Hard-up are denied Social Fund grant

TENANTS' PLIGHT

The Docklands bomb in February badly damaged Lantern House, a block of council flats on the Barkantine Estate, close to the blast at South Quay.

All 80 flats, including Miss Holdgate's, were evacuated on the Tuesday after the bombing, as John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, began a visit to Docklands to see the devastation. The Prince of Wales also visited the area.

Half of the windows at the front of the block and 70 per cent at the back were found to have been blown out. Structural engineers later served a "dangerous structure notice" on 17 flats in Lantern House, after internal walls were "fractured" after being shifted by the force.

Tower Hamlets council has replaced windows and window frames, although the block was uninsured because of the high premiums demanded by its proximity to the Docklands commercial district. However, the force of the blast also damaged personal property, with families reporting that curtains, bedspreads, furniture and floorings were damaged by flying glass.

Of the 17 rehoused, eight applied to the Social Fund, the government's fund for "easing exceptional pressures on a person and his family", for a grant to furbish their new houses. All were turned down and instead offered a loan to be repaid out of social security benefits. In one case, instalments required were pounds 30 per week out of social security benefits of pounds 150 per week, where a couple had three children to support.

Stephen Molyneaux, a Tower Hamlets councillor, said: "The families from Lantern House are really just the tip of an iceberg. There were over 550 families affected by the blast ...

"I know of many families who haven't applied to the Social Fund because they are already repaying loans or they know they can't afford the repayments."

`I am worrying about how I can survive'

CASE STUDIES

Shafiqui Rahman, 61, was among those evacuated after the blast and rehoused in east London. He and his wife, Khatun, have four children still living at home. Mr Rahman, who is retired, had lived at Lantern House for several years and had decorated every room in the flat.

He applied to the Social Fund for a grant of nearly pounds 5,000, which he estimated he had spent in refurbishment. His application was turned down but he was given a loan for pounds 959 for "high priority needs", which he is to pay off at pounds 28.50 per week out of his pounds 154.25 income support.

"I am worrying about how I can survive," he said. "The children are still very upset. My daughter had to stay off school today because she was very upset by a nightmare and we didn't know what to do with her."

A single mother with six children lost carpets, washing machine, Christmas presents, curtains, bookshelves and lampshades. Her children have had to change schools because of the distance from their old school.

"They wake up in the night and burst out crying," she said. She receives pounds 104 social security benefit and is paying pounds 13 per week for a Social Fund loan she took out when she moved to Lantern House. Told she would receive a loan rather than a grant for the bomb damage, she decided she could not afford further repayments. She lives in a bare flat without carpet, curtains or adequate furniture.

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