My name is Alfie. I’m an Advice, Support and Guidance worker at Shelter. I give people advice on housing issues as well as general advice on welfare benefits and debt issues. Sadly, I see a lot of people becoming homeless in London after having to leave a private rented home.
Renting in London can present lots of challenges and hard choices. Renters have to weigh up lots of different factors in making finding a place – and there’s not always an ideal solution available. The top three problems I see people struggling with are the three Us – homes that are unaffordable, unsafe and unstable.
More and more people are being evicted from privately rented homes and it’s no direct fault of their own. Either the rent’s becoming unaffordable or the landlord wants their property back. And it might be because the landlord wants their property back because they think they could charge a higher rent if they re-decorate it.
Increasingly I’m seeing people in rent arrears. Often these are working families who pay their rent with a combination of wages and housing benefit. Changes to housing benefit mean they can’t pay their rent, fall into arrears, and get evicted.
I also see bad behaviour from some letting agents. They take liberties because they know that people are desperate and need a home, so will pay their extortionate fees.
We also see people living in awful conditions, with vermin infestations, damp and mould. I’ve been to homes where it’s always cold and damp and the electricity doesn’t work. I’ve seen studio flats so tiny that the bed is pushed up against the fridge.
I rarely see a contract which is longer than 12 months, usually they’re 6 month contracts. This leaves people susceptible to regular rent increases, or contracts not being renewed if renters raise issues about disrepair. More and more, they’re having to move out of their community.
Moving isn’t just moving your possessions, for families it means making sacrifices in terms of taking children out of school and disrupting their education and accessing healthcare. It’s particularly unsettling for children. Children like to have routines and stability, and moving can cause a lot of distress. Longer tenancies would give people stability and confidence to address any issues with landlords, knowing they would have that longer term security in the property.
There’s also an issue of letting agents and landlords not accepting renters on housing benefit; with working households, income changes can cause housing benefit to stop. Landlords don’t like that uncertainty so we see prejudice against households on limited incomes.
What can we do? We can campaign to fix private renting. Ultimately, we need to build more homes in London. In London and the UK, there aren’t enough homes, and not enough homes are being built. That’s why we have an unaffordable housing market, and that’s why we see people being pushed out of London.
But in the meantime, we need to make life better for renters. We need longer contracts, lower costs and for councils to take more action against bad landlords.
The great thing about working for Shelter means that, although I’m not always able to provide solutions for everyone, as an organisation Shelter is pushing for longer-term changes that will enable us to help more people. With campaigning, Shelter has the power to change the rental market that I help people navigate every day.