Helping London households throughout COVID-19

Shelter staff standing on a pavement, wearing masks and giving thumbs up to the camera

My name is Fabienne and I’m an advice worker at Shelter London. Every day, I provide advice outreach services in community settings across the capital, like food banks and children’s centres.

Thanks to our grant from the National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), two colleagues and I have helped 101 households in London over the last six months. We’ve worked alongside a wide range of organisations to offer expert housing and homelessness advice to people affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. And we’ve run training and awareness-raising sessions with these organisations, to upskill them in dealing with housing and homelessness issues. This means people get the support they need, when and where they need it.

An important community project

Our nation is in the middle of a national housing emergency, and many people are feeling the effects in London.

There’s a lack of affordable social housing. People who receive housing benefits still need to work, because benefits barely cover high private rents. And home ownership is, on average, eight times people’s incomes. Working people are forced out of their homes because they can’t make ends meet. This leads to homelessness, and councils placing people in emergency housing which is often unsafe or unstable.

At the start of the pandemic, there were over a quarter of a million people in temporary housing (TA) – the highest number in fourteen years. Through this period of uncertainty, there are children in TA forced to do schoolwork in limited space with lots of distractions. They don’t know when they’ll be able to settle and have some stability.

We know that two of the public health risk factors for catching coronavirus is living in an overcrowded household and sharing facilities with other people. This disproportionately affects families who can’t afford to live in larger homes, and people in TA.

Across London, thousands of organisations are working tirelessly to support people through the pandemic. This project has helped us grow our partnerships with other organisations in local London communities. We have offered our support to smaller organisations whose clients may be struggling with accommodation, but who don’t have expertise in housing and homelessness. We have also strengthened our referral pathways so that people get the help they need in a much more effective, joined-up way. Over six months, we have received referrals from 49 organisations. These include Tottenham Foodbank, Euston Foodbank, East End Citizens Advice Bureau, Family Action, Fair Finance, Daubeney Children’s Centre, and the Anne Taylor Children’s Centre.

Success stories

Our clients depend on the advice and support we provide. It can lead to positive changes in their lives.

For example, a family of four were living in a two-bedroom home. They were entitled to an extra room because of their son’s medical needs. With our help, the family won their appeal to be moved to a three-bedroom council house. Soon, they can take care of their son’s medical needs in a home that’s more suitable for the family.

Another client came to us because he was in rent arrears. Although he had lived in the UK for five years, he had to return to Romania when he became unwell. When he was well enough to come back to the UK, he was unable to claim benefits. We helped him successfully claim Universal Credit and referred him to our partner debt advice service for help with managing his money.

Then, recently, we advised a client in temporary accommodation who was concerned for the safety of her family. They were dealing with antisocial behaviour and harassment nearby. We advised them to involve community safety officers and spoke to the local authority about this issue. Now, the local authority is moving our client to safer temporary accommodation until a final offer is made.

But we do so much more in my team. If someone has rent arrears and faces eviction, we can speak to landlords to help the person avoid court action and help them apply for Universal Credit. We support clients while they apply for funding to help with paying their rent. If someone is homeless, we give legal advice on possible options for accessing emergency accommodation and guide them through the homeless application process. We can also help make a challenge to the local authority if a client wants to review a decision.

It has been invaluable to work so closely with local communities and partners across London, so we can see and hear the challenges people face as we focus on systemic change.

Thank you

Ultimately, we are there to make sure anyone who comes to us can access the right support and care to find, keep or improve their home.

We’re so pleased to have been able to help these people – and so many more. From all of us here at Shelter’s London Hub, thank you to the National Lottery Community Fund and DCMS for supporting this project!