Alicia Brown has been forced to move 37 miles away from her elder daughter’s school by Waltham Forest council

Amelia Gentleman The Guardian, Sunday 4 November

Alicia Brown’s family has been split by Waltham Forest council’s decision to rehouse her in Luton, about 37 miles from the primary school her daughter goes to. Brown was reluctant to remove her nine-year-old elder daughter from the school she had attended since nursery, so she persuaded a friend to look after the child in London, while she moved with her two-year-old to the new flat in Luton.

The older daughter has been made very distressed by the disruption. “She is not happy. She is worried and she cries a lot,” said Brown (not her real name).

When the family became homeless in February the council said they had nowhere for Brown to stay in the borough, an area in which she had lived for 11 years. They, instead, offered her the flat in Luton under the council’s emergency accommodation scheme.

“I said I can’t go to Luton. My daughter is in school here and I’m at college. I don’t know anyone in Luton.” The council said there were no properties available in the borough. “I said, I can’t leave here. They said: ‘You don’t have a choice. That’s it, that’s your only option’.” Initially she refused the housing in Luton, and took her daughters to sleep on the floor of a friend’s house. A few days later the council told her that if she did not accept the property in Luton, and chose to remain homeless her children could be removed by social services.

Her elder daughter was listening when she was given that advice. “She said ‘let’s take the house in Luton, don’t let them take us away’.”

She moved with her younger daughter into the flat on the seventh floor of the Luton block in February. It costs £25 for a return trip to London, so visiting her elder daughter is hard.

Recently she has mostly abandoned the Luton flat and stayed on a friend’s sofa nearer to her elder daughter to try to find somewhere closer to live permanently.

She hopes to rent a place privately in the borough, and claim housing benefit. She has borrowed money from friends to pay for a deposit.

She is not working at the moment, and says it would be much harder for her to find work in Luton, a place where she knows no one and where it would be more difficult to arrange childcare.

“In London, if I found a job tomorrow, I know someone could look after her for me,” she says, nodding at her two-year-old.

Since the move she has become very depressed and been prescribed anti-depressants by her doctor. She is angry at the catastrophic impact the move has had on her family.

“They said you can change her school and your college. I said: ‘For what? I don’t know anyone there’.

“Who is the best person to look after them [the children]? Their mum is. What children want is to come back every day from school, have supper with their mum, talk a bit, be looked after until bed time. Since February I haven’t seen [the eldest] properly.”

• Names have been changed