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UK hit by homelessness epidemic as rents soar

When bailiffs threatened to change her locks out of the blue, Elizabeth’s first thought was to call the landlord for help.

But it turned out that the landlord had not paid his mortgage, so Oldham council, on the outskirts of Manchester, evicted the single mother of three and placed her in temporary accommodation.

“It’s stressful” not having permanent insurance homethe 49-year-old said, adding that although the temporary accommodation was plagued by flies and bad smells, it was “better than being on the street.”

Elizabeth’s story is becoming increasingly common as the lack of affordable housing in the UK collides with growing demand, rising costs of living and the tighter margins faced by landlords.

Rents in the country are at their highest level since the Office for National Statistics began recording them in 2016, after years of stagnant housing construction and rising demand.

The increase has left areas that had not had a significant homelessness problem suddenly facing increasing numbers of people with nowhere to live.

Historically, Oldham has been a relatively affordable place to rent, but its homelessness rate is now almost double the national average, with an 80 per cent year-on-year increase between January and April, and a similar rise in the number of children who live in emergency housing.

“Unfortunately, the trends are not surprising and reflect that the overall housing crisis has affected all parts of the country, particularly places that are not traditionally considered this way,” said Jasmine Basran, policy and public affairs manager at the organization for homeless people. charity crisis, adding that the chronic lack of social housing had removed a crucial safety net.

The latest government statistics on homelessness reveal the growing number of people at the end of the crisis; The number of children living in temporary accommodation increased 10 percent year-on-year in the first three months of this year.

Experts said Britain’s housing shortage was at the heart of the crisis. “It’s hugely problematic,” said Ben Beadle, executive director of the National Residential Landlords Association. The answer, he added, was “to solve the housing shortage.”

The rental housing shortage has been exacerbated by the challenges faced by homeowners, who have been hit by rising interest rates and higher mortgage costs over the past year. make buy-to-let investments less attractive.

“Typically, people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, look for affordable housing within the private rental sector,” Basran said. “But we’re seeing more competition there because people’s incomes are being squeezed and, to be honest, landlords are looking at their options and struggling, to be frank.”

A report from the real estate consultancy Savills Earlier this year it found that net profits for investors in the private rental sector had fallen to their lowest levels since 2007, driven by interest rate rises and tax changes.

Beadle added that an increasing number of homeowners were now in an “envious position” financially. Even excluding last year’s mortgage rate increases from the equation, yields had been “pretty marginal for quite some time,” she said.

While there are still no signs of an exodus of owners from the market, anecdotally “more people sell than buy and more people say they are going to sell than invest,” he added. “I’ve just spoken to a guy whose mortgage ranges from £800 to £1,500; he will not be able to pass on a £700 increase in rent. . . maybe he has to sell.”

These decisions are fueling homelessness statistics. In the first quarter of 2023, the number of households experiencing homelessness as a result of landlords selling or raising rent increased 27 percent from a year earlier, according to government data.

“No-fault” evictions by bailiffs under Section 21 of the Housing Act, in which tenants like Elizabeth are forcibly removed despite not having breached their leases, also soared 41 percent during the same period.

Evictions were banned during the coronavirus pandemic, but since 2021 courts in England and Wales have been gradually clearing backlogs of applications.

Estate agent adverts for properties in Greater Manchester
Rents in the UK are at their highest level since the Office for National Statistics began recording them in 2016. ©Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg

For families unable to fully rent, local authorities step in to provide temporary accommodation, sometimes of very poor quality.

Dr Laura Neilson, chief executive of Greater Manchester homelessness charity Shared Health Foundation, said local authorities often avoided imposing too strict standards on temporary housing, in case it led to “many owners would sell.”

Experts say the 2016 freeze of local housing benefit, the benefit intended to top up the rents of the poorest households living in the private rental sector, has exacerbated the problem.

An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, using data from online estate agency Zoopla, found that in Britain only 5 per cent of private rentals advertised in the first quarter of 2023 could be covered by LHA.

In Manchester, booming housing demand has seen rents rise above LHA rates, leaving it with a serious family homelessness crisis for some years. The average rent for a three-bedroom house in the city rose by 13 per cent between 2022 and 2023, according to the ONS, while the number of people experiencing homelessness due to rising rents or landlord sales rose by 500 per cent. percent year-on-year in the first quarter of this year. .

Louise Emmott, of city center estate agency Kingsdene, said an increase in the number of people living in Manchester and regularly traveling to London had added to demand since the pandemic. She added that “a huge lack of student accommodation provision” is also adding to the pressure.

Back in Oldham, Elizabeth said that despite the smell in her temporary accommodation, she and her children “closed the windows for two weeks” to try to get rid of the many flies that kept appearing. “We didn’t know where they came from,” she said.

She finally discovered that a bathroom had been blocked for weeks before they moved in.

Oldham council leader Arooj Shah: ‘We are seeing a really worrying rise in the number of Oldham families needing temporary accommodation’ © Joel Goodman/LNP/Shutterstock

Arooj Shah, leader of Oldham council, apologized for the problems Isabel was facing, adding: “We are seeing really worrying increases in the number of Oldham families needing temporary accommodation,” with figures having “more than doubled in recent years.” last three years.” .

Shah attributed the rise to the “failure of the private rented sector”.

The Department of Levelling, Housing and Communities said it had provided £2 billion to councils over three years to help tackle homelessness.

“Councils have a duty to ensure that no family is left homeless, and government funds can be used to help people find a new home, work with landlords to avoid evictions or pay for temporary accommodation,” it said.

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