‘I begged and pleaded’ – but man told to return to flat of squalor

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A MAN has been left homeless after a housing association deemed his smoke-filled, filthy, and soaking flat habitable following a house fire in which he “almost died”.

George Martin, whose first-floor flat in Allars Crescent was in flames for almost an hour-and-a-half on Monday night, was treated at the scene with an oxygen mask for smoke inhalation by paramedics.

He was told by medical experts that another 10-15 minutes of remaining without assistance could have resulted in fatal consequences.

Now, 37-year-old Mr Martin (pictured), who receives Employment Support Allowance, has been left without light, cooking facilities, a change of clothes, and a hygenic place to sleep.

But, inspectors from landlords Scottish Borders Housing Association found his flat to be in a “habitable” condition – despite it being without electricity after fuses were removed on safety grounds.

A spokesperson for SBHA said the property was rendered habitable because the fire was “localised” to the kitchen area.

However, when the Hawick News paid a visit to the flat – where the fire brigade attended at 10.30pm on Monday and extinguished the blaze shortly before midnight – the scent

of smoke was evident from the ground floor entrance to the building and

was overwhelming inside Mr Martin’s residence.

Soot covered the walls and ceilings, a window remained cracked after shatter-ing under the heat of the fire, the sink area and washing machine was partially melted, and a sofa was still soaked from having been sprayed by firefighters.

“I was shocked and amazed when the inspectors told me it was habitable,” said Mr Martin. “I’m looking around and I know it’s uninhabitable.

“There’s no heating or electricity or cooking facilities, and after my smoke inhalation during the fire I would still be breathing in smoke there now.”

On its website, SBHA lists five strategic objectives, which include promises of being “customer-focussed” and “maintaining good quality homes”.

Mr Martin, a former care assistant who has lived at the flat for two-and-a-half years, says the association showed little sympathy for his living conditions after the fire, which he says was caused by a forgotten chip pan.

“I begged and pleaded for a homeless place for a week or two so I can get money together to clean the best I can and get some paint,” said Mr Martin, who receives little more than £70 per week in living expenses and receives counselling for alcohol dependency.

“I’ve got quite a basic house and no money for luxuries. I know they can help me out, but they’re not doing it because of this report that says it’s habitable. If it’s not sorted out within the next few days, I’ll hand in my keys and say, ‘take it back’. Then, I’d be homeless.

“The flat’s not much, but it’s mine. If I was homeless, I’d be devastated. I’m getting help for my problems in my life, but this is huge.”

Mr Martin is unable to reside at the homes of his nearby friends because rules on SBHA accommodation prevent additional tenants taking up residence.

Responding to an enquiry by the Hawick News, an SBHA spokesperson said: “The housing officer advised that the decision would be reviewed. SBHA take incidences of this nature very seriously and understand the impact a house fire has on a tenant’s life. We will be assisting Mr Martin with the works to enable him to return to his home.”