A Ramsgate pensioner says she has been living in her van for the last three weeks after her landlord raised her rent by 60% and then served a ‘no fault’ eviction.
Lyn Pearman, 66, had moved to her Ramsgate flat in April 2021 but last year the property was sold and the new owners eventually raised her rent from £433 to £700 per month.
Initially both Lyn- and her neighbour whose rent also went up to £700 – were given six month contracts but when these ended the new rates were introduced.
Lyn, who had been a personal trainer before becoming a carer for her mum, says she gained a discretionary payment from the council to help her cover the rent as the housing benefit maximum she can claim is £473.
But after asking for repairs and maintenance to be carried out in light of the rent increase Lyn says she was issued the section 21 notice to leave.
Lyn, who recently completed a photography degree at Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “I sold all my belongings in the flat and bought an old Gatwick minibus that has been converted to a camper.
“The council said they would give me emergency accommodation but that could be a room anywhere in Kent. To be honest I’d rather live in the van.”
Managing ‘van life’
At first Lyn sofa-surfed due to the bitter weather but for the last three weeks she has been living in the van and at night parks at various residential locations when it is late and then leaves early in the morning.
The mum-of-two said: “I don’t park outside people’s houses but make sure it is a residential area and park up by a wall or something and then I leave early in the morning as I don’t want to p**** people off. Obviously it is light later now so I have to wait longer before I can park.”
Lyn has joined a gym for £15.99 per month so she can shower and has been doing her washing at a friend’s house but says she will need to find a launderette.
Cooking is an issue because although she has leisure batteries and solar panels on the van roof, it is only enough power for a camping ring. There is a microwave but that can only be used if on a camping site with a proper electric hook up.
Lyn said: “I’m not eating very well. I can’t really cook in the van, well I can’t really cook anyway to be honest. The fridge also drains the battery so I have to throw stuff out. It is actually cheaper to eat out.
“It is quite hard. You can only just stand up in the van and really the facilities are for weekends away but there is nothing for me to rent. Around 30 people went for my old flat and that is now let at £750pm.I don’t know how I would manage rent like that and gas and electric so even though it is hard in the van, at least I am not lining someone else’s pockets.”
Lyn says she had always fancied trying ‘van life’ and has now found herself thrown into it.
She has taken to Tik Tok to chart her journey, introducing herself to followers as “a 66-year-old, lesbian pensioner living in a van.’
To her surprise she has become a bit of a sensation.
Writing under the handle of Free Spirit @offtotravel she started with 11 followers but one video went viral with 650,000 views and she now has 38,000 people watching her videos.
She said: “People have been so lovely. I have to let them know when I have parked at night and then again in the morning. They want to know about my day.
“There are people from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, all over the world. Many say they are actually only a pay cheque away from being in the same situation.
“Some have tried to give me money but I have said that isn’t why I am on there and there are lots of people who need help more than I do, I just want to log my journey.”
Lyn says she also seems to have gained a girlfriend and become something of an agony aunt!
She said: “I got asked for financial advice but obviously I’m the wrong person for that, I’m a pensioner living in a van!”
Although Lyn batted away suggestions from followers of setting up a fundraising page, her son Shane has launched a GoFundMe to help his mum with repairs and servicing on the van – which has done some 392,000 miles – and to buy things like fuel, food and heaters to make the vehicle more habitable.
The appeal has raised just over £3,000 so far.
Lyn said: “I am amazed at people’s generosity.”
Find Lyn on Tik Tok at: https://www.tiktok.com/@offtotravel?lang=en
Government figures reveal the number of households living in privately rented homes in England who were evicted by bailiffs as a result of Section 21 proceedings has increased by 143% in a year (from 792 households between Oct and Dec 2021 and 1,924 between Oct and Dec 2022).
The annual increase is largely due to the lifting of the eviction ban on 31 May 2021 and the subsequent backlog in the courts.
It was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 that the government is committed to bringing forward legislation to abolish Section 21 during the 2022/23 parliamentary session, which will end in April or May 2023.
There’s a divide in opinion between organisations advocating on behalf of tenants and those advocating on behalf of private landlords.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, described the white paper as “a game-changer” for private renters but The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) argues a reformed and improved court system which has bedded-in, together with improvements to the grounds for possession, should be introduced before section 21 is amended or abolished.
Anyone who is worried about losing their home can contact Shelter for free and expert advice by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help.
Local Housing Allowance
The Local Housing Allowance sets the maximum amount a council will pay in housing benefit for a private rental but this has been fixed by government since 2020 and despite Universal Credit and other benefits going up in line with inflation in April this is not the case for LHA.
Currently the LHA rates for Thanet are per month:
Shared accommodation £299.17
1 bedroom £473.72
2 bedrooms £648.22
3 bedrooms £797.81
4 bedrooms £947.40
But these amounts do not reach the rates being asked for in the private rental sector. A search of rentals recently shows the cheapest rooms for rent at £90-£100, leaving a £100 per month shortfall.
For a one-bed home the cheapest flat listing was £595 per month, leaving a £120 shortfall’ the cheapest 2-bed home listing was at Arlington House for £575, coming under the LHA rate, but the majority of properties were £695 and above.
At the end of 2022, Thanet District Council had more than 600 active ‘homelessness cases’, including those who were homeless, at risk of homelessness and being supported by rough sleeping services, or awaiting a council decision on whether to house them.