'Housing Emergency' As Calls To Homelessness Helpline Soar, Shelter Says

The number of families facing homelessness up 8 percent.
Rough sleepers pitch tents on a patch of grass in Edinburgh, Scotland this month.
Rough sleepers pitch tents on a patch of grass in Edinburgh, Scotland this month.
Sam Mellish via Getty Images

The number of desperate families brought to the brink of homelessness has risen so far this year, one of the country’s leading housing charities has said.

Emergency calls to a special helpline run by Shelter increased by 8% in 2018, compared with the same period last year.

Some 44% of the phone calls were estimated to be from an adult with at least one child.

Many of those who sought Shelter’s support had received an eviction notice, fallen into rent arrears, suffered domestic abuse or were living in homes with disrepair so severe it posed a risk to life.

Someone is at risk of homelessness if they are homeless from that night, at risk within the next 28 days, or at risk of homelessness but not within the next 28 days.

‘Private landlords won’t touch me’

Taran, 52, an NHS mental health worker from Gravesend, called the Shelter helpline after being served with an eviction notice.

She said: “None of the private landlords would touch me because I get housing benefit, even though I only get £45 a week. Even though I work for the NHS they won’t take me. It’s just ridiculous. It’s a Catch 22, you’re on a low wage because you want to do something that gives back. I work really well with my clients and I’ve helped so many people go back to work and go to university.

“I can afford to privately rent with the housing benefit. I pay £675 pcm now and I can go up to about £800 pcm a month with the housing benefit. But the estate agents won’t accept housing benefit at all, and I don’t earn enough to rent without it, a one-bedroom place is at least £750 pcm.”

‘Anywhere! Anywhere! It doesn’t matter to me...’

Another caller, who has not been named, phoned the Shelter helpline on Christmas Day because he was homeless, along with his two children aged nine and three.

Adviser: At the moment you’re in with family… with friends, is that right?

Caller: Yeah… but it’s only a couple of days. They’ve got a spare bedroom but it’s tiny. They said, don’t mind you staying a couple of days, we’ll put you up over Christmas but you’ve got to get a place. So that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow, we’re going to go straight to the council and see [if they have] anything… or emergency accommodation… we don’t care which.

Adviser: And where would you want to be? Does it matter where you are?

Caller: Anywhere! Anywhere! It doesn’t matter to me… no, doesn’t matter at all

Adviser: I’m going to go through what assistance… you can expect. And then I’m going to… talk to you about how you can challenge them when I expect that the council doesn’t do what it is that I say that they should do. What you need to do is you need to go to the council tomorrow, and you need to say these exact words to them … that you wish to make a homeless application under part 7 of the housing act 1996… the first test says that you need to be eligible… the second is that you’re homeless, that you have nowhere to live… the third test is that you’re in priority need…that should be enough for the council tomorrow to provide you with emergency interim accommodation… whilst you’re in this accommodation, the council look at the fourth test and the fourth test is whether you’ve done anything deliberately to cause your own homelessness

Caller: No, I haven’t

Adviser: No. And then they look at the last test – whether you’ve got a local connection to the area… the law says they have an emergency duty to you and your family.

I’m trying to prepare you for the most resistant council... so therefore you know what to do when you’ve got the most resistant to speed the process up (…) does that make sense?

Caller: It does, yeah

Adviser: Do you have any questions at all?

Caller: No (…) that seems quite straight… well not straight forward but you’ve helped me what to do

The figures released on Wednesday relate to calls received by Shelter between January and October 2018.

The charity said those close to losing their homes could face further problems as temperatures plummet.

Emily Dean, a helpline adviser for Shelter, said: “We’ve seen a rise in calls from the sharp end of the housing crisis. It’s definitely been getting worse in the last year, and we expect things to be especially bad over the winter months.

“We’re speaking to families who are really just a few days away from losing their homes and finding themselves with nowhere to go. This will be even tougher for people as the freezing nights start to close in.

“There’s no doubt we’re in the middle of a housing emergency right now, so supporting our helpline has probably never been more important.”

The minister for housing and homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, said: “No one should be left without a roof over their head, which is why we are investing more than £1.2 billion to tackle all forms of homelessness.

“Our rough sleeping strategy, support for councils and those working on the front line are helping to get people off the street and into accommodation as we enter the colder winter months.

“We’re also making £9 billion available to build more affordable properties as part of our commitment to build the homes our country needs.”

Shelter’s new statistics were released in partnership with retailer Marks & Spencer, which is donating 5% from sales of a special food range to the charity this Christmas.


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