A disabled woman and her RAF veteran partner are terrified they will become homeless after receiving a shock eviction notice.
They are among dozens of families who were informed last week, of a “heartless” decision to force them out of their rented homes in Wittering, Peterborough.
Kerry Williams, who suffers from MS and is cared for by her partner Ian, who served in the British Military for 25 years, said the whole community was “shellshocked”.
The couple moved to the village nine miles west of Peterborough two years ago, apparently on the promise they would “never get kicked out” of the homes, which are owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
“The estate agent was absolutely adamant. I said it’s the only reason we are going to sign [the contract]. Every single person was told the same,” said Kerry, 44.
Why are the Wittering families being evicted?
The properties are owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), which holds them on lease from Annington Homes, a property management company, and has sublet them to non-military personnel since 1996.
The current tenants must now leave as the MOD is returning the houses, along with dozens of others across the country, to Annington Homes.
The move comes ahead of a contract review between the MOD and Annington Homes scheduled for 2021.
An MOD spokesperson said: “As part of our responsibility to manage our estate effectively, any extra and vacant properties can be let on a short term basis, with tenants made aware of the notice period before they move in.”
Last Wednesday (September 9), the tenants of 61 homes in Wittering were told they must leave by March 12 next year after the MOD revealed it no longer needed the properties.
However, many families – all of whom were on six or 12-month contracts – were shocked to hear the news.
One woman, 42, moved in with her family last year and spent £3,000 on renovating her garden, only to be told two months later they were being evicted.
The care worker claimed she double-checked with estate agent Orchard & Shipman, which lets the homes, that it would be a long-term lease, before starting the renovations.
“I thought this would be the place I would grow old with my children,” said the mother-of-two, who did not want to be named.
Along with others, she questioned why her family weren’t informed of an upcoming contract review in 2021 by the MOD that could have compromised the longevity of the rental periods.
Claire Chester, director of residential lettings at Orchard & Shipman, said the company could never guarantee the length of a tenancy beyond the written agreement.
“While we may hope and sometimes expect that tenancies may continue beyond the original tenancy term, a landlord’s or tenant’s circumstances can change at any time and either party is free to end the tenancy in accordance with the terms of the agreement,” she explained.
Ms Chester said the company was not aware the MOD was considering handing back the Wittering properties and that it had no role in these negotiations.
She added that six to 12-month contracts, like the ones offered in Wittering, were considered “long-term” in the letting industry.
Another woman, who didn’t want to be named, said she now faced removing her daughter – who suffers severe dyslexia – out of the Wittering Primary School if they are forced to move.
Having escaped an abusive relationship before moving to the village, the 39-year-old has made dramatic home alterations to protect her and her three children – alterations she could now lose.
“I have alarms, markers and a restraining order all specific to this address and I’m not the only one,” she said.
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Like many others, she is searching for answers on what is planned for the houses when they return to Annington Homes – including whether they will be sold, left vacant, or rented again.
She said she was hoping Annington would “show some compassion” and let the families stay, otherwise they will be confronted with the prospect of facing unaffordable housing options elsewhere.
Kerry agreed: “We don’t know where on earth we’re going to go. It’s like being in a black hole.”
Annington Homes did not respond to CambridgeshireLive’s request for comment but the MOD said it would work with partners to identify alternative accommodation.
Councillor Steve Allen, cabinet member for housing at Peterborough City Council, said he had been trying to contact the MOD to establish whether anything could be done to resolve the issue rather than continuing with the evictions.
He also urged households to contact the council for support, saying: “We have been contacted by a number of households already asking for assistance and we will then identify suitable accommodation if they need it.
“If there are any households who have not yet made contact with us, we urge them to do so as soon as possible by calling 01733 864064.”
Tenancies extended on case by case basis
In an update this afternoon, the Ministry of Defence told other media:“We are aware of the issues facing tenants and where, in cases of hardship, extra time is required, we are willing to extend tenancies by up to a further six months through to September 2021 on a case by case basis.
“Tenants who have been served notice are being informed.”
Have you been affected by this issue? Feel free to get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org