In his first blog of this series our CEO James wrote about what had happened to people who were already sleeping rough, or had who lost the roof over their heads during the coronavirus pandemic and how we’re working towards a better future for them.
The focus in this blog is on an equally important area of our work. He looks at what is happening to people who are at risk of eviction and what we are doing to help them keep their homes. And how we are planning for the near-future where this problem is going to grow rapidly.
Our homelessness prevention work, a core part of our services, has been as busy as ever this year, with 26 households in February alone having come to our housing advice legal clinics. We had already been helping more people than ever to avoid eviction and finally put the threat of homelessness behind them.
On 25th March, the Coronavirus Act 2020 received royal assent bringing with it measures to increase the notice period for landlords seeking to evict their tenants by just one month. The very next day housing possession actions in the courts were suspended for 90 days meaning most eviction proceedings were stopped in their tracks.
This was a huge relief as we had grave concerns that we were going to see a continuation of evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning people would end up on the streets and at risk from the virus.
But the law as it stands today is still not enough to deal with the impact of this crisis, by a long way.
First, not everyone is protected from losing their home by the law.
People who are ‘licensees’ as opposed to tenants are at risk. These are people renting a room within a building which is shared by their landlord; they do not have the same rights as tenants. And then there are sofa-surfers where their hosts have decided that it’s not safe to have them around during the pandemic and ask them to leave.
There are also people being threatened with injunctions which would mean they have to leave their homes, often accused of anti-social behaviour but without having had the chance to seek independent advice or a chance to properly defend themselves.
And just like in any circumstances, the law doesn’t always protect people from those who choose to ignore it. Illegal evictions are still common and we have been fighting some that are being attempted even during the pandemic.
Our advocacy team have been helping people coming to us facing all of these situations and more. It’s safe to say that it’s been much busier than you’d expect during a time when evictions are supposed to be totally suspended!
The pandemic, and the measures put in place to control it, are going to result in more evictions in the future as people will not be able to pay their rent. It has already meant that many people have lost jobs or work hours, been furloughed on less than their normal pay. The self-employed have not been supported well and many have lost their businesses.
For those who have had to claim benefits in an attempt to cover their living expenses, most have found that there is a shortfall between the support they are given for housing and their rental costs. If they can’t scrape together money from anywhere else they’re probably already running up rental arrears.
Some of these people may be protected from eviction by the current law for now, but our advocacy team are preparing for a surge in evictions later on this year when the law is likely to change as the pandemic wanes.
We are planning to expand our capacity as soon as possible, to face any rise in attempted evictions so that we can help more people.
We opened a homelessness prevention hotline to replace our face-to-face services in light of the pandemic, and it has been so successful we hope to keep it running for the foreseeable future. We’ve gone from having one housing legal advice clinic a week, to a place where people contacting us can get in touch with someone whenever we are open. We are looking to shortly add another team member to our advocacy team too.
We already offer services across south Buckinghamshire and are building new contacts to assist more people across the county while preparing for how we can, safely, start in-person in sessions again.
When times are tough expanding the work of our charity may seem like a challenging thing to be undertaking, but these tough times are when we’re needed the most.
We will continue to need support from the community to make this happen.
If you’re reading this and you’re worried about your own housing situation please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01494 447699, 10am - 4pm, Monday to Friday.