This morning I woke up telepathic!
Over the past couple of days I have been looking at hundreds of rental properties online. I have wanted to move house for years, but the reality of being able to do so is very bleak. As a single parent in receipt of housing benefit, rental agencies will not even give you the time of day. It is an incredibly humiliating experience. I have often thought about the disgrace of what is pure and simple discrimination and how to challenge it. So you can imagine my joy when turning on the national news this morning to see the reporting of this very unfair issue.
The lead up to fleeing an unhealthy relationship with a tiny baby was a very traumatic time. I was financially dependent on the man I was living with and had no money of my own. I had no experience of the benefit system before that time and my meetings with benefit advisors were conducted in secret. Once my claim for housing benefit was approved I had to begin the holy hell of finding a safe home for me and my little baby.
Holy hell is an understatement. “Sorry, no DSS”. “No housing benefit accepted”. I spent all the hours of the day phoning rental agencies and private landlords, pleading with them to hear me out. To just give me a chance. I just needed a home for my baby and then I would be able to get back to work as a Nurse. I would be off the housing benefit in no time. But no one wanted to know. Patronising voices on the other end of the phone didn’t stop me from begging. I was desperate.
The cost of private rentals are in excess of the amount of housing benefit allocated. The only properties that the amount of housing benefit would cover were those classed as ‘Social Housing’. I was placed on the ‘Common Housing Register’ and the average waiting time for a property in my area was 6 years! 6 years!!!!!! However, I was told that a quicker option would be to present homeless, go into a hostel/refuge from anything up to a year. My baby was 10 weeks old. My life was not supposed to be like that. Everything had gone so drastically wrong. I had no idea where to go or what to do.
So I lied. I lied to the next agency that had a property available which we could move into almost immediately. I got away with it and when my son was 6 months old we moved into our new home. However, the relief was short lived. The agency must have seen me coming a mile away. A vulnerable single mother who was so desperate to have a home! Within 3 months, the wall paper had all peeled off showing the extent of the damp at the property. The ceiling fell in in the living room. Fortunately, it was in the middle of the night otherwise I dread to think of what the outcome could have been. Debris was all over Rory’s toys.
Once again we were homeless and I was in despair. I was broken.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. A private landlady was sympathetic of our situation and agreed for us to rent her property. I cried and cried. It was in an area I didn’t know but it was a lovely little home, just right for Rory and I. It had a drive. It had a garden. I felt like I had won the lottery! Ironically, the person I wanted to be free from ended up becoming a guarantor for the property. One day I will be totally free though. I cannot wait for that day.
In 5 years, I have not missed one single rental payment. I look after the property as if I owned it myself. I organise all of my bills and pay everything on time. I have an excellent credit score. I work as a full time mum. I manage all of the household, a child and voluntary work. I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My rent is guaranteed by the council and a guarantor and yet, I am still not worthy of a home for my son and I by most people.
Single parents are resilient. Single parents have unbelievable strength. Single parents manage the world and beyond! There is nothing a single parent cannot do.
Give us the same opportunities as everyone else.
Imagine you are sitting in the comfort of your home, with a rental property available. A mother phones enquiring about a potential home for her and her child. You immediately dismiss her because she is on housing benefit. That mother is in an abusive relationship and has taken the first steps to leave. Has gained the strength to leave. She has a lifeline and you have destroyed that due to your discrimination. And if it is a condition of your mortgage terms not to accept housing benefit, challenge your mortgage provider. Because at some point, if you don’t, then the law will. And thank god for that.
Some people just need the chance to get back on their feet without judgement. Without feeling that they are at the bottom of a scrap heap. If you are lucky enough to have more than one home, and have always said no to housing benefit tenants, let me know your reasons and I will try to change your mind. Please don’t discriminate.
I would love nothing more than to return to my homeland where my friends and family are. To support my parents through ill health. To have support for myself to return to work. To pursue training and leisure activities. But even though we are incredibly lucky to have a roof over our heads, we are trapped. I need to work to get a home. I need to move home before I can get work.
There is no doubt that single parents on housing benefit are discriminated against. You can all close your eyes to it because it doesn’t affect you. You can all have your opinion about how people shouldn’t just be given something for free. How everyone should work. Why should we give handouts etc. You can judge all you like but until you are in a situation where you are desperate for help, you will never understand.
Becoming a single parent and then a single parent with cancer has been horrendously challenging. But there has been nothing more devastating than not being able to provide my son with a home. Please help make housing accessible for people who need it.
Thanks for reading xxx