Mirror: Out on the street: Victims of Britain's sabotaged safety net

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Jul 23 15:33:36 BST 2014

Out on the street: Victims of the broken safety net

15, 2014 20:22 - 

Single mum Samantha Skinner was diagnosed with 
multiple sclerosis while on maternity leave and 
is now being kicked out of her flat

John Alevroyiannis / Daily Mirror

Evicted: Single mum Samantha Skinner, with MS, with her two-year-old son Max

Samantha Skinner is packing her life away into 
boxes because at the weekend the bailiffs will come.
Her flat in her home town of Tunbridge Wells, 
Kent, has been a refuge for the past two years.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while on 
maternity leave, Samantha’s ­relationship fell 
apart under the strain, leaving her a disabled single mum.
“This flat has been a safe place for me to bring 
up my son Max,” says Samantha, 28. “But now we’re 
being kicked out and we’ve got nowhere to go.”
Samantha’s landlord fell behind with his mortgage 
payments and now she and Max, two, are being 
evicted as the lender repossesses the flat.
And because they are on housing benefit they can’t find anywhere to go.
“It seems as if no one wants a housing benefit 
tenant, even if you’ve got a ­guarantor,” says 
Samantha, who gave up work in customer services 
for a wallpaper company 
of her MS.
“Once they find out you’re on housing benefit 
most estate agents don’t even ring you back.”
Statistics from the charity Shelter show Samantha 
is right. “Our research has found that half of 
­landlords have a policy of not letting to people 
Housing Allowance or Housing Benefit, and a 
further 18% say they ­occasionally do, but prefer 
not to,” its report on the private rented sector says.
It is less than three weeks since Housing 
Minister Kris Hopkins told Panorama it’s 
“perfectly legitimate” for landlords to decide 
they don’t want a tenant on Housing Benefit. His 
remarks, interpreted as meaning it was acceptable 
for landlords to evict social tenants, were 
described as appalling by his Labour opposite, Emma Reynolds.
In January, Judith and Fergus Wilson, who own 
nearly 1,000 properties near Samantha in Kent and 
are among the UK’s biggest buy-to-let investors, 
revealed they had sent eviction notices to 200 
tenants who received some support from the welfare state.
Fergus said: “If I am heartless all the other 
landlords are heartless as we’re all doing the 
same. All landlords will tell you there is so 
much default now with housing benefits tenants 
you are better off with somebody working.”
The Wilsons said they would rather have Eastern 
Europeans in work than British people on benefits.
The strained relationship between private 
landlords and housing benefit tenants is likely 
to come under even more pressure when Iain Duncan 
Smith’s ­flagship Universal Credit comes into 
force. With payments going to tenants rather than 
direct to landlords, there are fears that some 
hard-pressed families will struggle even more.
In the well-heeled spa town of Royal Tunbridge 
Wells – to give it its full name – social housing 
is in short supply. Samantha and Max face being 
sent an hour’s drive away to the coast to 
­emergency hostel accommodation, far from supportive family and friends.
“In Tunbridge Wells I have family who can come 
and cook for me on a difficult day or help look after Max,” she says.
Her MS, controlled with drugs, had been much 
better until recently, although she still suffered heavy fatigue.
Samantha says: “Stress is a big trigger for a 
relapse. Suddenly I am getting all these warning 
symptoms. I’m so tired I can’t stay awake without ­medication.
“I’ve got sensory impairments, nerve pain and 
problems with balance. ­Sometimes it affects my 
eyesight. There’s a pain travelling down my back 
like an electric shock. The left side of my face 
is pins and needles and burning.”
Unable to find a private landlord who will take 
her and Max, Samantha also knows she is just one 
desperate name on a long list waiting for a 
council ­property. Meanwhile, she has to wait 
until she is officially homeless to qualify for emergency help.
As it is she has to make up the ­shortfall in her 
rent every month from her ­disability payments. 
“£775 a month is covered by housing benefit and 
then I have to find another £30.”
She fought to receive the Personal Independence 
Payment for 18 months and was even forced to 
appeal before eventually being awarded it.
“Two years ago I was just living my life,” 
Samantha says. “I was working, I wasn’t someone on benefits.”
Then, when she was a few weeks pregnant, her foot 
went numb. She was tested for a stroke and 
eventually for MS, even having an MRI scan while 
pregnant. She couldn’t begin treatment until 
after Max had been born, by which time her symptoms were accelerating.
Tunbridge Borough Council says it already does a 
lot to help homeless families. “The council tries 
to avoid homeless households having to go into 
emergency accommodation,” a ­spokeswoman says. 
“We see it very much as a last resort, to be used 
when all other options have failed.
“We try to place applicants within the borough 
where possible but often have to seek 
accommodation further away, such as in Eastbourne or Hastings.”
But as the gulf between renters and owners opens 
ever wider, the gap between social tenants and 
the rest of the country gapes wider still.
The two-bedroom flat Samantha has been renting 
has increased in value by around 5% since last 
year – and is worth around £200,000. She, 
however, is awaiting the bailiffs with a little 
boy who can’t understand why half his life is packed up into boxes.
The social protection on housing, a key part of 
the welfare state, is no longer a safety net. 
When Samantha and Max are evicted this weekend, 
we should all be disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Shocking images reveal elderly couple living on 
the streets after being evicted from their home
Jul 14, 2014 18:56 By Euan Stretch, Steve Robson

The 84-year-old man and his 75-year-old partner 
are sleeping rough in Bournemouth after failing to pay their rent

Dispute: The couple failed to pay their rent 
following changes to how pensions are paid
It's an image which should shame Britain in the 21st century.

Huddled together under seafront shelter, an 
84-year-old man and his 75-year-old partner are 
now living rough on the streets of Bournemouth.

The couple, who are not being named, are 
attending a local soup kitchen to be fed.

It is understood that until recently they had 
been living in a privately-rented home.

But following changes to their pension, they 
failed to pay their rent and were evicted.

Pensions are now paid electronically into bank 
accounts but the couple are said to dislike using 
debit and credit cards and internet banking and 
have been unable to collect their money in their usual way.

As a result they are homeless while the matter is slowly resolved.

BNPSElderly Couple Living RoughStruggle: The 
couple are attending a local soup kitchen in order to be fed
Charity workers have reacted with shock and anger at the situation.

Robin Richmond, a church volunteer, stumbled upon 
the couple’s plight while he was helping a church 
get set up to assist local homeless people.

Mr Richmond said: “They have helped people 
through voluntary organisations and it is a real 
pity that in their hour of need they have been left to live on the streets.

“At a time when people are so concerned about the 
misuse of benefits it appears that the system is 
radically failing a couple who, on the face of 
it, we should be honouring and not forgetting.”

Bournemouth Council says it has offered the 
couple emergency accommodation but this was refused.

Kelly Ansell, Bournemouth Borough Council’s 
strategic housing manager, said: “The couple’s 
situation was recently assessed and they were 
offered emergency accommodation but this was refused.

“We would urge them to make further contact with the council’s housing team.”

But campaigners say more must be done to help the pair.

Sarah Carroll, head of community services at Age 
UK Bournemouth, said: “It shouldn’t really get to 
this point, it is quite outrageous.

“I understand a lot of people have tried to 
engage with them, clearly they can’t sort this out on their own.”

Reverend dr Ian Terry, Bournemouth Town Centre 
Parish Team Rector, said: “I am shocked to hear this.

“Homelessness is a blight on our society - nobody 
should be without a home. “It is particularly 
shocking to hear that they are such an elderly couple.

“What this sad example shows is that, although 
things are being done, they are not being done 
quickly enough, and there is a need for further action.”

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