Asmita* (*not her real name) has three young children and currently fears eviction because her housing benefit has recently been cancelled.
Two years ago, Asmita* was fleeing an abusive relationship, dealing with her terminally ill father (who passed away a short time later) and was caring for her children, including her then six-month old twins who had been born prematurely. It was in this context that her ex-partner asked for her signature so he could sell the flat they owned.
Because Asmita’s* priority was keeping her children, and because she had not contributed financially towards the cost of the flat during the relationship, she signed.
Despite her proof that she never received money from the sale of the property, and that she had signed under considerable stress, a court hearing ruled that because Asmita* had given up her interest in the proceeds of the sale of this flat (just over £20,000), she must be treated as having had this money. This makes her ineligible for housing benefit.
It also means that the council benefits team have previously considered her to be ‘intentionally homeless’ (see here), which affects their understanding of their duty to house her and her children.
By the grace of God, I have a landlord willing to accept me and my kids even with my personal circumstances. In order to secure this property, I was forced to borrow money from friends again to pay the deposit. I am a single mum of 3 young children, I work part time at a school which is a 7 minute walk from my current rented property. My children’s school and nursery are really close too.
However, I fear that I cannot pay my rent the next coming months and cannot escape the fear that I will be made homeless and my life will turn into a dark place again.
I was born and raised in the UK since birth and have resided in the borough since I was a child. I have never applied for any benefits during my life, apart from the statutory child benefits, until where I needed it the most to help me with my personal situation of being made a single mum.
The last two years has caused nothing but misery and mental strain on me, I have found it difficult to cope with my life, I don’t know how I have done it but I have and thankfully I was able to get some support at my place of work.
However just as I thought I had settled in a home and was on the road to some happiness with my kids, it feels like my life has been turned upside down again by cancelling my benefit. I am so afraid that I will not be able to pay my rent, council tax, utility bills, food. That means I will fall into arrears and eventually be evicted. I have been extremely stressed since that notice which arrived a few days ago and I am feeling severely depressed over this situation again. I really need housing benefit in order to keep a stable roof over the head for me and children and continuing to be a working mum.
Asmita*’s situation is very difficult. If she is evicted, it will mean yet another move for her young children (who stayed with multiple friends and relatives before they were able to finally rent somewhere of their own), and a battle with the Council who, if they deem her to be ‘intentionally homeless’, will most likely house her only under the Social Services budget. This will be temporary accommodation that is likely to be unsuitable.
Her situation also highlights the difficulty that many people face finding somewhere to privately rent, and not just on the basis of affordability.
The following is from Shelter’s 2019 report, ‘A vision for Social Housing’ (p61):
“Many households who receive housing benefit face discrimination… Four in ten private landlords surveyed (43%) say they operate an outright ban on renting to people in receipt of housing benefit, with a further 18% saying they prefer not to, but occasionally do. Government figures show these discriminatory practices have a disproportionate impact on women and disabled people, who are more likely to be claiming housing benefit in the private rented sector.
On top of this, almost one in five private landlords operate an outright ban on families with children and a further 13% prefer not to let to families. Families on housing benefit are therefore particularly likely to be affected by discrimination.
Renters from outside the UK can also experience significant stigma, which has been exacerbated as a result of changes in government policy requiring landlords to check renters’ immigration status. Since the Right to Rent legislation came into force, almost one-third of private landlords (30%) surveyed say they are less likely to let to people who do not hold British passports or who do not appear to be British.”