Last updated: 10/10/2020
“Reality set in, as I realised I was locked out the housing market”
My daughter and I loved the flat we had been living in for five years. It was the only home she really knew. Her school was only a couple of minutes’ walk away, we felt part of the community and she had lots of friends nearby. I also had a great support network for socialising and help with childcare if I needed it.
It came as a massive blow when my landlord told me he wanted his property back and we had two months’ notice to pack up our life and find a new home. I have rented privately for several years and was used to moving around. When I was on my own, I would happily just crash on a friend’s sofa or find a way to muddle through. But like most people, I wanted to be able to provide my daughter with a stable and safe place to live. Having to leave before the end of school term without time to prepare was very disruptive. I had to consider her wellbeing, and that meant staying in her school catchment area.
I phoned every letting agent in my area and trawled through online adverts trying to find somewhere for us to live. It soon became clear that the private-rental market had become more inaccessible than ever before, especially for a single parent working part-time. Most agents hung up on me and wouldn’t entertain me applying for any of their properties because I was not in full-time employment. They weren’t interested in the fact I have paid my rent on time since I was 17, and that I could offer extra deposit money to secure a home for us. Even when I widened by search beyond the school catchment area, I got nowhere.
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My experience highlights the double disadvantage that women and single parents often face – with only a single income to meet housing costs, work and childcare to balance and a gender pay gap to contend with, we find ourselves unfairly priced out of both owner occupation and some rental markets, or discriminated against by agents or landlords.
As a last resort I contacted my local council and was shocked to learn from a housing officer that my daughter and I were deemed so ‘low priority’ that they didn’t think they’d be able to offer us anything. I was told to contact them again the day prior to eviction and they MIGHT be able to offer us homeless accommodation. Reality set in and I realised I was locked out of the housing market. I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, I have a great social support network of friends and family that offered us to stay with them. I didn’t want to impose on anyone for too long, so I planned to put our belongings into storage and make arrangements to stay with each person that offered for a week, living out of a rucksack. When I shared this plan with my daughter, I tried to make it sound like an exciting adventure. She enquired how many days we would have to do this. When I said it would be at least 90 days, she exclaimed “But I don’t have 90 pairs of pants!”
We were ‘saved’ by a friend of a friend who heard about my dilemma and offered us a flat he owned to rent. It was a massive relief that we had somewhere safe and clean to live. But the situation still had its challenges. We had to commute for almost an hour on two buses to travel back to my daughter’s school each day, leaving us exhausted when we would finally get home. The school directly outside our new home was full. We finally gave up the long commute and accepted a place in the next nearest school, a 30-minute walk away. I felt guilty that I had to put her through these changes. When I finally learned to drive, I was able to enrol her back in the school she loved, with her friends.
- Marissa, single mum
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What the Government could do to provide more security in housing for single parents
Everyone that heard my story declared how lucky I was that I found somewhere to live. Yes, I know I am extremely lucky – but I don’t think anyone should feel ‘lucky’ to have a home. I want something to change to protect more families from facing the stress that I endured.
Before the pandemic hit, Scotland had made some welcome progress on housing security, with a new form of private sector tenancy that sets out valid grounds for eviction and limits rental increases to once a year, with notice. When Covid-19 hit, emergency legislation was introduced to extend the notice period that landlords must give their tenants, to six months in many cases. Why not make this a permanent change? It would give families like mine a reasonable period of time to find a new home and agree a mutually acceptable leaving date that fits round children’s education.
The Government could also allow tribunals to retain their discretionary powers, with a requirement on both landlords and agencies to help prevent homelessness by helping tenants access information, advice and help not only to address arrears but to find a suitable new home. This could help families like mine find the right home more quickly and stop us having to make unplanned moves or make unsuitable temporary arrangements. Landlords would continue to be paid monthly rent for this time and would be able to get their properties back within a reasonable time frame – it would just be a little extra flexibility.
My experience highlighted to me that there are so many people that could be in my situation, only a few steps away from homelessness. As a society we believe everyone has the right to a safe, secure home. We need to redesign our system to make that belief a reality.