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Housing

“Why the lifting of the eviction ban has me terrified”

The ban has been a lifeline for renters hit hardest by Covid-19’s devastating economic effects, but that lifeline is set to be taken away in England on August 23. Maya Bly*, a journalist currently unable to work due to ill health, says living without a secure future is taking a huge toll

Every Londoner knows you make compromises when renting a flat. You assess whether you’re happy to walk that bit further from the station every day if the flat has adequate cupboards and decent water pressure.

My current flat has a lot going for it. Located in zone one, it’s close to good local shops, with a library, gym, post office and GP surgery all nearby. There are excellent transport links. I can walk my dog in the beautiful park at the end of the road and the neighbours are reasonably quiet.

On the downside, I haven’t had a working cooker since I moved in two-and-a-half years ago, the ancient fridge doesn’t keep food properly fresh, and the carpets are a rotting trip hazard that have caused a broken toe and a concussion on separate occasions. Plus, the landlord is trying to evict me.

I didn’t choose this flat when I moved in 2018. Due to chronic ill health, I’ve been living on benefits for several years and when I ran up against the hostile environment of the DWP – another story too painful to recount – I was evicted from a private rented flat because I fell into rent arrears. I had to throw myself on the mercy of my local council, thereby landing up in that spectacularly dystopian world of temporary accommodation.

I had no choice about moving into this flat. I was given an address and told to sign an agreement without reading it, after sitting at the housing department for days. At the time, I was just grateful to have a place to go. Nobody explained that I would have no tenancy rights and that my council landlords could move me at any time, without explanation. Or that “temporary accommodation” isn’t really temporary because I’d be unable to find another private landlord willing to accept housing benefit and that council flats with long leases are as rare as hens’ teeth.

I am treated like a chess piece to be moved at will

The council have been trying to move me repeatedly over the last two years. I don’t really know why – my rent is paid through my Universal Credit and I’m a quiet, responsible tenant. The council asserts there’s a shortage of suitable housing, yet they lease the whole building I live in, where there are several empty flats. I have resisted moving because they want to place me further away from the borough where I’ve lived for years and where I have strong community links. I don’t want to start again with a new GP, new mental health team and outpatients clinic. I don’t want another grotty temporary accommodation flat where I have no rights and no prospect of settling down. I have tried explaining why it’s important to me to stay local but I am treated like a chess piece to be moved at will.

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In March, I received a court summons informing me the council were seriously moving to evict me. I’d refused their attempts to move me so they were just going to throw me out and kick me off their books completely. Fortunately, by the time the court date was due in April, the government’s eviction ban had taken place and I knew I was safe – at least until mid-August. It’s hanging over me, though, and I’m incredibly anxious that the council will slap another eviction on me as soon as the law allows. It’s terribly damaging to my mental state as I’m stressed and worried and I have very few options.

I’ve been lucky to receive legal help through Shelter and I’m articulate, internet-literate and able to seek advice. Yet, I still don’t completely understand how this all works and why my council landlords are so determined to evict me. I feel completely powerless and dispossessed and unsafe. The lifting of the eviction ban has me terrified, paralysed by anxiety and as unwell as I’ve ever been. I need security of tenure in order to regain my health and rebuild my professional life and I’d love to have a safe place to call home, with a working cooker and fridge. It shouldn’t be too much to hope for.

*name changed

The Big Issue will listen and work to help

The UK economy has hit crisis point. New figures today show that the country has plunged into its deepest recession since records began.

Britain’s economic downturn is also the worst of any G7 country and the most significant decline in the EU.

Office for National Statistics (OFS) analysis revealed that GDP fell by 20.4 per cent – more than a fifth, and double the drop seen in the US during the same period – over the last quarter following Covid-19 taking hold and the subsequent lockdown.

It’s an economic crisis threatening to drive a wave of homelessness and soaring poverty. That’s why we’re building the Ride Out Recession Alliance, working with expert partners like Shelter to forge a way forward without letting thousands fall through the cracks.

And the pandemic has turned back the clock on financial progress, with GDP now at the same level as in 2003.

Covid-19 restrictions forced public spending down by a quarter while shops closed and businesses adapted to remote working.

And figures show that as many as 730,000 jobs were lost since March, hitting younger (18-24) and older (65+) workers the hardest – something experts called “just the lull before the storm“. It was the biggest drop in employment since the fallout from the financial crisis in 2009. Meanwhile women and disabled people are being impacted disproportionately by the economic downturn.

The Government’s furlough scheme has kept more than nine million people out of unemployment so far during the crisis, but it’s set to end in October. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds warned that to wind down the job retention initiative as the employment crisis is only truly beginning would be a mistake, adding: “The prime minister will say there’s only so much he could do during a global pandemic but that doesn’t explain why our economy is tanking so badly compared to other countries.”

Those who have already lost jobs and turned to the welfare system to help them get by are finding that it’s still a struggle to get by. The number of Universal Credit claimants had soared to 4.2 million by April, while the number of families whose income is being limited by the benefit cap has seen the biggest spike since the policy was introduced in 2013.

It is a crisis experts across the board have been warning of since March and we are only now starting to see the true impact. Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the OFS, said we can expect more cracks to appear in the labour market in the coming months. Hundreds of thousands are at risk of destitution and, as the August 23 end to the eviction ban approaches for England’s tenants, at risk of homelessness.

The Big Issue has launched the Ride Out Recession Alliance to prevent this. We are fighting to hold thousands back from the financial cliff-edge that could result in a homelessness disaster. Read more to find out how we’re bringing together most innovative, urgent ideas from experts across housing and job creation.

Behind the statistics are a growing number of fearful people. To work to do something about this, we want to gather the stories of how you are being impacted by the crisis. If we can understand the extent, we can do something about it. Nobody should be living in fear and fighting a battle to keep a roof over their head. Tweet us, send us a message on Facebook or email rora@bigissue.com.

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