The text message told Aayan Mirza* that he had an hour to pack his family’s possessions and leave. They had been living in temporary accommodation funded by his insurer while it repaired the damage caused by a leak. But in the middle of a working day, the IT technician and his young family were forced by Direct Line to move to a hotel six miles from the children’s school and nursery.
A month later, it happened again. When repairs overran, they were given just two hours to move to another hotel, in a different town, this one nine miles from their home. Mirza’s wife, who doesn’t drive, had to make eight taxi rides a day for three weeks to ferry their son to school and back and their four-year-old daughter to afternoon nursery. She also had to give up her job indefinitely to care for their daughter, who has special needs and was unable to cope with the moves.
After being forced out of their hotel for the second time, the family had to spend five hours camped outside their new accommodation with their luggage before they were able to check in. “I am recovering from major surgery, my wife has recently lost her mother, and my daughter needs significant support,” he told the Observer. “I may not be able to cope with such mental stress and have been getting suicidal thoughts.”
The nightmare began last September, when a water leak damaged several rooms in the family’s Glasgow home. Mirza’s buildings and contents insurer, Direct Line, appointed a loss adjustor, which passed the case on to a claims management firm. An agent was deployed by the insurer to arrange temporary accommodation while the work, contracted out to three building and supply firms, was completed.
Mirza claims that he was left to liaise between the companies himself and that none communicated effectively with the others. “I am caught in the web where no one takes ownership and I am pushed from pillar to post coordinating with different teams,” he says.
“The brief the building firm has given the workers differs from the one it agreed with me, and the brief approved by the claims management firm differs from the scope agreed by the loss adjustor.”
The family had been living at various temporary addresses for six months when the property agent called Mirza at work and gave him 40 minutes to move out, as the contract had expired. After pleading for more time, as his children were at school, he was texted confirmation that the contract had been extended for a further fortnight. An hour later, however, another message arrived ordering him to leave within 60 minutes.
He says that every two weeks the agent warned that the lease on the temporary accommodation was about to expire, but his calls about it to the loss adjustor went straight to voicemail. Each time, the lease has either been renewed at the 11th hour, or they have been found somewhere to move to. As he says: “I live in fear about where I will take my family if we are thrown out with no notice.”
Over an eight-month period from October to June, the family was moved between four different addresses for periods of between two and 29 days.
When the Observer first intervened, Direct Line explained that the drying out process and asbestos checks had contributed to the delays, and apologised for the “unreasonable” notice given to the family to vacate their temporary accommodation.
It agreed that the works would be completed within three weeks, and it paid for the taxis to take the children to and from their school and nursery.
However, the day before the builders were due to move out, the bathroom suite was still stacked in a bedroom, mouldy floorboards had yet to be replaced, the kitchen was unsafe and the living room had not been redecorated.
Mirza says he repeatedly asked for the temporary accommodation to be extended because of anticipated delays, but was nonetheless given the two-hour notice to check out and transfer to a hotel in East Kilbride when the agreed completion date was pushed back.
The family moved back into their home after a further 12-day delay, nine months after the leak, only for the bathroom door to fall off its hinges, narrowly missing Mirza’s four-year-old. The shower leaked into one of the bedrooms, and untouched mouldy floorboards triggered an allergic reaction. They are currently sleeping on the floor in doorless bedrooms as their beds were damaged in transit from storage.
Direct Line says: “We can only apologise for the additional delays to the works on the home, issues with some of the workmanship, and the failure in our suppliers to update one another, which once more left our customer in a situation where he was asked to move out of his alternative accommodation at short notice. The customer and his family should have rightly expected a better level of service and unfortunately, on this occasion, we did not meet it.”
It has offered the family £600 compensation for the service shortfalls. Two more complaints about allegedly substandard workmanship are with the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Mirza says the stress and uncertainty of the past nine months has strained family relations, reduced their income and affected his work and health. “I’ve had to take four days of unpaid leave to attend the property and move accommodation in the middle of the day, pay a fortune for taxis, and my wife lost her earnings when she had to give up her job.
“My working days have been disrupted as I’ve had to deal with messages and collate evidence of missed briefs and poor workmanship.
“My daughter and I are on medication because of my mould allergy and with so much to put right, the nightmare is still not over.
Aayan Mirza and his family were moved to four different places in six different moves:
First they stayed in a Premier Inn for 29 days from October to November last year.
Then they in another location for five months up to April.
They were then moved to a third location for two weeks from April to mid-May.
After that, they were moved to the same Premier Inn they first stayed in, this time for 27 days up to mid June.
They were then moved to a separate Premier Inn, this time for two days.
Then back to the initial Premier Inn for four days.
*Names have been changed