The reality of moving from homelessness to the Private Rented Sector
Eimear Twomey, our Tenancy Engagement Officer, on managing what can be an extremely difficult move from homelessness to the Private Rented Sector.
Eimear Twomey, 19th August 2019
In our Private Rented Access Scheme, Z2K recognises the move from homelessness to managing a tenancy can be daunting for some clients as the financial burden of paying bills and day-to-day living costs reveal themselves. For someone claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or the standard rate of Universal Credit (UC), the allowance is 73.10 (weekly) or 317.42(monthly). Even when they don’t have deductions for a Universal Credit Advance Payment or any an overpayment recovery that is very little to live off. Very often, poor mental health can be both a precursor and result of trying to live on such a low income.
A 2016 report carried out by the Mental Health Foundation for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that approximately one in five people living in UK are experiencing poverty, with one in four people likely to experience a mental health problem in any given year. It outlined poverty and mental health as, “two of the defining issues of our time …. where the relationship between mental health and poverty is symbiotic; poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and mental health problems can lead people into poverty”.
Part of the aim of our post tenancy work, is to relieve the financial burden of moving into a new home. This can be through accessing funding for much needed household items or assisting clients to maximize their income. Clients are advised to come back to us if there are any tenancy related issues at a future date.
Take Ahmed for example. He was placed in a studio flat with our project over 4 years ago. He came back to us for help in 2018 when he was getting threatening letters from the bailiffs to do with a council tax debt. Ahmed was also struggling with the work search requirements at the JobCentre. Increasingly, he was finding it difficult to attend and engage with back to work programs. He wasn’t coping well. Emotionally unable to deal with the issues presented to him; his financial debts and personal family matters, Ahmed started to experience panic attacks and suicidal ideation.
Ahmed required an intense level of support on our part. Firstly, we wrote to his council tax department to have the debt recalled from the bailiffs and set-up a manageable payment plan. We also applied to his local authority’s council tax discretionary relief fund to request an award to write off part of his debt. We helped Ahmed apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Following support with form filling, he was awarded the PIP at the standard rate for daily living component. This extra income was a reprieve for Ahmed as the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) was also added to his JSA.
Once awarded, we applied for a Section 13 with council tax for an exemption under mental incapacity. The exemption was applied retrospectively and ongoing until his circumstances change. Consequently, Ahmed’s council tax liability is now nil. We have also helped Ahmed apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (as he was getting SDP, he hasn’t had to go for Universal Credit) and he is waiting for the outcome of his assessment. Finally, we helped him get a 50 per cent reduction in his water bill through Thames Water’s sure plus scheme.
Ahmed’s case is not reflective all clients who come through our PRS project, but it is reflective of the level of support we aim to give the clients who are most in need. The added stress caused from financial worries is no longer a problem for Ahmed – allowing him to get on managing other aspects of his life and focus on getting better. Ahmed is now finally getting the Social Security benefits that he is entitled to as someone who is disabled and unwell. Ahmed’s case highlights how a persons mental health can be impacted by their experience of poverty. It also affirms the important role advice agencies play in advocating the rights of the most vulnerable in crisis.
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