“I didn’t anticipate how impossible this journey would be. It has actually been the worst year of my life,” Lucy told The Big Issue.
“I was frightened, had no safety net and nobody to turn to.”
Lucy had lived at her home for eight years, alongside her three children, and never missed a rent payment.
She loved the garden and her 15-year-old daughter, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had her own bedroom, allowing her to deal with her triggers and look after her wellbeing.
“Her bedroom was beautiful, it was like something out of Pinterest,” said Lucy.
“She had all her plants and pictures and she’s a really good artist. She had a massive desk and a big bed and she had all her incense. It was beautiful.”
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Lucy said she started to have disagreements with her landlord last year.
She said she was struggling to keep up with annual rent increases and was also told she needed to get rid of her dog – an important support animal for her daughter – or face paying an extra £25 on top of her £925 a month rent.
So the antagonism meant that she was partially relieved when she received her eviction notice on Christmas Eve, even though the landlord did not give a reason for reclaiming the property – one of the biggest criticisms of the Section 21 eviction mechanism.
“I’m not going to lie. I felt a little bit of relief at the time naively,” she said. “Because I was really uncomfortable in that situation of just knowing he’d keep increasing the rent and I thought, ‘That’s OK, I’m going to get social housing.’ I’ve got two children with complex needs and health problems. I’ve been working all these years, I’m a good tenant.”
Lucy made a homelessness application to the council on Boxing Day and chose not to contest the eviction, leaving her home once the two-month notice period expired.
But she could not find anywhere else to live and was forced to move into her sister’s two-bedroom property.
“We’re living literally in her front room,” said Lucy. “We’ve got one room between us here but at least the shared facilities are with family members.
“It’s not great, we’re overcrowded, nobody’s very comfortable with that, it’s straining relationships. There’s nowhere to work from home if I need to undertake work from home or for my job. There’s no desk or anything at all.
“So there’s literally a mattress on the floor and then small single beds that we share between three, sometimes four of us.
“My 15-year-old needs her own personal space, it’s so important to her, and because of that her mental health has declined so much.”
It’s now more than six months since the eviction and the toll on the family has been devastating.
Lucy saw her daughter’s mental health decline to such a degree that she was hospitalised twice over the summer. The teenager is worried about sitting her GCSEs while she has no place to study at home.
The situation has affected Lucy herself so badly that she has been off work sick and forced to consider early retirement due to her own struggles with mental and physical health.
That has seen her pay cut in half, meaning she is relying on universal credit and personal independence payments to look after her family.
It also means she is unable to secure a home in the private rented sector without a guarantor as she does not meet the income threshold to rent another property.
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Lucy has been offered a caravan as a place to stay by the local council but has rejected it, citing the impact on her childrens’ needs.
“I feel deeply ashamed that I’ve let this happen to my family,” she said. “I can’t bear it. I used to have hope but now I have none.
“When you’ve got an Asperger’s child you need certainty. My son [who also has Asperger’s] said, ‘Do you think we’ll have a house by the summer?’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah, please don’t worry, darling. I’m doing everything I can.’
“Then it was from my daughter: ‘Do you think we’ll have a house by the time I start my GCSEs?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ And yet here we are.
“Now it’s, ‘Do you think we’ll have a house by Christmas?’ And I’m saying if we don’t, I promise I’ll take the caravan.
“I can’t say that anymore. I can’t give her any certainty and it breaks my heart.”
Stories like Lucy’s are not unique. Crisis found 242,000 households across England are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, including sleeping on the street, sleeping on friends or families’ sofas, or staying in nightly paid B&B.
That’s why The Big Issue has launched End Housing Insecurity Now to ensure renters stay in their homes.
“Renters are facing the biggest housing crisis in a generation, and if the government don’t take action urgently, it’ll become a homelessness crisis,” said Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue Group.
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?
Lucy’s friend contacted The Big Issue to tell us about her situation. Are you having problems while renting? 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.