Housing

Six million people fear becoming homeless during Covid-19, warns Shelter

A quarter of private renters quizzed in the charity’s YouGov poll said they worry about ending up on the streets

Man holds his head in his and as he looks at his computer

Image credit: Tim Gouw/Pexels

Six million people are fearing homelessness thanks to the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, a poll from housing charity Shelter has warned.

The fear was particularly pronounced among renters: one in four private renting adults told Shelter they were worried about becoming homeless. A further one in seven English adults said slashed incomes and mounting job losses left them fearing they would lose their home.

Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire said more must be done to prevent homelessness once the protections expire.

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“Renters have been barely considered throughout this crisis,” she said. “The Government promised that no-one will lose their home because of coronavirus, but holes in their so-called evictions ban mean thousands of people have been made homeless at the height of the pandemic.

“The Government must strengthen the ban on evictions and deal with the growing arrears crisis.”

Landlords cannot employ bailiffs to evict tenants, apart from in the most serious cases of fraud or domestic violence, up until May 31. They must also give renters six-months’ notice that they plan to evict.

Once I was working and had been there for some time, the idea of being homeless really wasn’t there. I really wasn’t expecting it to happen for a second time

The poll of 3,603 people carried out by YouGov found two million people are struggling to pay rent with a quarter of private renters borrowing money to cover their housing costs.

Just under one in five have gone hungry to ensure their landlord gets paid while 12 per cent have gone without heating.

Tenants were also twice as likely to feel depressed or anxious about their housing situation than the rest of the general public – with nearly half feeling the mental strain.

Eleanor Wilson, a Shelter helpline adviser recruited in response to the pandemic, said: “People are frightened, they’re scared they might do the wrong thing, they don’t know their rights and they’re really worried they will lose their home.

“People can be quite distressed and don’t know where to turn. It can be emotional because you feel responsible for every caller.”

Saci Kumara Nimai Das faced homelessness
Saci Kumara Nimai Das
Saci Kumara Nimai Das has faced homelessness during the pandemic after losing his job in August. Image credit: Supplied

Londoner Saci Kumara Nimai Das was one of the people who didn’t know where to turn.

The 57-year-old lost his job as an office manager in August following five months spent on furlough. Das became one of six million people who turned to Universal Credit during the pandemic but asked Shelter for support after struggling to make ends meet on the benefit.

Das, who slept rough at Heathrow Airport in 2015, has now received support from his local authority Shelter to prevent him losing his home and has secured a new job after seven months out of work.

He told The Big Issue: “Once I was working and had been there for some time, the idea of being homeless really wasn’t there. I really wasn’t expecting it to happen for a second time.

“Christmas was challenging as I didn’t have any funds available. I got to experience what it’s like to queue at a food bank. I, thank god, had some savings because I had been working. I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t for that.

“I would say that even if you think you aren’t eligible for support, reach out to Shelter and other organisations to see if you can get some support because you never know how they may be able to help you.”

The Westminster Government has increased Universal Credit by £20 a week until September and has introduced protections to stop renters from being evicted.

A Government spokesperson said: “We’ve put households at the heart of our decision-making throughout the pandemic, with an unprecedented £352 billion package keeping millions in work and temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net by more than £1,000 a year for families most in need.

“Robust protections remain – with longer notice periods of six months and the banning of bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases until 31 May – councils can also provide support through the £180 million Discretionary Housing Scheme.”

We are now really concerned that the temporary eviction ban is the only dam holding back a flood of evictions

But renters are still falling into difficulties. Campaigners Generation Rent, StepChange and the National Residential Landlords Association have called on ministers to help renters pay off debts accrued during the pandemic.

Darren Baxter, housing policy and partnerships manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), repeated the call in the wake of Shelter’s research.

“The Chancellor remained silent on support for rent arrears in the Budget, instead freezing housing benefit levels and prioritising policies that will maintain high house prices,” said Baxter. “We are now really concerned that the temporary eviction ban is the only dam holding back a flood of evictions, and that once it is removed in May we will see a wave of repossessions and a surge in homelessness.

“If it is to make good on its commitment to end homelessness, the Government must introduce a targeted package of support to address high rent arrears and re-link housing benefit levels to the real cost of renting.”

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