Freezing family left in the cold by Islington Council

A DISTRAUGHT mother had to be separated from her new-born baby for six days because her “freezing” council home was left without heating for more than two weeks.

Samantha Oklu, 25, of Westcliff House in Dove Road, off Essex Road, contracted swine flu just days after returning home from hospital on January 4 having given birth to new daughter Lacy that morning. She and her husband Mustafa Oklu, 31, found the boiler in their council home was not working, leaving them without heating or hot water during one of the coldest periods of the year.

It took engineers from MITIE - which is employed by Homes for Islington (HfI) - 16 days to fix the problem, during which time the couple’s other two children, three-year-old son Kie and two-year-old daughter Jasmin, also became ill with flu-like symptoms.

New-born Lacy was sent to stay with her grandmother across the road to protect her from the virus, leaving her mother unable to breast feed.

Ms Oklu said: “We phoned the day we got back on the Tuesday to report the heating had broken and an engineer came out on the Friday, even though you’re meant to get a response within six hours. He said he needed two parts and said someone would call to sort it out. Nobody called, we had to chase it up.

“They didn’t even give us the option of having temporary heaters. It was freezing during the night time.”

“The same engineer came out again and said ‘Oh, it’s a two-man job, we’ll have to come back.’ I tried to explain I’ve got three children but I felt I was pushed to the side.”

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Ms Oklu said it was “ridiculous” that it had taken so long to get the problem fixed.

“I think this is why I got ill. I’d just had a baby and was feeling a bit run-down anyway, then coming back with no heating or hot water. I sometimes had to shower in cold water.”

Mr Oklu, a painter and decorator, added: “We were upset because we weren’t offered any help. We were just left in the cold.”

It follows a series of complaints by residents about how their heating problems are dealt with by HfI contractors. Councillor Paula Belford (Lib Dem), who represents Canonbury ward, said she has already had four cases brought to her by residents complaining of slow responses and broken appointments and says they are being treated like “second-class citizens”.

Councillor Terry Stacy, the Lib Dem housing spokesman and former leader of the council, said: “This is a disgrace. Families with young children are being left shivering in the cold because of council bungling. The council admits it has no real idea of how bad the problem is because they are not monitoring the contracts.

“This is no way to treat people and I am demanding action to sort out people’s heating. The council also owes residents answers on why one of the council’s heating contractors isn’t coping just two months after starting work.”

An HfI spokesman said; “We’re sorry it took so long to fix the family’s heating, and have raised some of the issues coming out of this with our contractor MITIE. In particular we are concerned that they were not offered temporary heating whilst the job was being fixed, and the time it took to obtain a replacement gas valve. We have offered the family compensation as part of our apology.”

He added: “Due to the severe weather we had over December, we had delayed attendance to boiler breakdowns because MITIE operatives were unable to get to sites. This problem has been closely monitored at the highest levels in both organisations, and the situation has improved. MITIE’s performance of the statutory gas servicing part of the contract is exemplary with them achieving consistently over 99 per cent.”