South London mum with bad knees spends ten minutes climbing stairs to reach toilet

The family’s flat is on the Cotton Gardens estate in South London Credit: LDRS

A South London mum with osteoporosis in her knee spends ten minutes climbing the stairs to her bathroom because a council can't move her to a ground-floor flat due to high demand.

Afaf Ahmed’s children have to help her up the 14 steps separating the two floors of her home in Kennington if she wants to reach the toilet or bedroom. 

A doctor told Lambeth Council Mrs Ahmed, 48, was struggling with stairs in the two-bedroom property in June 2021.

But almost two years later, she, her husband Muhanad Elobaid and their three children are still stuck in the house. 

In February, council officials refused to move the family up the priority list for rehousing despite Ms Ahmed’s health problems.

They now face years more stuck on the council’s 38,000-person housing waiting list, before they can move. 

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about her plight, Ms Ahmed said: “Because of my pain, I can’t get up the stairs easily. I have pain in my heel, a problem with my right knee and a problem with my back. I also have a problem with my left foot.

“The shower is up the stairs and sometimes if I have pain I have to wait for one week or 10 days to use it. I need somewhere on the ground floor, but it’s not just the stairs. I also need a suitable shower because it’s difficult for me to stand up.”

Her husband, Mr Elobaid, 54, added: “It’s very difficult for her to get up the stairs and she sometimes falls down. The boys have to help out and it takes time, sometimes 10 minutes to go down. It’s really awkward if she wants to use the toilet.

“When the council assessed us we were hoping to be given a higher priority band but that didn’t happen. Because of her health problems, it’s not fair. We will be on the waiting list forever.”

A letter from Ms Ahmed’s local GP to the council dated June 28, 2021, informs officials that she struggles to climb her flat stairs because of back pain.

It reads: “This lady has low back pain that radiates to the back of her left thigh. Her council accommodation at present is a maisonette with 14 steps. 

“She finds it difficult to climb the stairs because of her back pain. […] The patient would like accommodation without internal stairs and also on the ground floor or accessible by lift.” 

The family’s flat on the Cotton Gardens estate has a lift which Ms Ahmed is able to take to reach the property. But she still has to take the stairs to get between the kitchen and living room downstairs and the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs.

Ms Ahmed’s health issues began in 2020 when she began suffering from pain in her right knee. The problem got worse when she fell up the stairs in the flat where the family have lived for over a decade and injured her ankle.

The family have been seeking to move into a bigger house since 2016 so that their two teenage boys, aged 18 and 16 and their daughter, nine, no longer have to share a room.

But Mr Elobaid said the need to move has become even more urgent since his wife injured herself.

He said: “The flat is overcrowded. We have outgrown it and our circumstances have changed in many ways. We have two boys and one girl and they have got one room. It’s really awkward for them and for us. My daughter is going through puberty soon and keeps asking for her own room.”

Ms Ahmed added: “One of the boys is at university and has a lot of things now. His brother is doing exams. They need more space for themselves.”

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: “We appreciate the difficulties faced by this household and have given them priority on our housing waiting list. This means they are able to bid on suitable properties that offer ground-floor access.

“However due to the extremely high demand for council homes, a symptom of the housing crisis affecting boroughs across London, securing a move of this kind can unfortunately take time.

“In Lambeth alone, more than 38,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing with thousands more in temporary accommodation.

“We have spoken to our tenant today to ensure they are aware of the home swap scheme which can work for some people, and we will continue to do all we are able to in supporting them.”

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