Elderly Castletown man says he will move out his damp house and live in his van due to cost of living
An elderly Castletown man with serious health issues says he is going to make himself homeless and live in his van due to the dampness of his house and the cost of heating it.
Charlie McPhee (69), who has emphysema and is undergoing cancer tests, says his house at Olrig Place in Castletown is not fit for purpose due to dampness, water leaking through his windows and the high costs of electricity to heat the place.
"I had a good house in Bower and I should never have left it," said Charlie who moved to Castletown to have better access to the local shops.
Charlie has put a bid in with Highland Council for his former house at Bower which is now lying empty but he fears the local authority may be prejudiced against him due to his traveller background. He claims that a council officer once asked him for information when filling out a form and asked him "are you a tinkler, a traveller, a gypsy or a hobo?".
"The council will not do nothing because you're a McPhee. When you call a housing officer they don't want to speak to you. I've put a bid in for the Bower house but if I don't get it I'll be spending Christmas at the bottom of the hill at Helmsdale."
Charlie likes the peace and quiet of the village of Helmsdale which lies 50 miles south of Castletown. He says the current lease for his house is up on December 23 and he will not renew it, preferring to live in his van at Helmsdale despite his poor health and having to live through a cold north Highland winter.
When he first moved to Castletown he claims that the council moved him near "druggies who were yelping through the night" and he demanded he was moved away from the volatile environment. Highland Council then moved him to retirement housing at Olrig Place which has non-resident management staff along with a Careline alarm service.
However, Charlie pointed out how water is coming in through the windows of his bedroom and sitting room through broken rubber seals. He claims that the dampness has affected much of his clothing and other fabrics which he says he will throw away. There is damp mould throughout his property that he believes is worsening his breathing issues and he is going to Raigmore Hospital to check to see if the cancer in his mouth has progressed. He also claims to have been hit with huge bills for his electricity and is struggling to pay a recent one that came to over £1000.
"The doctor said he thinks the cancer could spread and I'm getting it checked. I've got emphysema in the lungs and there is blue mould in this house which makes it worse. The doctor said carry an inhaler with you at all times. I've also got arthritis right through me. Three weeks ago I was very ill and my urine was completely dark brown. I felt like a tractor had run over me."
Charlie says he has has spoken to the council and was advised to heat his home more often but he says he cannot afford the high bills. "I even go to my bed to save on the heating," he said.
He also claims he spoke to a housing officer and said he was moving into his van but claims that he was told "because you're making yourself homeless we don't have to give you nowhere".
Charlie pointed out a lifetime's worth of keepsakes and mementoes in his house that he says will end up in a skip when he moves into his van. There are photographs of his parents on the wall and even a handcrafted gypsy caravan that he inherited but he says he has no room for any of it. "I'm even throwing out that TV that cost a thousand pounds," he says while pointing out a curved screen HD television.
Highland Council was contacted and told about the pensioner's plight but said it "can not comment on individual circumstances".
Its spokesperson stated that "council tenants can report repairs via the online form or by telephone". The council provided a website link with its Housing Repairs Policy outlining its legal obligations: www.highland.gov.uk/info/925/council_housing/229/council_house_repairs
Charlie says he will only take the bare necessities as he prepares to spend the winter in the back of his van at a site in Helmsdale.
"The bed and everything else can go to the recycling centre as it's no use to me. I've slept in the van before. You can just switch the heating on when you get cold."