Council tells mother to 'call back tomorrow' after fire ruins her flat

Council officials tell mother-of-two, 23, to ‘call back tomorrow’ after fire tears through her flat leaving her homeless with children aged one and three

  • Margaret O’Connell’s family was at a park when her Cambridge flat caught fire
  • She said she rang the council on Sunday and was told to ‘call back tomorrow’
  • The council offered Ms O’Connell a one-bedroom hotel room in Peterborough  

A mother said she and her two young children were left homeless after a fire tore through their flat – but was told by the council to ‘call back tomorrow’ because they don’t work Sundays.

Margaret O’Connell, 23, was out at a local park playing with her two children Alfie, three, and Maisie, one, before coming home to find the fire alarms blaring from her Cambridge flat.

The devastated mother rang the fire brigade straight away and called her sister for help as she watched her council-owned family home in Fortescue Road, Arbury, go up in smoke after an electrical fault on January 19.     

After the fire, Ms O’Connell applied to Cambridge City Council for temporary accommodation and were offered a one-bedroom hotel room in Peterborough.  

This offer was not made until the day after the fire because the office was not working on Sunday, Ms O’Connell said. 

Margaret O’Connell, 23, was out at a local park playing with her two children Alfie, three, and Maisie, one, when she returned home to find the fire alarms blaring from her Cambridge flat

She added: ‘When I rang on Sunday they said it’s weekend hours so we can’t help you and you’ll have to call back at 9am tomororow.

‘My house has just burnt down and I have no where to go with my two young kids and they are telling me to wait until Monday morning. How does that happen?’

‘We need to be rehoused urgently to give us all and especially Alfie some stability.’  

Alfie has autism and needs to stay in Cambridge to continue attending nursery every afternoon, where he gets one-to-one care.

Ms O’Connell said the council offer to move to the Peterborough hotel would not work for the family, who rely on services in Cambridge.      

The mother explained: ‘We need to be rehoused urgently to give us all and especially Alfie some stability as he is becoming very withdrawn.

The devastated mother rang the fire brigade straight away and called her sister for help as she watched her council-owned family home in Fortescue Road, Arbury, go up in smoke after an electrical fault on January 19 (pictured: Inside the flat after the fire)

Ms O’Connell, Alfie and Maisie are now all staying with Margaret’s sister, who lives nearby in Arbury, while they try to get back on their feet (pictured: Their devastated flat)

‘One hotel room would just not work. Me, my son and daughter cannot stay in a room together because he suffers from autism which means he is a danger to himself as well as her.

‘They expected me to stay up all night and watch over the kids even though my social worker said the hotel room was risk to my kids.

‘When they offered me the hotel they didn’t say how long I would be there and then because I refused that offer they now are withdrawing any help. It is now all down to me to find somewhere.’

Ms O’Connell, Alfie and Maisie are now all staying with Margaret’s sister, who lives nearby in Arbury, while they try to get back on their feet. 

Each night they all have to swap over who sleeps on the sofa because no one has the room to help the family of three.

The family were lucky to have been out when the fire started, but now all their belongings have been destroyed and they are unable to return home because of extensive smoke damage

Next week Maisie has to undergo surgery on her tonsils as after they swelled up so much she was rushed to hospital with breathing problems a few months ago.

She will have to stay in overnight at the hospital but the council have asked to meet Ms O’Connell the next day.

‘They have contacted me for another meeting about housing which is a good step but it’s the day after my daughter’s surgery. I have told them this and it looks like they are expecting me to leave her and go for a meeting with them.

‘They have given me this meeting next week but there is still no guarantee they can help us.’

The family were lucky to have been out when the fire started, but now all their belongings have been destroyed and they are unable to return home because of extensive smoke damage.

The items lost to the fire included both the children’s memory boxes from when they were younger and the all the toys they have grown up with.

The items lost to the fire included both the children’s memory boxes from when they were younger and the all the toys they have grown up with. 

Heartbroken about losing a home which meant so much to her, Ms O’Connell said: ‘I’ve literally lost everything I own.

‘We have lived in there for three years and now it is all gone. All the memories, everything just gone.

‘My son was born in that property, my daughter was being raised there and now their memory boxes are burnt away. All their clothes, toys, everything is just gone.’

A spokesman from Cambridge City Council said: ‘If a family becomes homeless in an emergency situation it is often necessary to rehouse them into bed and breakfast accommodation in the short term whilst we look to secure longer term temporary accommodation.

A spokesman from Cambridge City Council said: ‘If a family becomes homeless in an emergency situation it is often necessary to rehouse them into bed and breakfast accommodation in the short term..’

‘Occasionally it is also necessary to offer that placement outside of Cambridge city.

‘We recognise that this is not ideal, but are committed to move any family in this situation out of bed and breakfast accommodation and back into Cambridge at the earliest opportunity.

‘The council regularly reviews its supply of temporary accommodation to ensure that, in every case, we are able to make this commitment within six weeks of the initial placement.’

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