"You're tearing their life out from them!"
The extension to the ban on evictions may relieve some immediate hardship, but for many it simply extends uncertainty.
On 21 August the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that the ban on evictions would be extended for another 4 weeks, and new 6 month notice periods will be put in place until at least 31 March 2021. Landlords will still be able to progress some cases relating to domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour and rent arrears. (For full details on housing advice during COVID-19 see this page from Shelter)
The lived experience of eviction
Removing the immediate threat of eviction is a welcome step. Eviction can have detrimental effects on health and well-being, including increases in anxiety and other mental health difficulties, increased reliance on drugs and alcohol, and pressure to risk safety and put ourselves into dangerous situations in order to survive.
“It’s like re-traumatising somebody, when you tell them you’re going to be evicted. You take away all their hope. Their plan, their way of living day by day. You force them to go back to chaos on the street, and living that way.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“You’ll get to a point where people bury their head in sand, and if we’re not careful they’ll self-harm, using substances, maybe even putting themselves in dangerous situations just to get accommodation.” Member of National Advisory Panel
Evictions can have an extremely negative impact on peoples recovery. Upheaval means support networks and ties with services can be broken, forcing people and services to invest considerable resource and well-being in re-establishing or developing new connections. Disadvantages can be compounded, leading to some services becoming inaccessible and withdrawing support.
“What we do when we evict people from their house or flat or whatever, is we remove any support that they got. They’re support is in that area, the doctors, the dentist, friends, local shop. If they’re accessing CPN, social workers. It can take 8 weeks to catch that back up if you remove them. You’re setting them up to fail.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“You are going to have people coming back onto the street. The downward spiral is that they’re mental health is going to be suffering, so they start, maybe, to self-medicate, because they’re not seeing clinicians. Drug and alcohol services won’t take them and they don’t get put in the category of being vulnerable, because the drug and alcohol issue is not as severe and enduring than a diagnosable mental health issue, so it cancels each other out. So the person is then in the situation where councils won’t listen to them, mental health services or NHS won’t listen to them…” Member of National Advisory Panel
“You’re tearing their life out from them. And then you point the finger because they’re on more drugs or they’re drinking more of their mental health has deteriorated.”
Member of National Advisory Panel
It is not just the process and consequences of eviction that have a negative impact on our health - the threat of eviction itself increases anxiety. Although extending the ban is therefore a welcome step, without a clear policy direction people across the country will continue to face a period of extreme uncertainty.
“You give them a temporary reprieve; it’s like being sentenced. You say I’m going to extend your sentence, but it’s going to include hard punishment. Why would you do that? Why would you put them through that pressure?” Member of National Advisory Panel
“The anxiety. That 6 month period that they’re going to have. Your mental health is going to fall through the floor. If you are using illicit substances, if you’re an alcoholic, that’s all going to be impacted by the anxiety on your mental health, the fact that you’re going to be on the streets at the end of it, or the likelihood is that you are.” Member of National Advisory Panel
Competition for resources
Rough sleeping numbers are already extremely high, including families, young people, people with physical and mental health difficulties and those fleeing domestic violence. The high numbers of people experiencing homelessness or rough sleeping means there are already extreme pressures on services and accommodation providers.
“Services are stretched beyond belief. How we going to cope? There’s going to be an influx of people onto the street, with multiple issues, mental health, addiction of some sort, domestic violence, different forms of abuse, disability. There’s not enough services to cope with it as we stand now, before this pandemic!” Member of National Advisory Panel
“We already got an issue with private rented being a lot more difficult to access… It’s going to be un-affordable.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“Social housing is an issue as local authorities are reluctant for people to go straight from rough sleeping into council properties. Its encouraged they go to supported accommodation, but the problem is the demand on supported accommodation. I think we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to be supporting a number of individuals and there’s no accommodation options for them.” Member of National Advisory Panel
With the pressures services and accommodation providers are already facing, there is concern that where there a disproportionate effect on those experiencing multiple disadvantages who are either accessing homelessness services or who have not been engaged with.
For example, people experiencing multiple disadvantages may be less likely to meet particular rules and restrictions that are placed on them by providers. It is a concern that in turn, minor breaches of rules will be seen as an excuse to evict people, given the high demand on their services from other individuals.
“They’ll say we cannot help. They’ll give them one offer only. It could be anything to cause the eviction. It could be so slight, like go to someone else room, or come back late. The rigidity of the hostels and the housing providers is so scary, you can’t maintain that way of living. You’ll get that eviction and you’re gone, you’ll go back to the street, then they’ll say ‘you did that to yourself, because you knew the rules.’” Member of National Advisory Panel
“We bring people into a hostel environment and we want to work with people, so we work with people with chaotic drug use and chaotic mental health. But then the instance they break them rules, we’re forced to evict them. We knowingly take in an addict, and then we evict him for being an addict.” Member of National Advisory Panel
Where resources are already invested, a lack of joined up working means that services often work in crisis management mode, rather than pro-active recovery work. Where people are evicted despite the positive work of other agencies, the investment that has been placed in developing relationships and supporting recovery is put at risk.
“The distrust in services. You’ve built up the rapport and relationship and supported them in their accommodation, and then when they’ve been evicted, you’ve got other pieces to pick up, and they’ve got that distrust with you, because they’ve got that distrust with services.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“It perpetuates a very untrustworthy them and us situation. We need to be creating and enabling a rapport of parity and this is lost.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“They feel rejected and trust is broken.” Member of National Advisory Panel
We must work together
“We’re treating the symptoms rather than the cause. We throw money at the symptoms, but we don’t get rid of the disease at the cause… We need a culture change.”
Member of National Advisory Panel
During the response to COVID-19, many services have improved the flexibility of their offer as well as improving their partnership working with other agencies; for us to ensure that people are effectively supported, this must continue.
“Last 6 months, we’ve had a relaxing of the rules, we’ve seen what we always wanted, where statutory and non-statutory are actually talking to each other. But the problem is we’re on ease now, so they’ll all go back into their little pockets, and put the old policies back in place, and that’s the big worry.” Member of National Advisory Panel
We believe it should not just be frontline services in a few areas that work in this way. An effective response to preventing homelessness and rough sleeping will need to see national and local actors, including people with lived experience, working together to ensure that the right policy solutions can be put in place, solutions which address financial shortfalls, access to choices around accommodation and holistic support that meets peoples individuals aspirations.
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