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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 03-Nov-14 16:47:17

Guest post: 'There are more homeless families than ever before - and it can happen to anyone'

The number of children living in temporary accommodation is now at a four-year high. Here, Susan Evans, an Investigations Officer at Shelter, describes the effect homelessness has on families

Susan Evans

Investigations Officer at Shelter

Posted on: Mon 03-Nov-14 16:47:17


Lead photo

'There are 90,000 homeless children in Britain today'

Kate and Andy sat on the bed opposite me and tried to explain what it felt like to be living in one tiny room with their three young children, sharing a run-down bathroom and kitchen with strangers.

I'd spoken to Kate several times on the phone. I knew her story – that she and Andy had been ticking along quite happily until Andy's rheumatoid arthritis worsened and he could no longer work as a courier driver. It had been a blow, but they thought they'd manage - at least until Andy could have a hip operation and get back to work.

Even when, just before Christmas, their landlord told them he needed his house back, they still thought everything would be okay - they'd find a new house and get the children settled again.

But then they found that no private landlords would let to them because, since Andy had lost his job, they needed to claim housing benefit to help pay their rent. They went to the council and explained their situation, but were told there weren't any family houses available and so their only option was 'emergency accommodation' in a bed and breakfast.

Even as I knocked at the door of Kate and Andy’s 'B&B', I was expecting a kind of run down guest house - maybe a bit dusty and shabby, but okay as a temporary measure for a family to live in.

When Kate ushered me into the room the family were all sharing, I was shocked. There were two beds and a mattress on the floor, all singles. An old fireplace had cracked and broken tiles, and the curtains were hanging lopsided, ineffectually blocking out some of the August heat. There were plastic boxes piled up around the room, with a much loved doll reclining against one of them.

One mum told me how she would get up at 5am to clean the communal bathroom, as it was always left so dirty and she wanted it to be in a decent state for her children to use before school.

Andy explained the sense of failure he felt when he walked into the room for the first time: “I actually came across to this bed and burst into tears, realising what a terrible place my family and I were going to have to cope with. I felt as though I’d failed my children and my wife.”

Meeting Kate and Andy and seeing what they were experiencing through no fault of their own was shocking. I've got kids too, and I can't imagine having to take my daughter to a place which is dirty and unsafe, and having to share a single bed with her on the floor as Andy was doing with their youngest.

Sadly, Kate and Andy's experience is not unique. Government figures show that there are 90,000 homeless children in Britain living in temporary accommodation. More than 2,000 families are living in B&Bs like Kate and Andy's – a figure which has doubled in the past three years.

Over the past few months Shelter has been investigating the conditions in which homeless children are being forced to live. We've interviewed 20 families and discovered the impact that living under such stress can have on children, including reports of bed-wetting, depression, and even self-harm.

One mum told me how she would get up at 5am to clean the communal bathroom, as it was always left so dirty and she wanted it to be in a decent state for her children to use before school.

We spoke to families who'd been moved away from their home area, meaning their children were making journeys of over an hour and a half each way to school.

Parents told us of the difficulties of cooking for their children in busy and unfit kitchens, and of how they had to rely on unhealthy and expensive fast food. Most families had to eat their meals on their beds because there was nowhere else to eat.

As Kate and Andy found out, sometimes all it takes is one thing like an illness to quickly tip a family into a spiral towards homelessness. It can happen to anyone.

A few weeks ago, I had an email from Kate. Thanks to support from Shelter, the family are now settled in a proper home. Andy has had his hip operation and they are hopeful that he can soon get back to work, and they can finally put their ordeal behind them. We try to make sure families get the help they need during a time of crisis, but with the number of homeless families on the rise, we’re bracing ourselves for a surge in demand for our already over-stretched advice services. But, no one should have to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own, and we are determined to be there for every family that needs us.

Shelter is calling on the public to help make sure we can be there for Britain’s homeless children this Christmas by donating to our urgent appeal. You can find out more here.

By Susan Evans

Twitter: @Shelter

wannabestressfree Mon 03-Nov-14 18:31:57

I am quite like the couple you talked to in that I am in a large rented house which costs more than I earn a month. I 'had' to have a large house as my son was discharged from psychiatric care with violent tendencies (after nearly two years on and off) and social services deemed it that we needed the space. There was no council houses so we had to go into private.
The thing is DS is 18 next year. I am dreading what will happen with regard to his dla and the 'extra' housing benefit I get, tax credits etc. It makes me sick with worry.
I have recently had open surgery (bowel op) and I am returning to work early so I can definately pay the rent. There are two of us deemed disabled in the house and two younger children and I was told I had no chance of council housing. Ds1 won't be leaving anytime soon and his needs are acute.
I don't know what the answer is but we as a country have a desperate need for more affordable housing.

26Point2Miles Tue 04-Nov-14 00:02:49

Lots and lots of affordable housing has been built here. But it seems to be filled with families from other areas. And even other countries. Yet our own locals are still in B and B accomadation. Why is this? Someone i know has been there 11 months now. Her baby is crawling and has never known a home...

lindtaddict Tue 04-Nov-14 00:23:26

We have two disabled people in our household too, although we are very lucky to have a council flat. I had an excellent social worker who pushed for it very early on, and it has made a huge difference to our life - not having to pay any rent top ups has meant that our disability benefits go much further, and our council is good with repairs (they're coming to refurbish our kitchen as well this month). Social housing is not easy to get but it's really worth pursuing if you have a good case, even if the council tell you there is nothing (they said the same to me and we're in London where it is supposed to be impossible to get one.)

I've heard of some horrendous conditions in B&Bs from other tenants here. I was quite fortunate never to have had to deal with that experience - we went straight from private rented to our permanent council flat, as we got letters from consultants saying that temp accommodation wouldn't be suitable for DS and his disabilities.

If you are worried about the future situation with benefits wannabe get in touch with Contact a Family. They have given me really useful info on benefits, and managed to help us get triple the amount we were previously getting. He should get ESA in his own right once he's 18 which will help cover the loss of child tax credits.

wannabestressfree Tue 04-Nov-14 08:04:23

He is a year behind so will be at school until 19 so the tax credit thing should be ok for a while. I have yet to hear from dla with regard to what happens when he turns 18.
I love him dearly but he is so volatile (I wrote about him at length on here when he was first sectioned and the fact at 14 he was in a medium secure in Birmingham and we lived in broadstairs kent)
I had a phone call yesterday though from my youngest boys school to say they would like to fund his after school clubs until Christmas. I almost cried (it's another thing I don't have to worry about).
I just wonder what they expect me to do with him once he becomes an adult? He can't live on his own and he makes our life difficult here. I love him but still......

WhistlingPot Tue 04-Nov-14 09:47:50

There for the grace of God go I. The family in the OP was so nearly us. We faced a potential 2 hour school run (one way) from B&B had we not been exceptionally lucky to have had a HA property come up.

gypsygirlfromlondon Tue 04-Nov-14 19:17:33

The reason for increased homelessness is mostly due to the ludicrous, overpriced cost of housing in the UK.

We are in desperate need of good quality,affordable family homes ( not luxury two bed apartments !) but until successive governments actually DO something to help correct inflated house prices and embark on more house building, the situation will only worsen.

So many foreign investors, wealthy business people and just ordinary homeowners have been turning ( for the last 10-15 years) to Buy to Let as the best way to make a good profit and /or pension. I know of someone who has 4 buy to lets and makes a fortune.

Many these BTL mortgages do not allow for Housing Benefit so more and more young families end up with nowhere to go. Rents are now extortionate across the country as landlords take full advantage of the housing boom. And those who are able use HB pocket vast sums of tax payers money for private gain. Often, they are slum landlords who exploit those in difficult circumstances.

It's a national disgrace that much private rented accommodation is sub- standard. Landlords are not vetted, licensed ( except HMO) or regulated. Nor are the agents who can charge eye watering fees for often very basic accommodation.

We need urgent regulation of the private rented sector; it's not fit for purpose. It now has more families trapped into it than those living in housing association/council homes. And private renting really is a trap as it does not allow you to save for a deposit. At least with council homes you have the option to buy and far greater security of tenure.

PR provides horribly short tenancies with very few tenant rights,huge insecurity after a 6 or 12 month contract and expensive deposits of 4-6 weeks in advance.

The Assured Shorthold Tenancy is a dreadful piece of legislation that allows tenants to evicted on a whim via Section 21, enormous above inflation rental increases if on a periodic contract and landlords can get away without doing essential repairs for months.

But with so many MP's and the wealthiest of the UK owning more than one property to rent, nothing will be done to stop more families facing acute situations.

The average 3 bed house in London is now 500K plus. That is completely out of reach of most people and the equivalent rent is approximately 1,500 pcm. It's not just London. huge swathes of the country, particularly the South East are becoming out of reach for many.

I believe every family should have a chance of having their own home to raise theri children. not trapped into paying some greedy parasitic landlords's mortgage for is own family to enjoy at a later date.

With such an acute shortage, home ownership should be restricted to two properties or at least landlords taxed to the hilt and rents capped. At the moment, Buy to Let is plunging the UK back to Dickensian style exploitation with even many letting agents unable to help tenants to get repairs done if a landlord manages their own property.

In Europe, tenants enjoy far superior rights and accommodation than the UK and cannot be evicted easily. They can decorate and have pets.

A regulatory body to ensure good landlord practice, fair rights for tenants and better legislation to ensure owners fulfill their contractual obligations are just some of improvements Shelter is campaigning for and I whole heartedly support them.

So many people just don't have a clue what difficulties those caught in private renting face. Thank you Shelter for all the good work that you do.

Butterflyface Tue 04-Nov-14 21:08:34

Hear hear, gypsygirl. Even where I live on the South Coast things are just ridiculous - it takes DH 2 and a half hours to get to London, (for which we pay a small fortune) and yet houses are still more than I would earn in a month in my new job. Every time I look at house prices I wonder how people manage and then realise, they probably don't. All the repossessions have been snapped up by BtLers, who're now raking it in. We've 3 disabled people in this house, so we've come > < this close to DH having to quit his job to look after us all. I count my lucky stars that we've not had to do that yet, and hope we will never have to.
Dickensian is just the right word for it - people who are sick, vulnerable, the young and the old are all being left to struggle, often to the point of death, and we should be better than that.

John2222ichmond Wed 05-Nov-14 17:11:39

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

wannabestressfree Wed 05-Nov-14 17:19:54

Yep. Course. Ffs

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