Here is one woman’s experience about how the housing emergency made it difficult for her to escape an abusive relationship. This is a real story, but models have been used to protect the privacy of our clients.
The father of my two children was very abusive, both emotionally and physically. He was very manipulative, and I was dependent on him emotionally. I was a lot younger than him.
After a few years in this situation, I got up the strength to escape. I told my ex I wanted to leave him and move back to the area where I was born. At this point, he got violent with me.
I tried to look for somewhere to rent privately, but letting agents wouldn’t let to me because I was receiving benefits.
This isn’t unusual – many people are discriminated against by letting agents for receiving housing benefit and are prevented from renting. Lots of these people could afford to pay rent and would be good tenants, but because of blanket bans they can’t get access to housing. It’s a serious problem and we need to do something about it.
‘It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to escape.’
I went to the council for help, and I was shocked when they rang my ex to see if what I was saying was true. The woman at the council who spoke to him came off the phone and told me: ‘that poor man’s in tears.’ So, unable to find anywhere else to live, I remained in the situation and his control of me continued.
It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to escape someone like this. He made me feel needed, and everything he did manipulated me. I later went on to have a second child with him.
Eventually I managed to make myself leave again. I went back to the council to ask for help, and this time they helped us get a place in a refuge. We had to keep moving refuges because he’d always find us, by waiting outside schools for our children. It took a long time to escape him – but the help that we received from the council was really important in allowing us to do this.
Then, after five years of being on my own, I met someone and got married. I ended up back in that boat where someone made me feel needed, but he was also very controlling.
I wasn’t allowed to use the cooker during the day time when he was at work, and he’d switch the hot water off and tape down the light switches. But then he started on my son, and that was what I needed to make me leave.
‘They made me feel worthless, and like I was a scrounger. ‘
I tried to escape by renting privately, but again I faced discrimination because the letting agents wouldn’t take the working tax credits that I received as income. I was working two jobs, 60 something hours a week, but they made me feel worthless, and like I was a scrounger.
I had no choice but to go back to my local council. The housing officer I saw there told me I had made myself intentionally homeless by leaving the marital home, rather than forcing him to leave it. That sort of attitude must change. It took a lot for me just to go myself, there was no way I could tell my abuser to leave his home.
I rented a single room from a work colleague. The children shared the single bed top to tail, and I slept on the floor. It was a property in very bad repair and we couldn’t even cook in the kitchen because the cooker didn’t work. There were all sorts of things going on in that place that were not suitable for my children to be around, and I became quite desperate.
I went back to the council again and asked for help – and this time they did listen to what I told them about the abuse. They gave us emergency accommodation. The rent was enormous, I met most of it with my wages.
After a few months I was able to go onto the housing register and was given a social home. It was out of the area, which meant moving schools and I needed a work transfer. Then the move was held up and that meant I lost my job, which was another obstacle to overcome.
We’ve been in this house a year now. We have somewhere to live and a roof over our heads and I’m thankful for that every day.
‘You’re not given a chance’
Now I’m ready to move on. I’ve looked at renting privately, but yet again the letting agents are telling me they don’t take tax credits, or housing benefit. Letting agents never look at anyone as an individual, it’s just a blanket rule. You’re not given a chance.
I’m not the only one who has been discriminated against for receiving housing benefit. Many ads in letting agents and property websites say ‘No DSS’. Across the country thousands of people are being prevented from renting privately, and might find it hard to escape abusive relationships through finding a new place to live.
It feels like I’m a victim of circumstance and I refuse to be that. I’ve had my path blocked over and over again because of DSS discrimination. I can’t take that better job in a different area or attend university, because letting agents tar me as trouble. It is suffocating and frustrating.
I’ve escaped two abusive relationships, but I still have my back up against the wall because of the difficulties in finding somewhere to live. It’s so frustrating – but I’ve been through worse and I’ll get there.
This story is not unusual. Thousands of people have been affected by the housing emergency. Across the UK, homelessness is rising rapidly. Hundreds of people die on our streets every year, thousands are without a home or the help they need, and millions are struggling with unacceptable housing problems and living conditions.
And it’s getting worse. Too many people are neglected by a failing system, denied the right to a safe home. This is a collective problem and the fight to change the situation belongs to all of us. Only with fearless action and compassionate support can we put an end to the housing emergency. Join our call to end the housing emergency.
Have you faced been trapped in bad housing? If so Shelter wants to know your story. Sharing your story with Shelter will help us continue to tackle the housing emergency.