‘We’re so grateful for it, but it’s only temporary.’ Laura’s story

Published: by Susan Prichard

According to a YouGov survey of 3,978 private renters, one in six private renters say that they have had a pest or vermin infestation in the last year. We spoke to Laura about her experience:

I work full-time, and support my family – my husband, our five children, and my mother.

Laura is pictured with her Mother, five children and husband.

‘We privately rented a flat for three years. It was in poor condition and we’d had various disagreements with the landlord over repairs and rent increases, including an ant infestation.

‘When the lease expired, the landlord didn’t renew it.

‘We were constantly viewing properties, but you need to be earning an extortionate amount of money to pass the letting agent affordability checks, and most of the time we fell short.

‘We were also paying the rent in part with wages and in part with housing benefit, and there are very few landlords that will accept housing benefit. We were just going round in circles, so we approached the council and asked for help.

‘The council accepted they had a legal duty to house us but didn’t take any action, telling us we would have to present ourselves at the council offices on the day of the bailiffs visit.

My son is severely autistic and I was worried about the effect this would have on him.

‘I contacted Shelter, who quickly took up our case. The council then provided us with emergency accommodation a few days ahead of our eviction date.

‘When we walked through the door of the property the smell was horrendous, the bedrooms were soaked in urine throughout the carpets and the mattresses. There unidentifiable stains on the mattresses, which could have been blood, or faeces, God only knows. There were no radiators, so it was really cold.

‘Shelter intervened once more and we were moved to temporary accommodation.

I think without Shelter the council wouldn’t have lifted a finger and we would still be in that urine soaked B&B to this day.

‘The property we are in now is the only place I have lived in in the past six or seven years that is in a habitable condition.  We’re so grateful for it, but it’s only temporary.

‘We are so relieved to escape from the infestation of ants that we had in the private rented flat, and the smell of urine in the emergency accommodation.

‘However, all of our furniture is still in the property and the landlord won’t allow us access to get it back. You don’t want to put your children to sleep on the floor but she won’t even give the children’s mattresses back. Every night I’m putting my autistic child to sleep on the bare floor.

‘Shelter has contacted the landlord, but she’s said she doesn’t care that the children are sleeping on the floor. She is showing such a complete disregard for humanity.’

Far from alone

We are continuing to work with the council and Laura to help her find a safe, secure and affordable home.

But she’s far from alone – a massive 61% of private landlords surveyed by YouGov said that they either bar, or prefer not to let to households claiming housing benefit.

Is it right that people like Laura are reliant on private landlords to house their families? Do we need more social housing to provide a good quality, affordable alternative? We want to know how you feel about this. Join the Big Conversation and let us know your thoughts.

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Laura’s story was featured on Panorama: Evicted for No Reason, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.