasco I think I will have to get the Ombudsman involved and let them decide.
“They have taken responsibility for fixing the issue but no one is prepared to discuss why it took FOUR months and a call from you to get anyone to come and visit me nor any compensation or reimbursement. The repairs manager said he is only interested in rectifying the problem and everything else has to be discussed with ‘the office’. That’s why I’ve gone down the formal complaint route. It’s almost as if they are hoping I’ll give up but they are actually making themselves look even worse”
Stella’s son Marcus 26, who is autistic with a severe learning disability and is in supported living also stays for weekends at the house and when The Chronicle visited Stella at her house our reporter was shocked that a housing provider would have left a disabled women in this position for four months
Stella told us on our visit: “At night I’m so scared. My nightmare is that I’m going to wake up with a rat on my head. I lock the door of the kitchen but every morning I come downstairs I have to psych myself up to open the door – not knowing what I am going to find.
“On the last visit by pest control I started to cry because I sit here and I can hear them in the walls and the smell is horrendous.”
Wandle also took two months to reply to Stella’s occupational therapist who had also written her concerns about the ‘dangerous’ state of the kitchen. Stella says the housing association is in contravention of its own tenants charter.
Stella who is paralysed from the waist down caused by a tumour in her spinal cord in 2014 added: “I am disabled and have very limited mobility and therefore I am a vulnerable tenant and my kitchen is dangerous.
“I live on my own and sit here night after night hearing rats in the walls. On two occasions I have had to live with the smell of a dead rat under my fridge for a number of days until pest control could come and remove it. I have also experienced an infestation of bluebottles. All in an area where I prepare meals.”
She said: “I was having to use the laundrette to do my washing, not only was this very difficult physically but I am on limited income. I am on Universal Credit, so I am getting £80 less a month and this unexpected cost has had a serious effect on my finances, which in turn has impacted on my mental health.
“ I did ask for financial assistance with the ongoing costs but they said all they can do is send me some Argos and Sainsburys vouchers which I have to apply for. “
A spokeswoman for Wandle Housing confirmed that Ms Weston is currently progressing through its complaint process, adding: “We apologise that our response to the problems at Ms Weston’s home have previously fallen below our expectations.
“We are in touch with Ms Weston on a regular basis, and our team are carrying out works to make sure we are resolving issues raised.
“The issues have been complex, and we will be reviewing the case in full to learn where we could have done better, and put in place any process improvements identified.”