THE BLOG

Bailiff Evictions Rise Again as Renters Continue to Struggle

13/08/2015 14:49 BST | Updated 13/08/2016 10:59 BST

The number of renting households forcibly removed from their home by bailiffs has increased again over the last year, as part of a 47% increase in families struggling to keep a roof over their head since housing benefit cuts began.

The latest repossession figures from the Ministry of Justice show a 4% increase in the number of households in England evicted from their home by a bailiff between April and June 2015, compared to the same period last year.

At Shelter we see the emotional and practical consequences of this and it's heart-breaking to know that a total of 10,086 household lost their home in the last three months alone. And these figures only represent those families who reach the end of the line and are removed by bailiffs - many more will have reluctantly packed up and moved on before reaching this point.

Families who are evicted by bailiffs often literally have no-where else to go. With cuts to support and landlords increasingly refusing to let to families claiming housing benefit, people cannot easily find a viable alternative if their rent becomes unaffordable or their landlord wants them out.

In this situation many families have no choice but to turn to the council for help. It's a desperate realisation that the people we help speak of time and time again: "I never thought I'd become homeless". To make matters worse, many councils force families to wait until they are physically removed by bailiffs before providing emergency accommodation.

For children in particular this can be a terrifying experience. It was only last year that the rules were changed to prevent the most grotesque abuses of power, such as bailiffs entering homes while a family slept or when children were home alone.

Drilling into today's data underscores two worrying trends for renters - growing insecurity and the increasing squeeze of welfare reform.

A growing proportion of landlords taking the first steps to evict tenants are using what's known as accelerated claims. More than a quarter (28%) of landlord possession claims in April to June 2015 were accelerated claims. This gives renters little chance to stop the process - as long as the paperwork is filed correctly the eviction is fast tracked. This used to be unusual - less than one in ten (8%) of claims in England were accelerated in 1999. This will in part reflect growing reliance on the insecure private rented sector as we've struggled to build the genuinely affordable homes families need.

And the impact of welfare reform is still alarming. There has been a huge 47% increase in the number of renters evicted by bailiffs since housing benefit cuts first started to roll out in 2011. Cuts to LHA and the bedroom tax won't be the only factor, but they're certainly contributing to an environment where families are finding it harder to pay the rent.

In particular, this year's rise in repossessions by bailiffs appears to coincide with social landlords' response to the bedroom tax. The MoJ estimates that the increase in possessions this summer follows a peak in landlord possession claims in January to March last year.

It's no surprise that this followed the introduction of the bedroom tax which left many social tenants facing unaffordable shortfalls between their rent and housing benefit. Our concerns is that those shortfalls, warning letters and legal fights have now resulted in an increase in people actually losing their home.

Tragically, many families struggling today with an unexpected rent rise or housing benefit problem will be wondering if the same fate awaits them.