Manchester-based Michele ran her own successful company, juggled two young sons and supported her husband as he opened a café. She describes the unexpected life events which led to repossession and homelessness.
December 2013 was not a good time. Getting into the spirit of the season that month seemed impossible. I received a repossession order on our home of ten years.
My husband was a chef and I ran my own small, successful public relations business from home. We juggled work with two young boys and, despite having Crohn’s disease myself, we managed pretty well.
But life has a habit of not working out as planned. Our younger son was having problems, not just at nursery but at home as well. He was diagnosed with ADHD and autism by the time he was six.
It seemed like every week we would get a call about an incident at my son’s nursery and I had to pick him up and take him home. Meanwhile my husband decided to open his own café so he would be around to spend time with his family at evenings and weekends.
Then my dad died. As I’m an only child and live a hundred miles from my mum, I felt enormous pressure to be there. Then my husband’s dad got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. More pressure.
It all got too much for my husband who developed depression and ended up having to give up his business, owing a considerable amount to the bank.
The income from my small business kept a roof over our heads and I was able to make payments on the joint loan we had taken out to start the business.
It wasn’t easy but we coped. Or at least I thought we were coping. That was until my husband announced he was leaving in October 2010. Our world fell apart.
What is a mum to do but keep going? I worked hard and tried to put on a positive front for the kids. None of this was their fault. I hated seeing them suffer the fallout of the marriage breakdown.
I carried on paying off the mortgage and the joint debt.
But then my old friend Crohn’s disease, exacerbated by stress, flared up and I was admitted to hospital. It was all too much. I was on the verge of a breakdown. Something had to give: my business.
I found myself claiming employment support allowance. I managed to continue to pay the mortgage each month with mortgage relief and keep up the debt repayments but it was a struggle.
But at least I felt like I could come up for air and focus my time and energy on my health and on the boys, especially my youngest who needed more support.
In February 2013, the boys’ child benefit and tax credits stopped without warning and I appealed. It took almost a year to reach a conclusion. That meant a year in which I couldn’t pay the mortgage, the business debt and I struggled to afford heating. We relied on our local food bank on more than one occasion.
Finally the court order itself came. I have never been more terrified.
Would we end up in a hostel? How would my autistic son (who was being home tutored) cope? Could he even be home tutored in a hostel? What would happen to our dog? Christmas wasn’t really something I could think about but I went through the motions.
Decorating your family home knowing it is going to be repossessed after Christmas is a truly heart-breaking experience. I felt like such a failure.
But Shelter offered me a lifeline. I spoke to someone who understood my fear, let me cry, let me rant and then started to give me practical advice to try and ensure the boys and I had somewhere to live in 2014.
An adviser helped me with legal paperwork, liaised with the local council on my behalf and most importantly allowed me to think there could be some hope. Even though I knew the circumstances were not of my own making, still I couldn’t understand how I could end up in a situation like this.
And there is a happy ending. I was lucky enough to get a fantastic council house with a garden on a great road on an estate not too far from our old home. We moved in, in March 2014. My child benefits and tax credits were eventually reinstated after the appeal. How I could have afforded to move without these benefits I have no idea.
A year on, not only am I excited about our first Christmas in our new home, I am also over the moon that my boy is now back in mainstream school. My health has improved considerably. My other lad is working towards his GCSEs. And I have just been commissioned to do my first bit of freelance writing in three years.
I never dreamt for one minute that it would affect me and my family but homelessness can affect anyone.
So now we can deck the halls of our new home and get ready for a Christmas to enjoy. Not one where we will be spending loads of money. But one where we know we will still have a home in the New Year.