Broken Britain: War veteran forced to live in allotment shed

A veteran has been left feeling “suicidal” after being made homeless when his landlord sold the home he rented – and he was forced to sleep in a shed.

Tony Squirrell, 74, and his wife Joan, 69, have lived in the same town for 42 years in a privately rented property until five weeks ago.

The couple were served with a notice to leave when their landlord decided to sell the property and made a homeless application in April.

But Tony – who served in Singapore, Malaysia, Cyprus, Germany and Northern Ireland – claims he and his wife have been “bullied” by their local council and are now living apart.

The couple, from Bridgwater, Somerset, have been left depressed by the lack of help from Sedgemoor District Council.

Veteran Tony, who served with the Royal Transport Corps from 1965 to 1974, says Joan has suffered a breakdown, and he has been left “suicidal” after sleeping in his allotment shed since June 2.

He said: “I have been to war and seen some horrible things but nothing has taken its toll on me like this.

“The council has an obligation to look after their veterans and to vulnerable people and they haven’t looked after us.

“Veterans in our society are not treated well. In America they do such a lot for them but here we get nothing.”

He added: “I was in the Army so I’ve slept on worse, and I take things in my stride. But it’s my wife I’m worried about.”

veteran forced to sleep in shed

Joan, who moved in with the couple’s son, added: “I have lived in Bridgwater for 42 years. My home is in Bridgwater. My family is here and that is where I am staying.

“I am just wondering when this will be over.”

A council spokesman for Sedgemoor District Council has said the council has done all it can and offered them accommodation, which was refused by the couple.

But Tony added: “They tried to bully us into going into private accommodation, but it is so expensive in Bridgwater now that it’s something we can’t afford.”

Tony and Joan first approached Sedgemoor District Council in April after making a homeless application.

He said: “The council said they would put us in temporary accommodation while they looked for a home for us.

“Initially we were offered a place at Laburnham House [Hotel] which we were happy with.”

veteran forced to sleep in shed

But he says the council quickly changed their minds and within 24 hours had decided to place the couple at YMCA accommodation Wade House.

Tony said: “We went to have a look and when I looked through the window, I took one look at the beds and thought, ‘My wife isn’t sleeping on that!’

“We’re not criminals but they’re treating us worse – if we had gone out and robbed a bank we would have better beds and three meals a day.”

And Joan added: “It was disgusting. There were stains all over the mattresses and we would have had to share a bathroom with other people.”

The couple refused the accommodation and have since put in multiple bids on a number of properties around Sedgemoor – but have not yet been successful.

Joan added: “I have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) so struggle to climb the stairs.

“We have looked at a few bungalows which would suit our needs and put in bids and so far we haven’t been successful.”

Tony also wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May after he was declared homeless and received a reply, but said no further action has been taken by the government.

He said: “I wrote to the prime minister and I had a reply. I said we were quite angry with Sedgemoor and we were going round in circles.

“The letter came back from Downing Street on the 26th of March and they said it had been forwarded to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.”

But since then the couple have received no further communication.

“We’re only entitled to one bedroom – we have to accept that and that doesn’t bother me, but I just don’t know what they want,” Tony added.

veteran forced to sleep in shed

And he says he has recently been in touch with veterans charity Help 4 Homeless Veterans, who have offered the couple temporary accommodation.

“We are going in the right direction. The veterans charity have done more for us in the last 24 hours than the council has done in months,” said Tony.

Claire Faun, for Sedgemoor District Council, said the couple are listed as Gold Band, or ‘high priority’, on the housing register.

She said the council has offered to help the couple secure privately rented accommodation in a location of their own choice, which they have refused.

Cllr Faun said: “At present, the council does not have any empty one-bedroom bungalows and there is a severe shortage of council-owned bungalows.

“We have lost a lot of council-owned property under the Right to Buy scheme and, with funding regulations, we are unable to replace these homes.

“We have 1,700 active applications on the housing register with many being elderly and vulnerable. A total of 36, including Mr and Mrs Squirrell, are in the Gold Band.”

“Temporary accommodation has been made available to Mr and Mrs Squirrell, which they have refused, deciding instead to stay with family members on a temporary basis.

“We have also offered help with cash deposits and rent in advance for privately rented accommodation, which they have refused,” added the spokeswoman.

She said Mr and Mrs Squirrell are being shortlisted and have a good chance of being rehouse in council accommodation once a suitable property becomes available.

Cllr Faun added: “The council works hard to prevent homelessness whenever we can because we are only too aware of the stress it causes.

“The offer of short-term temporary accommodation remains open to Mr and Mrs Squirrell, as does the offer to help secure privately rented accommodation.

“We will continue to work with Mr and Mrs Squirrell to help them secure a solution to their housing needs.”

By Ben Gelblum, Sarah Lumley and Alice Simmons


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