Losing your home is one of the most traumatic things imaginable. At Shelter, we have always known this – but even we were shocked when recent research we commissioned from UCL showed that people consider losing their home almost on a par with the abduction of a child by a family member.
And the loss of a family home can have a devastating impact on children. This Christmas, 75,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless, living in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts or hostels. Many of these children will have lost their homes as a result of repossession or eviction.
We all hope that this will never happen to us. But our new Eviction Risk Monitor report shows that across England, one home in every 115 is at risk of repossession or eviction. In some places, that can even be as high as one in 37.
That means one home on every street in places like Barking & Dagenham, Wolverhampton and Manchester.
These aren’t just dry statistics. Behind every number is a real family facing the tragedy of losing their home. And that tragedy can happen all too easily. It only takes one missed payment and your home could be at risk.
Take John, who lives with his wife and daughter in Somerset. John had always kept his finances under control – his floor-laying business brought in a steady income of £500 a week, which easily covered the mortgage on his family’s three bedroom home.
But as the economy deteriorated, there was a sharp fall-off in work for John and he started to struggle to meet his overheads. Last February he was declared bankrupt and a ‘suspended possession order’ was placed on his house. This could have meant losing his home if he didn’t pay his arrears on schedule.
Business started to pick up again, and things looked brighter. Then another slowdown in work put all of that at risk again.
It’s the sheer uncertainty that frustrates John. ‘This week someone bounced a cheque on me. I’m facing next week with no money to pay the mortgage. I’ve got two contracts guaranteeing me work until Christmas but I’ve got to wait 28 days until I get paid, and I need the cash now,’ he says.
John’s story shows just how quickly a difficult financial situation can lead to your family’s home being at risk. ‘In theory I shouldn’t be getting in trouble,’ he says. ‘I should be gradually progressing out of it. But it’s getting worse all the time. This is the worst year out of the last four. The only financial thing I’ve got to show for everything I’ve worked for is this house, and I’m struggling to hang on to it.’
John isn’t alone. In fact, as the FSA has shown, self-employed people are more likely than employed people to have their homes repossessed. And our report reveals that overall nearly 200,000 homes in England had possession claims made against them in the last year – the first step in a legal process that can ultimately result in a family losing their home.
At this time of year in particular, no family should be facing the prospect of losing their home – let alone one in every street.