‘Situation is bleak’ - Ipswich residents face losing their homes as evictions restart
Dire warnings have been given that people in Ipswich are “at risk of losing their homes” after bailiffs were given the go-ahead to restart evictions.
Thousands of residents have seen their income slashed during the coronavirus crisis, with unemployment nearly doubling - as 3,005 more people claimed out of work benefits between March and July this year.
Reduced income from job losses and furlough means many have been unable to pay their bills, although a moratorium on evictions saved many from being turfed out onto the streets.
The ban was extended in August for four weeks but was lifted on Monday, September 21, with housing minister Christopher Pincher saying the government needed to “strike a balance” between the needs of tenants and landlords.
“This is vital to the long-term health of the private-rented sector,” he said, although he stressed there are still measures in place to protect renters during autumn and winter.
However Jools Ramsey - chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG), which runs a money advice service and the Chapman Centre for homeless people - warned of a “bleak” scenario facing many.
Ipswich Citizens Advice says it has helped 400 people in the town with housing problems and rent arrears since lockdown.
“The last minute extension to the evictions ban in August was a welcome reprieve for many,” she said.
“But the reality now for thousands of people across the country, who are potentially at risk of losing their homes, is no less stark.
“What we are hearing is that people are continuing to face mounting debts, are unclear when and how they might be forced to leave their homes, are struggling with the pressures this is having on their relationships and their own physical and mental wellbeing, and concerned about the impact this is having on their children.
“We have seen a steady increase in the demand for our services and this is projected to gain momentum in the coming months. Never has it been more a reality that anyone can become homeless.
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“The situation is bleak, particularly as we look at the very real potential for a second wave of Covid-19 and the possibility of another full lockdown.
“This will have a profound impact not only on people who facing possible eviction, but also on charities like IHAG, which are reliant on fundraising events and activities to keep services running.”
Her message to those worried about their finances is to “please seek help now” from services such as IHAG’s, which are free, confidential and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Suffolk Law Centre has also expanded its services, having won a contract to run the duty housing legal aid scheme at Bury St Edmunds County Court for those attending a hearing.
It has also secured funding to recruit a legal aid housing caseworker to help manage a likely growth in work.
James Hanlon, legal aid housing supervisor at Suffolk Law Centre, said: “The resumption of possession proceedings from Monday, September 21 and the subsequent threat of evictions is concerning, especially given the recent increase in the infection rate nationally.
“Whilst the government has repeatedly stated that renters are being offered protection from becoming homeless, the increase in the notice period merely delays the homeless issue and where renters have fallen into arrears with their rents due to loss of income, because of the Covid-19 situation, little financial support is in place to help them.
“Anyone who receives a notice that their landlord is seeking possession of their property, even if this is not related to the Covid-19 situation, should seek legal advice as quickly as possible as early advice and assistance is vital.
“In the vast majority of cases a landlord can only evict a renter from a property if they have had an order for possession from a court and if the landlord tries to evict without an order they are breaking the law.
“If renters do face a situation where they have to attend a county court for a hearing, free advice, on the day, is available at Bury St Edmunds County Court via a legal aid funded duty scheme provided by housing advisers from Suffolk Law Centre.
“At Ipswich County Court, the Ipswich County Court Advice and Representation Service has voluntary duty advisers on hand.”
■ For more informaion on IHAG’s money advice service, visit the charity’s website or call 01473 213102.
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