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Over a quarter of private renters fear homelessness following pandemic

Jessica Nangle

March 16, 2021

One in seven adults (14%), equivalent to more than six million people, in England are more worried about becoming homeless due to the pandemic, new research by Shelter has revealed.  

Shelter’s latest poll, carried out by YouGov, showed that private renters have fared the worst during the coronavirus crisis, with one in four private renting adults (27%) fearing that they will become homeless.

Private renters are also almost twice as likely to feel depressed and anxious about their housing situation, compared with the general public (26%).

Nearly half (47%) of private renters said they are more depressed and anxious in light of the pandemic, the research revealed.

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.”

In the past month, 24% of private renters have had to borrow money to pay their rent, 18% have cut back on food or skipped meals to pay their rent and 12% have cut back on heating their home to pay their rent.

The charity’s frontline services data has revealed that two thirds (63%) of calls answered by its emergency helpline in the past year were from people already homeless or at risk of homelessness.

To meet demand for its emergency services, Shelter has taken on 26 new housing advisers and doubled the number of calls answered by its free helpline.

In a bid to maintain this extra capacity and help more people, the charity has launched an urgent appeal for public support entitled ‘Lives on the Line’.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Through our helpline we have seen just how scared people are about their homes and their futures.

“People’s lives are literally on the line. They are desperately struggling, and the threat of homelessness is very real.

“At Shelter we are working hard to keep people safe in their homes.

“Thanks to the generous support of the public and our partners we have been able to answer double the number of calls, but we need to keep this up if we are going to weather the coming storm.

“To make sure we can always be on the other end of the line, we’re asking the public to support our appeal.”

Shelter helpline adviser Eleanor Wilson continued: “I started working at Shelter’s emergency helpline in September.

“One of the most surprising things is the sheer volume of people who are teetering on the edge of homelessness.

“There are now a lot more of us to answer the phone, but the amount of calls is just relentless.

“The helpline is so important.

“When people get through to us they’ve often called everyone else and they’re running out of options.

“When we are able to offer support, advice, and an action plan – it’s fantastic.

“I’ve got people off sleeping on the streets, kept people from being illegally evicted, and found last minute emergency accommodation for families facing homelessness that very night.”

Franz Doerr, chief executive at rental tech firm flatfair, added: “While the government likes to harp on about turning ‘Generation Rent into Generation Buy’, it has little to say when it comes to supporting private tenants following the worst economic downturn in three centuries.

“The ban on bailiff evictions has only ever served as a sticking plaster for the debt-ridden crisis engulfing the rental market.

“Mountains of arrears are piling up at the feet of landlords who are effectively being asked to prop up the market, yet the government has offered next to nothing by way of support for them.

“England’s inaction is in stark contrast to the steps taken by the Scottish and Welsh governments, both of which have rolled out ultra-low interest or interest-free tenancy loan schemes so private tenants are able to continue paying their rent.

“This not only ensures renters have a roof over the heads but also that landlords are being treated fairly, thereby protecting the overall integrity of the rental market.

“The government must urgently provide clarity to both landlords and tenants on how it proposes to help struggling renters repay their debt.

“Failure to do so will ultimately lead to landlords exiting the market, meaning there will be fewer affordable homes for rent.”


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