Housing

Teacher forced to sleep rough at Heathrow Airport calls on government to ban no-fault evictions

Steve is facing a no-fault eviction from the private rented home he was placed in to escape homelessness

Steve is facing a no-fault eviction and could be homeless in Heathrow

Steve has previously experienced homelessness but a Section 21 eviction risks him losing his home once again. Image: Supplied

Steve knows what it’s like to be homeless. Three years ago, he was sleeping rough at Heathrow Airport with his suitcases after returning to the UK from Vietnam with nowhere to go. He was housed in the private rented sector but now a no-fault eviction risks returning him to homelessness.

The 53-year-old part-time English teacher and actor, living in Wandsworth, South West London, said he could have been spending Christmas back at Heathrow if his eviction notice had not been ruled as invalid at a hearing earlier this month.

The Big Issue’s End Housing Insecurity Now campaign has been calling on the government to deliver on its promise to end no-fault evictions through the Renters Reform Bill, as well as raising universal credit and unfreezing local housing allowance rates.

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Steve’s experience of facing a Section 21 eviction, which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason, has convinced him they need to go.

“To say something positive about the government, I was homeless and they housed me and the system gave me money to live on. If I was in Cambodia or Vietnam I would have just died on the streets,” said Steve.

“I was, for a long time, thankful to the government because I feel like I’ve been nursed back to health. With the benefit system and the social security system, I’m alive again, I’m teaching again, I’m ready to work again, my life is so much better.

“But, unfortunately, this Section 21 means I could have been homeless on the streets again. I’d have been back at Heathrow with my suitcases again, back to square one. What would that have done to my mental health? I’d have probably had another breakdown.”

Steve’s troubles began when he came back from a 10-year-stint in Cambodia doing missionary work and teaching English.

Once schools closed in Cambodia during the Covid pandemic, Steve was left without work and crossed the border into Vietnam where he was deported back to the UK.

With nowhere to go on his return, Steve found himself sleeping rough in Heathrow Airport.

“There were loads of homeless people there,” he said. “The police wake you up at like 4am every day shining torches in your face. But if you registered with the outreach there, the police leave you alone.”

Steve was supported into a homeless hostel with the help of charity St Mungo’s in January 2021 and stayed for three months before applying for support to relieve homelessness through Wandsworth Council due to a local connection.

With record numbers of families living in temporary accommodation in London, the council turned to the private rented sector to house Steve and found him a small flat.

But while his spell of homelessness was over, he was struggling to get by.

“I liked the apartment,” he said. “But when I moved in I made a claim for housing benefit, for universal credit. When I got my payment, all of my universal credit had gone to the landlord because of the rent and the local housing allowance.

“So I had zero money left for bills, for food, for everything. Whereas for January, February and March I had £400 from universal credit to spend, suddenly I had zero.”

With the help of his support worker, Steve was able to apply for limited capability for work, which saw the cap on his benefits lifted so he was able to keep up with his living costs and rent, which was initially £1,283 a month before increasing to £1,395 after a year.

“I was lucky,” he said. “If I didn’t have that I’d have been back at Heathrow.”

Steve also called for local housing allowance rates to be raised at this week’s Autumn Statement. The gap between Steve’s housing benefit and his rent means he must find £111 a month to keep up.

He was able to settle at the property and worked towards rekindling his careers as an actor and teaching English.

But, in June this year, he received a Section 21 eviction notice informing him he would be out of his home by the end of August.

“I was getting my act together again and trying to relaunch my acting career as well,” said Steve. I actually did a pilot on TV within a year of being homeless. They cut me out in the edit room apparently but I got paid for it.

“I’ve been applying for teaching jobs too so I think I might go abroad and teach again. When I got the eviction notice, I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got two months’. But I don’t want to be told when to leave. I didn’t think that was fair. I wanted it to be my choice.”

The Section 21 notice means Steve faces being homeless once again and back to square one.

Steve is working with his local council to find a place to live once he is evicted.

But, in the meantime, Steve has challenged his eviction and managed to delay his exit date with a new hearing slated for 10 January.

The reprieve has given Steve more time to ensure he doesn’t end up homeless once again.

“It means that I’m not going to be on the streets in two weeks, which I could have been,” he said.

“So I’ve got until at least 20 December. And if they decide to issue a new notice for possession, then it’s another six weeks.

“It’s time for me to work with the council and find another place.”

Steve’s experience of the eviction process has convinced him that the government must deliver on the promise to scrap Section 21 evictions.

It’s been more than four years since the Conservative government promised to end no-fault evictions for good, warning they are a leading driver of homelessness and leave renters facing insecurity.

We’re calling on the Prime Minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

The Renters Reform Bill is intended to scrap Section 21 evictions for good but the government has now said that courts must be reformed first – a change to the bill requested by landlord lobby groups.

With no timeline for these reforms, the headline change of the bill is indefinitely delayed, meaning tenants will be waiting even longer for the government to deliver on its promise.

The bill is entered the committee stage last week – the third of five stages it must progress through in the House of Commons before doing the same in the House of Lords before becoming law.

Ministers tabled 111 pages of amendments to the bill last week, laying out how the government will make it illegal for landlords and agents to have blanket bans on renting to people who have children or receive benefits as well as introducing a decent home standard.

Housing secretary Michael Gove said: “Everyone deserves a home that is safe, warm and decent. But far too many live in conditions that fall well below what is acceptable.”

If landlords fail to provide decent homes, they could face fines up to £30,000 or a ban under new powers while tenants can claim up to two years of rent back, up from one.

While Generation Rent welcomed giving councils more powers to take action against rogue landlords, the group said, overall, the amendments were “a mixed bag of important and positive steps, clarification of government promises, and some disappointingly missed opportunities to create a fairer private rented sector”.

Steve contacted The Big Issue to tell his story about facing a no-fault eviction. Are you facing an eviction? Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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