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Panorama - Reality Bites

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There are 50,000 homeless people in Britain.

Some of those families, and in temporary accommodation awaiting re-homing, often in unsuitable houses or flats, some sleeping on street corners.

I watched Panorama last night, it had the air of the all-too familiar about it.

Yes, there was a stereotypical family of six in accommodation far too small for their needs, parents and four children in a one bedroomed flat. I'll come to my opinion on the "family" in a moment.

Kevin, an ex-investment banker, who lost everything in the recent stock market crash in the UK, now sleeping rough in Park Hill.

The story that hit home for me was that of Patricia Taylor, a woman who had worked all her life, and had bought her humble terraced house in Dagenham. Bought in 1997, for £54,000. Worth around £118,000 now.

Patricia's marriage came to an end in 2009, and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unable to work her mortgage began to accumulate arrears. Barclays bank repossessed the house despite her efforts to mediate with them.

It was heart wrenching to watch as she went from her comfortable home into temporary accommodation, a dingy and allegedly smelly one bedroom in a shared house.

This was far too close to comfort. In 2010 exactly the same thing happened to me.

I had worked constantly since the age of 21, paid a small deposit on our terraced cottage, and was living quite comfortably. My marriage had already dissolved, but the kids and I were financially stable until the news came that I was being made redundant in the July.

The first thing I did was communicate the news to the Mortgage company. My mortgage happened to be with Northern Rock and it was around that time where we the tax payer bailed them out (remember?).

I then smartly got myself down to the job centre. Job seekers allowance. It was only temporary I told myself. With my experience I'd be fine. I wasn't entitled to housing benefit, but they would pay the interest on the mortgage.

I got back on the phone to Northern Rock, after being passed from pillar to post, they would not agree to me changing to an interest only mortgage, although I had no arrears, no missed payments, I would have to find the £350 deficit out of the money coming into the household. Which, as it stood was £600 per month.

In the meantime, the results of my smear returned abnormal. I didn't think about it at the time, and agreed to go for a biopsy. I returned to applying for jobs and trying to see what the insurance company would pay.

I'd been paying for liability insurance for six years at £45 per month which would pay for six months mortgage payments in such an event.

They agreed to pay if I went for a medical, and if they could see recent notes. Fine, I said to myself.

I sincerely tried to pay my mortgage, but as it was I couldn't afford to feed the children adequately and hand over half my benefits to Northern Rock.

And after the biopsy, I found I had cancer. The insurance company would not pay.

It took three months for Northern Rock to decide that they were taking me to court for arrears. My total arrears when I received the fist letter was a huge £980.

I had explained that I was undergoing chemotherapy, was the sole parent of two children, but it was like talking to a brick wall. They were adamant that they wanted the house.

The council were very helpful, but explained that they couldn't re-home me until I was repossessed and actually homeless.

I took decisive action and then decision to move was made long before I went to court in the April of 2011, I had to put a roof over my kids' heads. That's what my priorities were. Stuff how much money I owed, how poorly I was, they had to come first.

Going to court in itself was a horrible experience. I explained to the judge and produced evidence of phone calls showing him that countless times I had try to ask Northern Rock for lenience and failed horribly. I knew I was definitely not alone.

He turned it back on the Northern Rock Solicitor and asked me what I wanted to do. I'd since found myself a place to live, and expressed that the position that people found themselves in was ludicrous. He agreed, but I'd made up my mind that I couldn't communicate with a nameless, faceless organisation.

I sat there last night thinking that could have been me in that position. On the streets with two young children because of circumstances beyond my control.

Things have to change. I'd paid from my tax to help this bank who were evicting me however small the percentage, but when the tax payer hits upon hard times, there is very little sympathy.

I was pro-active, many people aren't. I come back to the family of six. They moaned constantly about paying £280 for a one bedroom flat. Housing benefit is there to help and with four children they were entitled to a three bedroomed house.

If they had been more pro-active themselves instead of waiting for the council to do everything on their behalf then they could have gone for privately rented accommodation. True, the council only pays out on the thirtieth centile not the average rent as the father was only working part-time I assume they'd have been eligible for help.

Also, the children were out of school, out of routine, sleeping on floors. How could any parent stand by and take their kids out of school for five months regardless of if they were living in temporary accommodation or not?

They had an X-box, wouldn't this have helped towards a deposit?

I feel like I should apologise on their behalf.

This is happening all too regularly especially since the economy seems to have taken a nose dive. Most of us don't expect hand-outs, but we do expect insurances that we have been paying for years to pay out in the eventuality of illness. We also expect a little more sympathy from the system. Banks who are only after what they can get need to address the number of people being repossessed on a case by case basis.

I think Kevin said it best:

"Life, or my life comes in phases. All we want is to be treated with a little respect when things take a turn for the worst."

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