Council tenant: 'Cockroaches bit my baby's face'

  • Published
Media caption,

Annie developed an infection after being bitten on the eyelid by a cockroach

Residents living in the one remaining block of flats on a north-London estate undergoing redevelopment say they are being "left to rot", with pest infestations and security issues. They told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme how they had decided to do something about it.

"When my daughter finds the cockroaches, she tries to keep it quiet," Annie says. "She warns me there's a cockroach and says, 'Mummy, don't cry.'"

Annie first saw cockroaches in her flat two years ago. Since then, pest control officers have visited her 25 times and a number of the other residents on Barnet's West Hendon housing estate have also complained about the pests.

The cockroaches have bitten her 10-month-old son on his eyelid and her four-year-old daughter on the arm. Annie herself developed an infection after also being bitten on the eyelid.

"At first I didn't say anything because I was embarrassed," she says. "I didn't even know they could bite."

The 28-year-old lives with her partner and two children in a one-bedroom flat on Marsh Drive. The original estate of 680 homes was built in the 1960s, for low-income families.

These properties are being demolished and replaced with a mixture of social, affordable and mainly private flats costing up to £600,000. Most of this work has been completed and new residents have moved in.

Annie's block is the only one still standing and will remain for at least two and a half more years.

Image caption,
Annie's son had a cockroach bite on his eyelid

Meanwhile, Annie - an NHS administrator - cannot cook in her flat and uses only disposable cutlery, cups and plates, because she has seen cockroaches in her cupboards.

"I physically couldn't eat here. It made me feel sick, it made me feel dirty," she says. The family rely on takeaways and food cooked by friends and family.

Annie spends five hours a day cleaning and her GP says she is showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

A letter from the doctor to the council, seen by the programme, states they are "totally unacceptable living conditions".

It concludes: "I would very much hope that you would be able to rehouse them in the immediate future as this absolutely unsuitable housing is taking its toll on this mother and children's physical and mental health."

After her 10th appointment with pest control, Annie went to speak to the council.

She told officials: "We can't carry on living here. We're not living how people should be living and we're paying the full rent."

Barnet Council says it has started an extensive pest-baiting programme across the estate.

Image caption,
Drug addicts have been filmed in the stairway of the block

The residents say drug users come into the communal areas because the security doors no longer work - the control panel has been disconnected.

It's understood the council does not believe it is economical to repair the doors - as the estate is to be knocked down.

During filming for the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Annie gets a message from a neighbour who has been burgled that morning. They say they had seen heroin addicts on the stairway, watching them leave beforehand.

Another parent on the estate recently recorded footage of drug users semi-conscious after injecting as she left to take her children to school. One of their needles was still there when BBC News filmed on the estate.

Image caption,
Damp has caused black mould to grow in the children's bedroom

Residents also say the communal areas on every floor fill with water every time it rains. Annie's neighbour Simone, who sleeps in her living room, says this contributes to damp in her children's bedroom - which has caused black mould to grow on the walls.

Barnet Homes - which provides housing on the council's behalf - said urgent work to fix flooding in the flats was "due to start very shortly".

More than 100 of the residents - including Annie and Simone - are on non-secure tenancies.

These week-to-week agreements can be terminated with just four weeks' notice - some have been on them for more than 10 years.

When their flats are eventually demolished, the council says it will do its best to find these residents homes in the local area, but not on the regenerated estate.

Image caption,
Residents say communal areas flood every time it rains

"We have no rights. It's, 'Put up and shut up and be grateful for it, regardless of how you live,'" Simone says.

"They don't care. They're knocking this down, they don't want to put money into it. We are social cleansing at its best."

Earlier this year, Annie decided to do something about it.

"I'd had enough really," she says. "I felt like I wasn't be listened to by Barnet Council, I felt like they were telling me one thing and other people another.

"So I began knocking on every single person's door, took their numbers, put them in a WhatsApp group and now everyone chats. It's come together like a community now."

The non-secure tenants have now organised themselves into a residents' association.

"Now we're coming together as a group, we're now being listened to," Simone says, "because in our last meeting over 50 people turned up and they weren't expecting that."

In a statement, Barnet Homes told the programme it was "extremely sorry" for the standard of some homes on Marsh Drive.

"Barnet Homes is firmly committed to ensuring any concerns are dealt with quickly, whilst also recognising that these buildings will only continue to be used for a relatively short period of time," it added.

It said it was "addressing the problem with vermin and pest infestation, including the implementation of an extended baiting programme across the estate".

Follow the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter - and see more of our stories here.