Dad and 12-year-old son face the streets as council 'refuses to house them'

Niall (left) and his son Gary are facing sleeping rough come August 20

Niall (left) and his son Gary are facing sleeping rough come August 20. Currently, they are sleeping on a mattress and sofa in Niall's other son's flat - Credit: Sarah Burgess

A dad and his 12-year-old son forced to spend the last 18 months sofa-surfing say they will end up back on the streets if the council refuses to house them.

Niall McInerney, 53, was evicted from his Norwich council home after falling into arrears, and began sleeping rough in January 2017.

He was declared "intentionally homeless" in January 2018 — and was therefore deemed ineligible for council accommodation.

Accepting his fate, Mr McInerney did not request a review of the situation.

Niall McInerney

Niall, currently living with his other son and Gary at Sorrel House in Bowthorpe, has heart failure and severe mobility issues, and spends a lot of time in hospital. He said the constant moving around was making his health worse - and as a result may impact his ability to look after Gary - Credit: Sarah Burgess

But his circumstances changed when his then 10-year-old son Gary came to live with him in January 2020 — with Norwich City Council now refusing to recognise this until Mr McInerney obtains a court order proving the arrangement is permanent.

A council spokeswoman said all homelessness applications were subject to the same legislation, which is "followed for the hundreds of applicants that officers are working with at any time."

But Mr McInerney says he cannot afford to go to court: having sought advice from a solicitor, he was informed legal aid would not fully cover the costs.

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He says the fact he is named on Gary's birth certificate and is receiving child benefit and tax credits on his behalf should be enough.

"The whole thing is ruining Gary's schooling, and our mental health", he said.

An early help assessment report compiled by Norfolk County Council's children's' services for Gary last June, and seen by this newspaper, says the 12-year-old is happier and better off with his dad, who he is "fiercely loyal to".

messy floor

Niall, currently living with his other son at Sorrel House in Bowthorpe, said he was a grown man who knew how to sleep rough, but that the council was unfairly punishing his son Gary for wanting to live with him. Here, all their possessions lay piled up in the corner of the living room - Credit: Sarah Burgess

But a spokeswoman said all the county council can do is offer advice and a safety plan, and that decisions on housing belong to district councils.

Aside from a stint in a "disgusting" Ipswich hostel last summer, paid for by the city council while children's services assessed Gary's needs, the pair have spent 18 months sofa-surfing and sleeping in tents in friends' gardens.

Occasionally they've slept rough.

Niall and his son Gary

Niall (right) and his son Gary are facing sleeping rough come August 20. Currently, they are living in Niall's other son's living room - Credit: Sarah Burgess

Currently, they're on the floor of Niall's other son's Bowthorpe home — but will have to leave when his tenancy ends on August 20.

Mr McInerney said: "How they can do this to a child is beyond me. It's disgraceful.

"I'm a grown man, and I know I got myself into arrears. I can deal with all that.

"But Gary stood up for himself and made a tough decision to come live with me at 10 years old. And now he's getting punished for it."