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One in seven adults in England ‘now more worried about becoming homeless’

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·5-min read

One in seven (14%) adults in England are more worried about becoming homeless due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shelter has found.

More than a quarter (27%) of private renters in England have fears about losing their home, according to the charity.

Shelter said it expects the pressure on its frontline services to only grow.

An eviction ban for tenants was recently extended until at least May 31.

Around 49% of hospitality workers and 36% of retail workers are currently renting, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

And for home owners, a ban is in place on home repossessions except in exceptional circumstances until April 1 and the deadline to apply for a mortgage payment holiday falls on March 31.

Eleanor Wilson, a Shelter helpline adviser recruited in response to the pandemic, said: “People are frightened, they’re scared they might do the wrong thing, they don’t know their rights and they’re really worried they will lose their home.

“People can be quite distressed and don’t know where to turn. It can be emotional because you feel responsible for every caller.”

Shelter said private renters are nearly twice as likely to feel depressed and anxious about their housing situation, compared with the general public.

Nearly half (47%) of private renters say they are more depressed and anxious in light of the pandemic, compared with 26% of the general population.

Within the previous month, 24% of private renters said they had to borrow money to pay their rent, 18% had cut back on food or skipped meals to pay their rent, and 12% had cut back on heating to pay their rent, the survey of more than 3,600 people in late January and early February found.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said: “Thanks to the generous support of the public and our partners we have been able to answer double the number of calls, but we need to keep this up if we are going to weather the coming storm. To make sure we can always be on the other end of the line, we’re asking the public to support our appeal.”

In one case dealt with by the charity, a 36-year-old from London was working as a wedding planner and living in staff accommodation at the hotel where she worked. She was made redundant in November and lost her home. She received support and advice from Shelter and is now living in temporary accommodation.

She said: “When the pandemic hit, everything came crashing down. I lost my job as a wedding planner in November and my housing along with it, I was getting bounced from council to council and was starting to get really worried I was going to end up on the streets. A friend told me to call Shelter’s helpline to see if they could help.

“The helpline adviser I spoke to was so kind and they were able to link me up with a local case worker, called Lily, who really helped me. Lily called me all the time and told me about all her conversations with the council. Literally within a day, Lily had found somewhere for me to go. If it wasn’t for Shelter, I don’t know where I’d be now.”

Darren Baxter, housing policy and partnerships manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said: “We are now really concerned that the temporary eviction ban is the only dam holding back a flood of evictions, and that once it is removed in May we will see a wave of repossessions and a surge in homelessness.

“If it is to make good on its commitment to end homelessness, the Government must introduce a targeted package of support to address high rent arrears and re-link housing benefit levels to the real cost of renting.”

David Renard, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA) said: “We are keen to work with Government on a long-term plan to give renters the safeguards and protections they need to help them stay in their homes, in as many cases as possible.

“Going forward, there remains a need for a renewed focus on investing in homelessness prevention services.

“This should include ensuring councils have the resources to support households at risk of homelessness, including restoration of welfare funding to at least £250 million a year and a review of the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme. It is also vital councils are given the ability to invest in building much-needed social housing, through the reform of Right to Buy.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We’ve put households at the heart of our decision-making throughout the pandemic, with an unprecedented £352 billion package keeping millions in work and temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net by more than £1,000 a year for families most in need.

“Robust protections remain – with longer notice periods of six months and the banning of bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases until May 31 – councils can also provide support through the £180 million Discretionary Housing Scheme.”

Here are some tips from Shelter:

– Whatever the housing problem you face, take the first step towards getting help by visiting Shelter’s website. Shelter also has a coronavirus advice webpage where you can find out more about your housing rights during the pandemic.

– Respond to letters and phone calls. It is important to read everything your landlord or letting agent sends to you. Keep a record of every letter and phone call.

– If you are struggling to pay your rent speak to your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible, as they may be willing to agree a repayment plan, reduced rent or accept a late payment. Just be sure to get the details of any agreement in writing.

– Find out about extra support. You may be able to claim Universal Credit to help with your housing costs.