Helpline inundated by thousands 'terrified of losing their homes'

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·4 min read
Krystalrose, 27, and her young daughter were evicted from their privately rented one-bed flat in London (Shelter)
Krystalrose, 27, and her young daughter were evicted from their privately rented one-bed flat in London (Shelter)

A helpline that provides support to people at risk of losing their homes is being "inundated" with calls, homelessness charity Shelter has warned.

The organisation said that thousands of renters could be "tipped in homelessness" amid a cost of living crisis and cuts to Universal Credit.

It comes after predictions from housing charity Crisis that the end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift puts 100,000 people at risk of eviction.

Separate figures published this week by the government this week, covering April to May 2021, show that 4% of private renters and 4% of social renters said they risked being evicted in the next six months.

The figures show that renters have been driven into arrears during the COVID pandemic, with 7% of private renters and 13% of social renters behind on their bills.

Watch: How cost of living 'nightmare' is pushing three families to the brink

Commenting on the government data, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “These figures are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

"With soaring energy bills, the cut to Universal Credit and evictions picking up, hard-up renters are under fire from every side."

The charity, which works to support people who are homeless or live in inadequate living conditions, said they have seen a steep uptick in people contacting them for help and support.

Neate told Yahoo News UK: "Our helpline is already inundated with calls from people who are terrified of losing their homes this winter, and it’s taking a toll on their mental health.

“The new housing secretary needs to get a grip on this before thousands of people are tipped into homelessness this winter."

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The £20 uplift to Universal Credit, brought in to help low-income families during the COVID pandemic, came to an end earlier this month, despite warnings from campaigners that the move could push 800,000 people into poverty.

The cut was widely criticised, including by its architect, former work and pensions secretary, Sir Iain Duncan Smith. 

A spokesperson from Crisis said the end of the £20 a week uplift could be the "final blow" for many families.

Estimates by Citizens Advice suggested there was £360 million worth of rent arrears in the UK at the start of 2021.

'I thought we’re going to be out on the streets' – The impact of eviction

Krystalrose, 27, and her young daughter were evicted under a Section 21 – when a landlord can evict a tenant without providing a reason. 

“I thought we’re going to be out on the streets," she said. 

"It’s made me really depressed and anxious, I’m on antidepressants because of how stressed I’ve been."

Her local council eventually managed to help Krystalrose and her daughter off the brink of homelessness and into private accommodation, but she says she is still scared of it happening again. 

 "All I want is a home where we can feel safe and comfortable – a feeling my daughter has never known since she was born. 

"There needs to be more safe and affordable homes for families like mine so our children can live their best lives.”

 Homeless person sleeping near Charing Cross Station.
Rough sleeping has risen in London over the past year. (Photo by Thomas Krych / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Homeless person sleeping near Charing Cross Station. Rough sleeping has risen in London over the past year. (Photo by Thomas Krych / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

While Krystalrose managed to find accommodation, many cannot due to the growing crisis in social housing.  

The local government association (LGA) has warned that council house waiting lists could double by next year as central government's COVID support comes to an end.

While the government have pledged to build 300,000 houses per year by the mid-2020s, data analysed by Crisis suggests that the target will not be met until 2032.

"The government can ease the pressure on renters now by providing targeted grants to clear rent arrears built up during the pandemic, and by making good on its promise to reform private renting," said Neate.

"But ultimately the housing crisis will never be solved until we build the decent social homes that people need.”

The government introduced measures to protect renters from eviction at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, including extending eviction notices to six months and telling bailiffs not to evict tenants suffering from COVID.

However, the extension on eviction notices was dropped to four months from June 2021.

While the government introduced schemes to help rough sleepers at the beginning of the pandemic, much of the support has tapered off – and Crisis estimate there were around 200,000 homeless people facing core homelessness in 2020. 

Watch: Keir Starmer accuses Tories of ‘turning on the poorest’ over Universal Credit cut

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