Home ownership is at its lowest since 1986, and if you’re one of the lucky ones who has managed to secure a mortgage in these extremely tough times then good for you. This luck may inadvertently lead to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the dire situation that many private renters are being forced to suffer through, due to today’s housing crisis. Things have got shockingly bad and are only getting worse, and it is time for everybody to pull their heads out of the sand and take a look at the misery and fear that hundreds of thousands of people are living in.
Another broken system
Those who are unable to obtain a mortgage have to enter the private renting sector where they will find themselves paying rent that usually amounts to the cost of the landlord’s mortgage on the home, and this usually leaves the tenant unable to save for their own mortgage. But even before the injustice of private renting begins, a potential tenant needs to secure rented accommodation. In order to do this, the first port of call is usually an estate agent. Once upon a time, this was a relatively simple step into private renting, however nowadays potential tenants can be expelled from the chance of a home if they don’t meet increasingly harsh standard expectations. In order to even be considered for a tenancy you’ll need a decent credit rating, often as well as a guarantor, and then a reference from a previous landlord. You’ll pay admin charges in order to prompt them to decide if you’re good enough to be accepted or not. If you are accepted, then you’ll need to pay a deposit (usually the same amount as as a month’s rent), the first month’s rent up front, and your moving costs.
It should come as no surprise that many cannot afford the above. People are sinking further into debt, and living pay check to pay check is fast becoming normality. Saving is impossible for many and a good credit rating is a rarity. Occasionally, an agent will advise you that a potential landlord may be flexible despite your background check – for example, perhaps if you offer six months rent up front. But with the UK’s average rent costing an extortionate £921pm it’s extremely unlikely that people will be able to do this.
So, if a tenant can’t go through an agent then what can they do? Well, sites like Gumtree and OpenRent sometimes have private landlords, who don’t use agents, advertising their properties but these often come with a list of expectations – with one of the main ones being refusal of tenants in receipt of housing benefit.
People who do manage to secure a tenancy are finding themselves living in fear of being evicted. Usually, tenancies span over 6-months and at that point, if a new contract isn’t signed, the landlord or tenant can give a months notice. It’s not unusual for tenants to enter a rolling contract and then be at risk of being evicted on short notice. Common advice for those experiencing a shock eviction is simply ‘don’t leave’ – because if a tenant leaves then they have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and, in that case, aren’t entitled to any help. So they are told you must stay there until they are placed in social housing or have found a new private property. Yet, when things go sour with a landlord it is extremely unlikely a tenant will get a reference in the future, leaving them in a vicious cycle.
“I had been renting from my landlord for 4 years. I had always paid rent on time and never had any serious problems, but he was a relation and I was claiming housing benefit in order to pay the full rent. I couldn’t tell housing benefit he was a relation else they would say I wasn’t entitled to it even though I was paying everything I was given by them to my landlord, and I didn’t get it any cheaper than it would be for anyone else – I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Then I met my partner who lived in another part of the country and we eventually decided to move together up North. We found a nice place to rent and had viewed and paid the deposit, which we had just about been able to afford. All that was left to do was send my new landlord my reference details. I told my current landlord and he told me that he wanted the next months rent immediately – three weeks early – else he would refuse to give me a reference. He said he was worried I would leave without paying the last month’s rent, but I think he was just trying to stop me moving. The deposit and first months rent for our new place, as well as my months rent in my current place, was all we could afford from that month’s pay and he knew this. I couldn’t contest what he was doing anywhere because I knew he would blackmail me with the fact I had been claiming housing benefit while renting from a relation, and I was scared. I couldn’t afford to pay him the next lot of rent that early and so he didn’t give me a reference, and so I couldn’t move. I feel very trapped here and angry. It shouldn’t be like this.”
The negative effects this has on mental health is huge. People are living in constant fear that they will become homeless and won’t get any help. They are told they have to refuse eviction – to act in a way considered antisocial and immoral – in order to secure the chance of getting onto an failing social housing system. Can a rented accommodation even feel like a home for most tenants nowadays? Or are tenants just living in a constant limbo, never knowing what is around the corner or being held hostage in homes they don’t want to be in? The effects of living like this are severe and with women being hit the hardest by austerity it’s no wonder that female suicide rates are at an all time high.
If someone is unable to private rent then they can apply for social housing, but the waiting lists are long and there are extremely strict rules to follow. One system punishes refusal of properties – for example, if a potential social tenant believes that the property offered is unsuitable (be it for the space, the condition or the area) and they decide to refuse the property, then they are punished by being placed at the bottom of the waiting list again. Another system leaves potential social tenants ‘bidding’ for properties which results in them living in a constant state of hope – when a suitable property comes up -and disappointment – when the hundreds of applications shows that they never stood a chance, and they have to start all over again.
The effects of the housing crisis are all around us and with a damning report due for release by Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, it seems clear that things are only getting worse. The Guardian have reported that “more than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis.” Will anybody listen to it?
As the cost of everything rises but wages stay the same, we have to accept that the housing crisis is real – it isn’t going anywhere, it is getting worse and not enough people care. There isn’t room for the idea that people who work hard are the ones who get and deserve mortgages, because people work hard and cover other people’s mortgages via rent. The illusion that people choose social housing for an easy life needs to be cast out – it isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t a happy life. People do not deserve to be living as though they are less than humans, and something needs to be done.