A couple facing homelessness say there is no adequate help available because they both work.
Louisa Williams and wife Sian have received a no fault Section 21 eviction notice because their landlord has to sell the couple’s Ramsgate home.
The NHS pharmacy workers and their children, a boy aged six and girl aged 17, have until November 30 to find a new home but say soaring rents have priced them out of the private sector and the risk of being placed out of area – and so potentially losing their jobs – means they feel they cannot apply for emergency housing.
Louisa, 42, says credit/income checks through letting agents do not take into account Universal Credit payments for housing, meaning they fall short on the income needed to qualify for a three-bed home.
‘How, when we are on a low income, are we going to be able to afford any property?’
Louisa said: “We are currently paying £800 a month for a three bedroom property yet all properties of this size are now £1000 and upwards and mainly over £1200.
“We have until November 30 to not only find a property but be able to find one that we can afford and go up against about 15 other people at the same time.
“The council has made us fill out forms but they’ve said that they can’t increase the allowance as the government have set the price of what is offered.
“We get a top up of universal credit, it isn’t a lot but we do get the rent amount of £800 which is the absolute maximum they will pay – we get it taken away again because we earn from work but it is making sure we have the points.
“When the average 3 bedroom home is £400 more than allowed (in Local Housing Allowance) and that is now standard across the board how, when we are on a low income, are we going to be able to afford any property?
“I am literally at rock bottom. My wife and I have to think about our children and where they will live. We don’t want to be put into emergency accommodation as it could be anywhere in Kent which would then mean we would lose our jobs and the children would lose out on schooling.
“I’m 42 and have worked since I was 15 and yet here I am about to become homeless and lose my job if I don’t find a property that won’t sink us further into debt.”
Louisa says letting agents have told the couple they need to earn 30 times the monthly rent (per year) to be eligible for housing on offer which means if the rent is £1,100 the pair need to earn at least £33,000. They fall short by around £3,000 although would make that target if child benefit and UC was included.
Generally the figure is estimated by a renter’s monthly income needing to be three times the cost of the rent. Some areas estimated it at 2.5 times. Not all letting agents use this formula.
Louisa said: “We don’t seem to be able to get any help because we earn money. We would be too far down the list for a council property and they told us to look at the private sector anyway because there is such a shortage of council homes but we don’t earn enough to be able to get a private rental without including child benefit and UC.
“We can’t look at a two-bed homes because our children can’t share a room and there are further problems because we have a pet.
“It just seems that because we are working, but not earning a massive wage, we are not entitled to any help from anyone and can’t help ourselves because our income is not enough. I just have no idea where to turn.”
Personal Housing Plan
Thanet council urges anyone facing homelessness, to contact its Housing Team for a Personal Housing Plan to assess needs.
The team then has 56 days to work with the tenants to liaise with the landlord to try to sustain the tenancy. If this isn’t an option they will work with the tenants to help them secure alternative accommodation in the private rental sector.
The couple have an appointment next month for this to be carried out although this will not help with any viewings before that date.
A council spokesperson said: “Emergency accommodation may be offered to households to which the council owes a full homelessness duty: people with children, vulnerable people, people with high medical needs. This would be the case after the Section 21 notice expires and the courts have awarded possession to the landlord.
“Due to the demand for emergency accommodation, there is a high likelihood that any offer of a property would be outside of the Thanet area. We aim to move households back into the district as soon as possible, however this process can take a number of months.”
Housing and demand
Thanet council currently has 1,740 households on the housing register waiting for an affordable rented home. Of these 923 are individuals and 817 are families.
In June Thanet council said there were 181 households in temporary accommodation, with 96 housed outside Thanet.
The issue of soaring rents and increasing homelessness is being raised by a ‘councillor call for action’ at a Thanet council meeting on Tuesday (August 29).
Cllr Helen Whitehead, who has made the call, says increasing homelessness has already reached the point of “no temporary placements left in the whole of Kent, and families being separated and removed from their support systems while they wait an indeterminate amount of time for long-term housing.”
She hopes to force a formal hearing and intervention from central government.
According to the report to councillors attending Tuesday’s meeting: “In the (Thanet) private sector, tenants are spending over 50% of their earnings on living costs. The median income for Thanet is £25,000 and to be affordable, the National Housing Federation identifies that only 30% of income should be spent on housing costs. For all property sizes, with the exception of 1 bedroom flats, rents levels are above this benchmark.
“Recent increases in inflation, fuel and food costs and increased demand in the private rented sector as a result of COVID-19, have resulted in these affordability gaps increasing, and we anticipate the position to deteriorate further in the coming months.”
Thanet council receives around 1,000 homelessness applications each year. The council is landlord of 3034 properties but demand outstrips supply.
Thanet is identified as needing 548 affordable homes a year and a key element of the response to these pressures is the delivery of new affordable homes for rent. In the 10 years from 2011 to 2021 the district saw an average of 61 affordable homes delivered each year. This figure increased to 126 in 2021/22 and is projected to increase further to 314 in 2022/23.
Private rental market
According to home.co.uk there are 89 properties currently for rent in Ramsgate. The site shows 16 three-bed homes available with an average rent of £1332pcm. The highest number of available properties are two-bed, with 44 listed, at an average £992pcm.
For Margate, 96 properties are listed as available for rent with average rental price at £1156pcm. Of these 27 are three-bed homes with an average £1481pcm rent listed. Greatest supply are two-bed homes with 36 listed at an average £923pcm rent.
Broadstairs is listed as having 69 available properties to rent, 16 are three-bed homes with an average rent of £1270.
Nationally, outside of London, the average rental property is now listed for £1,126 a month. That’s 12% higher than this time last year, and 19% higher than before the pandemic.
What Thanet council says it is doing:
Thanet council’s development programme has already spent or committed £31.9m to building and acquiring new affordable homes for rent.
The Housing Revenue Account Business Plan projects a further £8.1m per annum over the coming 10 years, providing a total of up to 500 new homes.
The council has:
- Reviewed its local plan policy in relation to affordable homes and reduced the threshold from 15 to 11 units for qualifying sites, and adopted a first homes interim policy statement.
- Invested in homelessness prevention services, including additional advisors, with access to funding for rent-in-advance and deposit payments to support households facing homelessness. Since the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act on 3 April 2018, these services have prevented 2,434 households from becoming homeless.
- Fully utilised the available Discretionary Housing Payments funding to support homelessness prevention activities.
- Constructed or acquired around 140 new affordable homes for rent, with sites progressing for a further 40 new homes.
- Nearly completed refurbishment of the council’s first owned and managed temporary accommodation project at Foy House.
- Bid for opportunities for additional government funding for homelessness services as they have arisen, and in particular delivered intensive support for rough sleepers, through the council’s RISE service.
- Successfully prosecuted landlords for offences relating to the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, selective and HMO licensing and illegal eviction and harassment.
A report detailing the growing difficulties that households on low incomes face in securing suitable homes, the barriers to the delivery of new homes and the resources required to implement further interventions will be considered at the council’s Cabinet meeting on 22 September.
Thanet council Housing Team 01843 577277