Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Upfront: Decent state?

April 04 2014
Some formerly homeless people are living in shocking conditions

Large proportions of formerly homeless people are living in dangerous and unhealthy accommodation, where they struggle with damp and rodent infestations, according to new research by Britain’s biggest housing charities.

The 19-month study by charities Shelter and Crisis followed 128 households in three regions of England – east and south-east London, Greater Manchester, and East Sussex. It found people living in "shocking" conditions, often at the mercy of "unresponsive" and at times aggressive landlords who threatened eviction if tenants complained.

Every person followed in the study reported problems with the conditions of their homes, some of which were dangerous and unhealthy.

Damp and mould were the most frequently mentioned problems, and rat, mouse and insect infestations were regularly reported.

Some households studied had water running down the walls of their homes. In one case, water was running into electrical sockets, and another reporting their ceiling caving in from a leak that was never fixed.

The poor standard of accommodation damaged the health of those studied, with about half of the participants reported they had coughs and colds more often, as well as more visits to the GP.

Many struggled with household costs such as energy and food, and went without food, lighting and heating on a regular basis to afford the bills.

The research follows a change in the law which has allowed councils to force homeless people into privately rented accommodation rather than wait for a council house – those accepted as being in need of accommodation cannot access any further housing help if they refuse a privately rented home that the council considers suitable for their needs.

Both Shelter and Crisis argue that the current welfare regime does not recognise the difficulties of renting in the private sector, highlighting problems such as housing benefit covering only rent, leaving no cash for deposits, advances and expensive letting agent fees.

The charities are calling on the government and local authorities to do more to make sure that privately rented properties meet minimum legal standards, to challenge neglectful landlords, and to provide longer-term tenancies to increase renters’ stability.

Since 2002, the number of households living in privately rented accommodation has grown by 80 per cent to 3.8 million.