In March this year, 87 year old MAY APPLETON was forcibly evicted from her home of 62 years. She was placed in a local Travelodge for an indefinite period and told she would be found ‘alternative accommodation. Was this a problem caused by a wayward private landlord? No! 87 year old May Appleton was forcibly evicted by WEAVER VALE Housing Trust in Northwich. An organisation you may think was capable of ensuring the safety and comfort of an elderly lady.
Her ‘crime’? Well, along with her three sons, she collects memorabilia. Their collections had got out of hand and were, in fact, taking over the whole house. May had collected since her teens. She had collections of movie memorabilia, photos with autographs and, her favourite, dolls. 62 years of collecting can make for an overwhelming collection! If you add to this her sons’ collections, you can imagine that space was limited in their small house.
The landlord, Weaver Vale Housing Trust, tried to convince May and her close family to limit their collections. Even though May had rented the property for 62 years, they had rules that they expected to be followed. They did not allow the amount of what they termed as ‘clutter’ in one of their properties. They said it was a fire hazard. It seems now that one of the neighbours was not happy about it either despite the fact that statistics prove that it was highly unlikely that her property would be damaged or her safety compromised before the fire brigade arrived in the event of a fire in May’s house. To be fair, many tenants will have fire hazards in their properties that go unnoticed.
What is the most unnerving though, is when you discover that May Appleton asked to buy this property years ago after a small win on the lottery. She filled in the forms, which were ‘lost’ by WVHT and she continued to actively pursue her ‘right to buy’. According to the government website, a housing association tenant has a right to buy their house if they have been a tenant for more than three years, it is their main home and the property is self-contained. However, if you are under threat of eviction, are bankrupt or have large debts, you lose the right to buy. May Appleton was methodical in paying her rent and bills. She, nor any of her sons, had acquired debts. In paying her rent for 62 years without fail she had, in fact, paid the value of the house time and time again.
It doesn’t take a cynical person to question the timing of WVHT concerning what May, herself, termed as ‘hounding’ her to get rid of her collection. It coincided with when she made her application to buy the house. Now, there have been many opportunities for the public to comment on this case. Social media and newspapers with access to public comment have made this possible. Many of the comments showed just how appalled the public were, in general. The one or two detractions from this said that ‘hoarding’ was dangerous and the housing trust acted in the interests of May’s safety and the safety of her sons. Yet, with weeks of May Appleton being forcibly removed from her home of 62 years, screaming as all her precious collection was thrown on the street, many items broken – she died.
May’s death in the Travelodge was devastating to her sons. One has a severe nervous problem, one has physical problems and the eldest is struggling to look after them. She was what kept them all going. She was an active participant, even known as a ‘character’ in her local church. She cared for the boys as she had done for their whole lives. In fact, trying to save money, WVHT only paid for two double rooms at the Travelodge so one of her sons shared her room. He is the most affected by her death and is presently receiving extensive psychiatric treatment which the uncertainty of whether he is going to be forcibly evicted again is definitely not helping.
All the sons are struggling with bereavement and uncertainty. They have lived in that house since they were born and are now threatened with homelessness. WVHT have literally torn this family from their home and left them in pieces.
Apart from the fact that May Appleton had actively requested to purchase her home under the right-to-buy scheme, she had never been in debt and always paid her rent on time. Some may say she had a psychiatric condition.
‘A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. The items can be of little or no monetary value and usually result in unmanageable amounts of clutter.’
However, many of May’s items were valuable. She had an eye for doll collecting, in particular, and had many rare items. More importantly, they were valuable to her. Even if May’s collecting was a problem indicating a psychiatric illness, is forcible eviction and throwing some of her precious items in the street a humane way to deal with this problem? Her son Brian said:
‘They got a sledgehammer to the door and smashed the window at the top – the glass went all over Mark and cut his hand and went halfway up the stairs.
“All this time mum was stood in the living room shouting and screaming ‘leave my house alone, leave my things alone’.
Hardly the actions of a ‘caring’ housing trust! Weaver Vale Housing Trust said that the eviction was a last resort after trying to negotiate with a recalcitrant May and her sons over three years. Yet, in any media statement, they have never mentioned the fact that May applied to buy the property. It seems that this housing trust has a unique way of following through on its motto:
‘Our fundamental aim is to help our customers improve the quality of their lives.’
During legal proceedings which took place just before May’s death, the judge stated that the eviction was illegal. Most people would also say it was immoral. He ruled that the family return to their home. May never made it. She was taken to hospital after becoming ill in the Travelodge and intimating to Brian that she had simply had enough and couldn’t fight any more. She died in hospital leaving her sons bewildered and devastated.
Weaver Vale then tried to convince the sons to move to temporary accommodation. After legal wrangles they went home to a house they had left weeks before. At some stage after the court ruling they had been told the house was cleared and having extensive repairs. What confronted them was May’s precious collection along with their own all dumped back in the living room. Apparently, it had never left the house. No repairs had been done.
Within days, they were served with an eviction order. Now May was dead, WVHT wanted to rid themselves of the problem of her sons. It seems obvious, that the house was to be renovated and offered as a home to a prospective client. The sons were offered temporary accommodation only. The option of alternative permanent accommodation was not even discussed. However, for these traumatised men with individual special needs, the thought of being torn away from their home once again, on top of their mother’s bereavement was almost too much. One was rushed to hospital with various physical problems affecting his breathing, the youngest is under psychiatric care. Brian, the eldest said:
‘This all killed my mother, we are going to be next!’
So, since March this year, not even including the three years of ‘hounding’ of this family, they have lived in fear and under stress. Their solicitor is fighting to keep them in their home. Their mother’s estate which is only just due to be released would enable them to buy the only home they have known all their lives, yet WVHT STILL continue to try to evict them. They obviously do not want to sell a property at a reduced rate that they can still rent out to someone else. They have behaved more like a corporate business landlord than any kind of charitable ‘Trust’!
The sons’ only real hope is that a wider public get to know of their plight. This is, by no means, a ‘one-off’ case and it is imperative that we make sure that it is never seen as the ‘norm’! Housing trust tenancies replaced council tenancies and should be made to operate under similar, if not more charitable, rules.
When May was still alive I started a petition to try to force WVHT to give her back her home. Within a few hours it had hundreds o f signatures. When she died, it had reached over 22,000. People were appalled by what had happened to this beautiful elderly lady.
38 degrees wouldn’t allow me to change the petition to the names of her sons, despite the fact that they are now just as vulnerable. So I started a new petition, which is already attracting attention, standing at 1,418 signatures
I started a fighting fund as soon as we knew that May’s sons were going to need financial help to try and fight for their own home. Probate on May’s will is only just due now and they will need every penny to pay for the house at the reduced rate they are entitled to pay.
May Appleton was a collector for over 60 years. She looked after her husband until he died and then her three sons. At May’s funeral the vicar said that she wanted them to find suitable partners and be happy. They all smiled and blushed a little at this. They only have each other. She fought to the end of her life to keep a roof over their heads. It’s not a palace, it desperately needs modernising and the sons are already slowly de-cluttering and getting rid of what they can bear to part with. It’s not a palace BUT it is their home.