Housing crisis for Westminster residents
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a huge surge in the number of people unable to pay their housing bills, with rent and mortgage arrears mounting, and many people facing eviction and homelessness once lockdown relief measures come to an end.
“ I am seeing a rising tide of enquiries across a wide range of housing problems from both public and private sector tenants. And the issues are also more complex and interlinked, which means that I need to approach more than one body to seek a resolution.Here in Westminster, the Citizens Advice housing adviser Barbara Korneluk has faced unprecedented demand, with a long list of housing related issues hitting residents in the borough.
“I am also being approached by many more people in work and under 30. In some of these cases, the problems arise in a joint tenancy when one party loses their job and can’t pay their share of the rent.
“A worrying trend is the rise in the number of illegal evictions threatened. Many landlords are simply not following the law and the Covid notice procedures, or are trying to circumvent them by seeking to rely on other provisions. For example, claiming it’s a case of anti-social behaviour when the vulnerable client was actually a victim of domestic violence.
“Some clients have faced weeks of anxiety trying to get the council to acknowledge they are a priority, when clearly they are, with complex health and welfare needs. In one case, the client had multiple health and incapacity issues and needed specialist equipment, but it took over 56 days to get a response to my countless emails.I have also made a large number of homelessness applications.
” I have been working with the National Homelessness Association(NHAS), which has produced leaflets to raise awareness of the Covid eviction rules for landlords. I am also able to give clients a standard letter for them to send to their landlord pointing out their obligations and argue their case more powerfully.
“ I am also seeing cases where a client has entered a rental contract with a private landlord from website photographs or floorplans alone, without any viewings. Then they find the property in a state of serious disrepair, or with fewer rooms, or even other tenants. One student paid £9000 in advance and found there was no supply of water or electricity and another had a collapsed ceiling.
“ When some families have to be rehoused, they are moved away from the area, resulting in children having to spend 3 hours or more a day travelling back to their original school, causing them stress and exhaustion.
“The overall lack of housing and the unrealistic definition of what constitutes affordable housing are both contributory factors, of course. Also scenarios where the client’s case requires input from multiple benefits and welfare agencies, so it makes it harder for me to achieve a solution for them in a timely manner.”
The list of problems presented to us is ever growing as shown below:
One success story we can report on illustrates that Citizens Advice Westminster not only provides advice and information but also much-needed practical help.
Furnishing his first home
Aaron ( not his real name) used to live with his mother and sister in social housing accommodation. As the property was in a state of disrepair, the landlord moved him out into a single flat and his mother and sister to another property, as there was nothing available large enough for all of them. As this was the first time Aaron had ever lived on his own, he had no furniture, but also no income, as he had given up his taxi driver job to shield his vulnerable mother. A friend suggested he approached Turn2us to find out where he might get some help.
“I found my way to Citizens Advice Westminster,” says Aaron, “ and spoke to Brenda who was an angel. She pulled out all the stops for me so that I could furnish the flat. She also wrote to the council supporting a reduction in my council tax. I have been through a very difficult family time during the pandemic and without Brenda’s help this would still be ongoing. If anyone asked for a rating I would give her all the top stars.”