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Two million private renters in England made ill by housing worries, survey finds

By Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent

An estimated two million renters in England have been left feeling physically ill or sick over the past year due to housing worries, Shelter has found.

Some 24% said housing problems or worries such as affording the rent, poor conditions, or fears over losing a tenancy had made them feel this way in the past year, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 private renters for the charity.

When asked about the past year, nearly half (45%) of private renters – or 3.8 million adults if the figures were projected nationally – had experienced stress and anxiety as a direct result of their housing concerns.

Nearly a third (32%) – equating to 2.8 million adults – said this had kept them awake at night.

The same proportion, at 32%, said their housing situation had left them feeling hopeless.

Shelter, which is running a winter appeal for donations, is urging anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by their housing problems to get in touch for free and expert advice by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help.

Shelter emergency helpline manager Andrea Deakin said: “This time of year can be especially stressful and difficult for families who are struggling to cope with big rent bills, or things like cold and mouldy homes during the winter months.”

She continued: “People all over the country will be experiencing the same housing heartache, and there’s no shame in asking for help.

“Shelter’s services are open 365 days a year, and with the continued support of the public we will do all we can to be there for everyone who needs us.”

David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), said: “We accept that, unfortunately, some private sector tenants will feel unhappy and stressed as a result of their housing but the same will apply to many social housing tenants and owner occupiers.

“We accept also that not all landlords are perfect, but the objective assessment is that the overwhelming majority of private sector tenants are satisfied with their accommodation and enjoy a good relationship with their landlord.”

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at the charity Mind, said: “We want to see more research into the links between private renting and mental health, with a more joined-up approach to help tackle the issues that are affecting our mental health.”

David Renard, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said: “It is alarming that so many private renters are suffering from housing worries, and councils want to work with Government to help meet the challenges renters face.

“With more powers such as the freedom to establish landlord licensing schemes, councils would be better placed to support a good quality local private rented offer in their communities.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Tenants should have peace of mind they have a safe place to call home without fear of eviction.

“That’s why we are delivering radical change for tenants through our upcoming Renter’s Rights Bill which will raise standards and security for renters and help to drive out poor landlords.

“We’ve acted to make changes now – our landmark Tenants Fees Act is saving tenants cash by capping deposits and banning most letting fees, meaning they can spend on other priorities.”

Here are Ms Deakin’s tips on easing the pressure of housing problems:

1. Making a start can make all the difference. Whatever the housing pressure or problem you face, if it is affecting you or your family’s health, take the first step towards getting help by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help.

2. Respond to letters and phone calls: It is natural to want to keep your head down and hope your renting worries will go away but it is important to read everything your landlord or letting agent sends to you. Keep a record of every letter and phone call.

3. Find out your rights as a renter. If you are living in a rented home that is not up to scratch, find out what your landlord should be doing to address poor conditions and disrepair.

4. If you are falling behind on your rent or at risk of losing your home, get help straight away. Missing two rent payments could put you at risk of eviction. Talk to one of our expert advisers as soon as possible who can take you through your options and advise on next steps. For example, you may be able to claim housing benefit to help pay the rent.

5. Your mental health matters. You can get specialist help with mental health issues from charities such as Rethink Mental Illness and Mind, or by speaking to your local GP.