City won’t let carer move due to rent arrears since girl died

James Mackie has fallen behind paying his rent.
James Mackie has fallen behind paying his rent.
Have your say

A MAN has been threatened with court action over rent arrears after the tragic death of his disabled daughter left him unable to afford his council flat.

James Mackie lost his daughter Sharlene to leukaemia in the summer of last year after 22 years of caring for her full time at their Wester Hailes home.

And the 48-year-old today told the News how a wrangle over rent arrears combined with the grief of losing his 22-year-old child had forced him to seek treatment for depression.

Sharlene was already blind and suffering from cerebral palsy when she was diagnosed and doctors said if she had been able to communicate with them earlier about her symptoms, the outcome may have been different.

Following her death Mr Mackie lost the allowance he received as her full-time carer and found that even with a full-time job, it was impossible to keep up with rent for their specially adapted four-bedroom flat.

He said he has pleaded with housing officers to be transferred to a smaller property but because he has fallen £500 behind on the £450-a-month rent, the local authority will not consider him for an exchange which could allow him to gradually pay back what he owes.

Mr Mackie, who is a kitchen porter at a city hotel, said: “This has been going on for a year now, all I want is to move down to a one-bedroom.

“I’ve been saying I’d be able to pay back my arrears that way, but the housing officer told me unless I sort that out first, I can’t move.”

As it stands, once Mr Mackie has paid out nearly £600 on rent and council tax each month, he has little to survive on, let alone repay the council debts.

It is understood the council is keen to resolve the issue to the benefit of both parties, though it was unable to discuss his specific case.

Mr Mackie said the ongoing row was making it impossible to move on with his life.

“I lived there with her and cared for her for 22 years, there are a lot of memories there.

“Just after she died I started working again and I’ve since been treated for depression.

“The place is too big for me – some people’s mortgage payments are lower than what I pay. All of this, the court letters, the phone calls at home and at my work demanding money, is making getting on so much harder.”

Mr Mackie’s sister, Helen Maciver, has urged the council to make an exception for him, stating that he is “a genuine special case”.

“He has done brilliantly getting on with life after losing Sharlene,” she said.

“She was taken to the doctor, then straight to the hospital and told there and then that she had days, weeks to live. Then she was in St Columba’s Hospice and was only there for around two weeks.

“The last thing she did in the hospice was open her eyes and say: ‘Dad, I really love you,’ and then passed away.

“I feel this could be sorted out with a bit of common sense. He is hard-working and wants to pay the money back, but they’re making it impossible.”

A council spokesman said: “We offer considerable advice and assistance to tenants to help them pay rent and avoid getting into arrears. We also provide help to people who want to move to smaller, more affordable homes.”