Dagenham Cllr Smith denies wrongdoing over council flat

Council leader Liam Smith has retaliated against intense scrutiny over his living arrangements, strongly denying claims he has committed any wrongdoing.

Cllr Smith faced heavy criticism over the weekend amid claims that he leapfrogged hundreds of people on the borough’s housing waiting list to secure a council home within weeks of separating from his wife.

But speaking to the Post this week, Cllr Smith – a former cabinet member for housing – insisted he is in the same situation as everyone else, and dismissed the claims as “politically motivated”.

He said: “I haven’t been given a home, I’m in non-secure accommodation. I’m bidding for my own place but it could take a long time. I’m technically homeless.

“I am an equal with those people on the waiting list, I know how exactly how hard it is.”

Cllr Smith, 39, told how he moved out of his family home of eight years – a council house in Broad Street, Dagenham – when he separated from his wife in March last year.

After eight or nine weeks sleeping at friends’ houses, he moved into a bed and breakfast.

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In May, he was granted a non-secure two-bedroom flat in Preston House, Dagenham, for him and his 14-year-old son, which is temporary accommodation and does not carry with it full rights of a secure tenancy. He pays �108 a week in rent.

He categorically denies being given a home within six weeks, as claimed, and in the meantime he has joined the same bidding system as hundreds of others on the waiting list.

In documentation seen by the Post, Cllr Smith, who became leader in 2009, was placed up to 115th on the list in his bidding requests for a particular property in that week. Asked why he does not own a house or opt for private rental, he said: “I earn �45,000 a year, but I have a family of seven kids to support.

“I’m one of the lowest paid council leaders in London, if not the lowest, and unlike some others, I gave up my job to do this properly full time.

“I never bought my council house because I don’t believe in right to buy. And getting a mortgage is a lot harder than you think in this job.

“I was elected and it’s not guaranteed. You can lose your seat and be out on your ear straight away.”

He dismissed the criticism from some local councillors – former and active – as “politically motivated” but empathised with members of the public who have voiced strong concern.

“I understand people saying they are concerned, but I am genuinely in the same boat as them.

“It would be totally wrong for me to jump the queue. I’m honest and have always been one of the people I represent.”