A woman has claimed she is forced to live in one room of her London flat due to mice and rats that that have invaded, chewing through clothes and furniture while leaving vast volumes of droppings – and she has even had to remove dead rodents.
Louise Plunkett, 34, has slept on her sofa for the past nine months with important documents by her side and clothes in a black bin bag to keep them away from the rodents.
She washes in a sink as her bath as hundreds of fresh rodent droppings and urine each morning and it is a similar story for her kitchen.
The volume of droppings inside the property is so out of control, Louise has to store her food on high shelves away from kitchen cupboards, at her home in Gladstone House, Merton.
But living with rodents has become normal for Louise, who says her “inhumane” living conditions and ongoing battle with her housing association, Clarion Housing, is slowly taking away everything she owns.
Louise, a care worker, is one of 350,000 people in the UK living in a home administered by Clarion, which has 125,000 properties across more than 170 local authorities.
Clarion has said that it has been in weekly communication with Louise since February.
A spokesperson said: “We have apologised to the resident and paid compensation in recognition of our service falling short in the past.”
Louise says her fond memories of her childhood in Gladstone House have now been destroyed.
Gladstone House is part of the well known red flats in Merton – but they are falling into appalling disrepair, and rat bait boxes line the whole estate.
Louise moved into the £575-a-month property with her mother and grandmother when she was eight years old. Her mother came to Britain from Jamaica in the 1970s to work here as a nurse for the NHS.
Shortly after her grandmother died in 2009, Louise says Merton Council sold the property off to Clarion, although the housing company said it acquired the property only in 2016.
Louise claims this is when she started to experience problems with the property.
Three days into her student fresher’s week in 2013, Louise received a frantic phone call from her mother, who said there was no running water at home.
“She called me and said there’s no water, I said ‘what do you mean there’s no water?’. She said ‘you don’t understand, there’s no water coming from the taps, I can’t even flush the toilet’,” Louise said.
Louise rushed back from Wolverhampton back to London – although after multiple calls made by the family, no one from Clarion allegedly turned up to fix the water problem.
“Clarion said they’d send someone round. But we were then told by Clarion ‘we arrived and you didn’t want any service’, my mum said ‘that’s a lie I was here’,” said Louise.
“This kind of behaviour carried on throughout the years. It just goes round in circles constantly.”
As a key worker in a high-pressure job caring for disabled people with severe learning difficulties, Louise is often away from her property working long shifts.
In the past, Louise claims she lost jobs and her mother missed hospital appointments because they were waiting for Clarion to turn up to fix problems.
From 2013 to 2020, Louise and her mother had no water for periods of months on end. According to Louise’s record, the longest period she spent without water was for six months in 2019.
The water problems started as Louise’s mothers health began to deteriorate severely – she died in 2016 and there was no running water in the lead up to her death.
“I no longer had a team, it was just me left to fight,” Louise said.
On one occasion, Louise woke up horrified to discover a steady drip of rainwater had made its way through the ceiling and was infiltrating the electrics and lightbulb above her, which began to make a terrifying bubbling noise.
After living without water over Christmas, Clarion came to fix the problem in 2020.
She said: “I was just told it was just low water pressure, but it was in fact a big problem. I had no running water. There were no answers and I never received an apology.”
Louise claims the poor communication from Clarion continues as she receives email responses up to four weeks later – or nothing at all.
Only when Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Morden and Mitcham intervened, did Louise receive a response within 24 hours.
Louise was informed back in February that plans to move her from the property could begin.
Louise claims Clarion said surveyors would come and take photos of her property at the time, but nothing has happened since.
While two peer reviews of Louise’s property only assessed the last six months of Louise’s complaints, even though she has been complaining for eight years.
The series of problems Louise has faced with Clarion has taken a serious toll on her mental health.
“To go to work and not be clean. To not have water to drink. To have to go through mental health problems because the housing has made my health so poor – I don’t think they (Clarion) realise what they’ve done to me. I just have no life. This is not a life that I can live,” she said.
“I’ve been sleeping on a sofa for nine months, in my own home. My gran and mum passed away. They’ve taken away my human rights and dehumanised me.
“This is all I have left.”
The stress caused by her living situation has made Louise feel she “has not grieved properly” for her mother and grandmother.
Louise is now taking legal action against Clarion, and an investigation is ongoing. She would like to be placed in a new property, as she has been promised in the past.
She is one of 10,000 Clarion residents in the London borough of Merton.
A spokesperson said: “We have apologised to the resident and paid compensation in recognition of our service falling short in the past.
“Since February 2021 we have been in weekly communication with the resident and are making progress on resolving the issues at the home.”