A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the Immigration Olympics
Explanation: Tenancy Relations Officers (TRO) work for local council’s providing advice on landlord tenant law and investigating allegations of harassment and Illegal Eviction and prosecuting landlords. All names are false but the stories are true.
So in comes Pedro, a native of Columbia with his wife and small child. They both work in hotels and share responsibilities of for the child swapping shifts to do so, he works nights and she in the day.
They heard, on the Columbian immigrant grapevine that a room was going in a house shared with other Columbian and Spanish speaking people. They met up with Yolande, also a Columbian and moved into the shared house.
Hello and goodbye
The family moved in, paying a deposit to the landlord. Pedro gets paid on the 22nd but the rent is due on the 19th. He told Yolande about this a few days after moving in and asked for the extra days but she was unhappy about this. She told him to stay there for another 2 weeks to recover his deposit and then to move out.
He went to a council office for advice and was told to wait for a possession order before he would have to leave. He told Yolande about this and when he returned from the shops at 10am he found his locks had been changed and his belongings in a pile on the pavement, apart from his laptop, the only thing of any value he owns.
Bizarrely she had also hired a security guard to stand over his things to stop people stealing them. He spoke to the guard who said he had been hired by his security firm and had no idea why he was there. He didn’t know who had booked him and Pedro didn’t think to take his details.
A few minutes later Yolande turns up accompanied by another man in a ski mask. Pedro understandably got nervous but before he left he took photos of his goods with his phone as a record. Yolande’s accomplice attacked him. Pedro showed me some nice pictures of a man looking like Kendo Nagasaki lunging at him.
I checked the land registry for the property and found the owner to be a Tony Sharpe of the same street. Housing benefit computer showed a couple of benefit payments registered at the address going to Yolande of a different but local address.
So I went to the property and I bumped into a couple of community wardens walking along. I got talking to them and they said they were regularly called to the house because of complaints of noise nuisance from neighbours. They also accompanied Immigration police a few months back in a raid that resulted in loads of illegal immigrants getting pulled. The house was cleared by the raid but is obviously now re-let.
I couldn’t raise anyone when I knocked but saw a pile of clothes and personal effects stuck in the wheelie bin. Pedro had got all of his stuff, apart from the laptop so I presume this was some other luckless soul.
I knocked on Tony Sharpe’s door but didn’t raise anyone. I then knocked up a few neighbours (Not That way!!!!!!!!!) and they all said they knew the house was full of illegal immigrants. They also said they knew Yolande and Tony and thought them to be partners. Pedro told me the man in the ski mask was Alfredo, Yolande’s husband, so things a bit confusing there.
I went to the address we had for Yolande and found a Spanish speaking person there who said she didn’t know any Yolande and seemed in a rush to close the door on me.
A raid is arranged
I returned to the office and got onto the Immigration Officer and a week later they had a raid arranged that I managed to tag along with.
A new experience for me, with the vehicles outside and a knock on the door I have never seen so many people leaping out of windows and over garden fences. Usually, when it is the Mormons or bailiffs you just hide under the table, but this was like an illegal immigrant Olympics.
A fair charge for services rendered … ?
Pedro just phoned me and said he had received a phone call from Yolande telling him that he can have his laptop back if he pays her £700, which includes charging him for hire of the security guard and a fee for her husband coming out with her, cheeky mare.
The Police are looking into Yolande, Tony and Alfredo, so there is little to be gained for me and Pedro’s case other than to help him recover his laptop, and maybe assist with a civil claim for Trespass to goods and unlawful eviction.
The multi cultural society at work
Now I live in a borough where 92 different languages are spoken. I have spent my life growing up and working in a multi cultural setting and am used to having friends and neighbours from all over the world. I’m engaged to a woman from Barbados myself. Around my little cluster of 6 office desks alone there are 2 Christians (1 Kenyan and 1 Bajan), a Buddhist (me), a Sikh, a Brummie (Yeah I know it isn’t a religion) and a Rastafarian.
We all get on in a very 21st century way, in that things are far less politically correct than they were 15 years ago. We all rib each other’s race and religion and laugh our way through the day, without taking offence. Basically, in London anyway, most races and religions get on these days.
What I notice, from my clients and the tales of participants on the Reach-In Project which aims to get refugees into housing work, (which I will write on in the new year), it is so often the case that people struggling to get a foothold in the UK get exploited by their own countrymen and women.
You can trust me, I’m a Nigerian like you …
One guy I know, Stephane, said he originally entered the UK as an Asylum seeker and the only work he could get was hand washing cars for another Nigerian for £2 an hour. Most of the other workers were illegal and had to do all manner of things for the boss on the basis that he would have them deported if they kicked up a fuss.
I have several clients who are in a similar position, where they come by a letting in a casual way, through recommendations from people in the same nationality community, only to find themselves used and abused. One very big fraud case that I am involved in (and will tell all about once it is over) involves, we suspect, people trafficking as well as property and housing benefit fraud.
Call me an old fashioned softie but what really saddens me when I come across these cases is that you would think, that many of them, probably having built their lives up through the same route, would be a bit more sympathetic to people who are in the same position that they were maybe once in a few years ago.
Merry Xmas to one and all………………………except for Yolande you *^$”^*(^% !!
About Ben Reeve-Lewis: Ben has worked in housing in one form or another since 1987. He has variously been a Homelessness caseworker, Head of Homelessness for a local authority, a TRO and Housing law trainer. He now divides his time between doing contract Tenancy Relations work and as a Freelance housing law training consultant for the CIH, Shelter, Sitra and many more. Read more about Ben here.