Karen, her husband and three children found themselves homeless after their landlord served them with an eviction notice.
We were private renting and when our fixed tenancy came near to an end, our landlord decided he wanted his house back. He served us with a Section 21 eviction notice to leave.
When my husband fell ill, he had to give up work and we relied on housing benefit to cover the rent.
We naively thought that we could simply find another place to rent.
When it came to it, we found very few landlords who would accept tenants on housing benefit and even if they did, they wanted a guarantor too.
When our search proved futile we contacted our local housing department for advice.
The advice given to us was to keep searching for private rented accommodation as there are so few social houses in our area.
Even after visiting the council offices to talk more about our predicament, we left with just a few pamphlets listing property search websites and letting agents contact details.
As the end of our tenancy crept closer we visited the council again.
Our only other option was to make a homeless application to the council.
At first the council suggested that we stayed in our current home until the landlord took legal action to evict us.
The thought of court action and bailiffs was extremely distressing and we knew it would affect our children, particularly my ten-year-old son as he is disabled.
After much badgering from us, the council agreed to accept our homeless application at the end of our tenancy and agreed to place us in emergency accommodation at that point, avoiding court and bailiffs.
Two days before the end of our tenancy we were moved to emergency accommodation. One room in a shared (B&B) style property.
We were expecting a bed and breakfast. We knew that we would all be in one room but what we didn’t realise was that it wasn’t actually a bed and breakfast where you’ve got maybe an ensuite facility, there was no breakfast either. It was basically a shared house, with several rooms in, there was a shared kitchen area and a shared bathroom.
When we got into our room we were shocked because there weren’t enough beds. My husband Gary just sat on the bed and cried, it was a completely shell shock and reality check.
Living there felt really claustrophobic. There was no break from it.
One of the biggest things for both myself and Gary was an overwhelming feeling of failure. We felt that we had failed our children
We were already on our council’s housing register, but as we had been suitably housed in private rented accommodation our we were low priority. The council used a housing points system. The more points you have, the more priority you get. We were extremely low on points.
What we didn’t realise, is that once we moved into emergency accommodation we should have updated our housing register application. Being homeless and living in shared emergency housing added points to our priority.
We also were eligible for medical points due to my son’s disability and my husband’s ill health.
Meanwhile we had been continually complaining about the state of our emergency accommodation and the potential dangers to our children. We didn’t feel that our concerns were taken seriously at all.
Seeing how the children went downhill very quickly was upsetting. Our two younger children struggled with the change in their routine.
They often wouldn’t go to sleep until about 10pm when previously they had always been 7 o’clock bedtime children. So they were tired and grumpy in the mornings, they were too tired for breakfast and by teatime they’d be asleep.
My eldest child also struggled because he has a disability and anxiety as well as learning difficulties. It was a very difficult thing for him to cope with.
During those weeks I cried so many tears. The initial shock and realisation that this was now our home, tears of failure, tears of self-pity and tears just because I had to hold the toilet longer than my 3 babies later bladder could manage.
After about three weeks were told that a temporary unit (a two-bedroom flat) would become available and that we may be moved there. This resulted in huge disappointment when the council decided the two bedroom flat was too small for our family of five.
We couldn’t understand the councils reasoning for this. We kept on with our mission to be moved from the B&B. The only solution was to another B&B or a Premier Inn. We requested a move to a Premier Inn on the basis that at last we would have a private bathroom.
Once our points were reallocated we were considered very high priority for a permanent home, and this did push up to the top of the social housing list.
We were offered a permanent property swiftly at this point. The council then requested that we stay put in the B&B and not pursue the move to the Premier Inn due to paperwork.
Although unfortunately for us, the house was in a poor state, in some places dangerous and the work that the housing association needed to take to bring it up to standard ultimately meant that we had to remain in emergency accommodation for a further six weeks.
We spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find out our legal rights and whether we could request a move from the unsuitable emergency accommodation. By law families are not supposed to be placed in B&B, and if they are it has to be as an emergency measure and not for more than six weeks.
In reality families are placed in B&B as a matter of course as and frequently for longer than six weeks.
We didn’t feel we could argue our case because at the six week point we had been nominated for a social housing property – but we still felt it was unfair that we had to remain beyond the six weeks in the B&B while we waited for our house to be renovated.
After three months of homelessness we collected the keys to our new housing association home, a permanent place that will provide a stable base for our family.
Two years on and life is so different for us.
Gary had a hip operation last year and is back doing his courier work which he really enjoys.I have now secured a teaching assistant post at the school I work at working full time. I also run every day, and I’ve slimmed down to my pre-children weight – losing 24 pounds.
Life for us is now a normal family routine, getting up in the mornings, getting ready for work and getting the children ready for school. We’ve become more financially secure. We know that we’re providing a safe home for our children.
When I look back it makes me very upset. Even talking about it still makes me cry because it was so horrible.
But we did it and we got through it. The time that it really upsets me is if I look at photographs that I took at that time. It’s not photographs of the room we were in, but photographs of my children: they look so tired in some of the photos. There’s lots of pictures of them slumped asleep in places, fast asleep in the middle of the day.
Having a home again and settling back to normal family life after being homeless, I’ve realised that family routine needs a stable home. Without that stable home the family routine breaks down and so does the family.
Karen shared her experiences and advice to help other people in a similar position: