'It's killing me': Abuse victim moved into flat with asbestos and mould
- Credit: Submitted/ Danielle Booden
A domestic abuse victim fled to Norfolk to get away from a violent partner in London — but was put straight into a flat "riddled with asbestos and black mould".
Emily, whose real name we cannot reveal, was no longer safe in the capital after she was hospitalised by her ex-partner in 2016, and left with permanent damage to her wrist.
After "hiding" in London became impossible because of harassment from her ex, she applied to Breckland Council's housing register. She and her baby son were offered a south Norfolk bungalow run by Flagship Housing four months later.
It turns out that bungalow — billed as a "newly refurbished two-bed" — was actually a "hazard" to the family's health, with Flagship apologising for any inconvenience and distress caused.
Managing director of Flagship Services, Warren Gannaway, said all the necessary work had now been completed to ensure Emily's home was safe to live in.
Covid, he said, had caused "a significant backlog" in maintenance work and efforts were being made to keep up with demand.
But Emily said the problem began long before the pandemic.
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"As soon as I got here in 2016, I realised all the newly-painted walls were just covered in damp", she said. "I felt they had deceived me by saying it was "refurbished".
"Mould started to appear almost immediately, and a week after I moved in I was told by Flagship the place was riddled with asbestos and would need frequent inspections to make sure it didn't move.
"When you hear that sentence you feel so panicked, because my son was just a baby. It was a Catch-22. I didn't want to put him at risk but there was nowhere else to go."
Because of the extent of the mould, Emily had to "constantly use" mould spray to stop it spreading in her bathroom, her outhouse, son's room and her own room.
It has got so bad in her son's room that he now sleeps in hers.
"I used the spray so much in the bathroom that the ceiling started flaking and began releasing asbestos particles", she said.
"Flagship replaced the ceiling last year as the place was a hazard, but did half the job and only came back to re-plaster and paint it once I'd complained."
The mother-of-two also said Flagship took three years to tackle the mould in the outhouse connected to her kitchen, which at one point turned the entire room black.
She said: "At the beginning of this year they finally stain-blocked the outhouse and put a vent in, adding two more in June. Over winter it just made the whole house freezing because there's no heating in there."
Mr Gannaway said in 2016 a full asbestos survey was carried out on Emily's home, and that all additional repairs relating to damp and mould were complete by June 2021.
He said in May recommendations were made to Emily to help control the mould and damp, and further air bricks and vented tiles were installed last month.
But, he added that "as a single brick structure with no insulation or heating", it "would always be a challenge" to keep the outhouse mould-free.
Emily, who is now in her early 40s, said: "I'm so grateful to be here in Norfolk because my neighbours are lovely, and I'm with my family and away from my abuser who made my life hell.
"But I didn't realise my new home was going to slowly kill me. Whenever me and my son wake up we're so sniffly, and I'm increasingly breathless in the morning because of the damp and mould. I have complex PTSD and anxiety, and this is a big source of stress for me.
"It's only a matter of time before the other ceilings start cracking and releasing asbestos particles too."
Breckland councillor Alison Webb said: "We have not been made aware of any issues concerning the quality of this property.
"All homes on our register are legally required to be fit for habitation, and our officers will be making contact with the resident to see if we can assist her in any way."