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Housing

‘I am scared of being homeless’: Residents protest over doubling of rents

Property guardians from across London protested outside the offices of Dot Dot Dot over plans to hike rents by 113 per cent. But the social enterprise said it must put up fees to keep up with rent rises.

Property guardians have launched a protest against a social enterprise set up to tackle the housing crisis over plans to double fees.

Members of London Renters Union headed to the east London offices of Dot Dot Dot on Thursday to protest against the rises, which protesters claim will be as much as 113 per cent – and come amid the cost of living crisis.

Property guardians live in properties that would otherwise be left empty, with Dot Dot Dot set up in 2011 to provide housing for people who volunteer for good causes.

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The social enterprise confirmed it has been undergoing a review of fees over the past quarter to bring them up to 50 to 70 per cent of local private rental prices.

But one of the protesters, Ashley Little, who lives in a property due for demolition in Abbey Wood, south-east London, said the rises make the temporary nature of property guardianship untenable. 

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Little said: “Many of us choose property guardianship for the greater financial stability afforded by the lower rents.

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“However, if you add near-market rents to the equation, you’re adding financial stress and precarity on top of a precarious housing situation.”

Protesters told The Big Issue they have been in discussions with Dot Dot Dot for weeks, asking for fee increases to be capped at five per cent.

property guardians protest
Protesters say putting up fees as the cost of living crisis hits will leave people at risk of homelessness but the social enterprise said it must keep up with the housing market to keep the business sustainable. Image: London Renters Union

They also called for the withdrawal of eviction notices allegedly served against property guardians who did not sign up to the new terms and an extension of notice periods from 28 days – as is common for private guardianships – to two months.

James Foulds, a guardian on Thamesmead Estate in Abbey Wood, said: “I’ve been in deep shock about these proposed increases. It’s not what I expect from an organisation that emphasises care for the community. They seem to have completely lost sight of their core values.”

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Rosemary Tawiah, who also lives in Abbey Wood, added: “I am very frustrated and anxious about all that is going on. This issue is really draining me mentally; I can’t focus at work, I can’t sleep well nowadays, I can’t eat well and it’s affecting my health. I am scared of being homeless.”

In response to the protestors’ allegations, Dot Dot Dot told The Big Issue that without the fees review the “business will not be sustainable”.

The social enterprise said new fees range from £325 to £880 a month and that guardians have had 10 weeks’ notice of changes.

Dot Dot Dot added that a fees increase had been planned in early 2020 but was paused due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This meant that fees remained static for three years in many cases as rents have continued to rise at the fastest rate on record in the last year.

The lack of affordable housing in the UK is to blame, according to Dot Dot Dot’s founder Katharine Hibbert.

“In the context of the ongoing housing crisis, Dot Dot Dot is doing what we can to provide inexpensive housing to people who want to use their time to help others,” said Hibbert.

“We would love to see the government working seriously to address the lack of affordable housing in the UK. Until that happens we will continue our work to be a commercially sustainable social enterprise that provides homes for guardians.”

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