Catherine Smart On Cambridge City Council Eviction Policy

houses17:07 Thursday 19th December 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Peterborough has been named as the “hotspot” by the homeless charity Shelter, when it comes to homes being repossessed. A report released by them today says over 1,100 home owners lost their property in the twelve months to September this year. That’s 1 in every 63 homes. Nationally that figure is almost 1 in every 105 households across England at risk of eviction or repossession. The research is based on figures from the Ministry of Justice. Antonia Bance, Head of Campaigns at Shelter, joined me a little earlier.
ANTONIA BANCE: Well what we found is that across the country more than 200,000 households are at risk of losing their home, 331 families in Cambridge alone. And in Peterborough it’s 1 in every 63 homes that are at risk. That’s a home in every single street where families are fighting to stay in their homes this Christmas, not to lose it to repossession or eviction.
CHRIS MANN: How real is the threat at this time of year they could be out potentially before Christmas?
ANTONIA BANCE: Well the threat is absolutely real. For these families, they’ll have been getting into trouble for a number of months. And we know that just one thing, a job loss, falling ill, your hours being cut at work, can tip you into a spiral that can end up with you losing your home. These families are in a really difficult situation. And for us at Shelter, we believe that no-one should have to face homelessness on their own. And that’s why we’re here to help.
CHRIS MANN: Tell us about these people. What kind of folk are they? Why are they in this trouble?
ANTONIA BANCE: Well what we’ve seen is that with the cost of living so very high, with the cost of everything going up, with rents at an all-time high, and with people losing their jobs, with people having their hours cut in the workplace, people are really struggling to keep up with their housing costs. And these are families that have in many cases tried very hard for a long time. What I want to say to any of your listeners who are in this situation is this. If you’re struggling to pay your rent, to pay your mortgage, please get some help and advice. Make sure you find out what your options are, because you don’t need to lose your home. And that’s where Shelter can help. Look at our website. Call our helpline. We’re open every day including on Christmas Day. There is no reason that people should need to lose their homes. We can negotiate with banks. We can get Government help to help you with the rent.
CHRIS MANN: So it’s mostly rentals, is it, or people who are behind on mortgages, people who actually own a house?
ANTONIA BANCE: These are both of those stats. It’s where people are behind on their rent that is really causing the big rise at the moment, because we know that rents are at an all-time high, and are way out of whack with the wages that people are getting. That’s why we at Shelter have launched an emergency appeal, to help all of those families that are facing homelessness this Christmas. We know that there will be 85,000 children who will wake up homeless on Christmas Day, and we’re bracing ourselves for a surge in calls, and more people than we’re able to help this Christmas.
CHRIS MANN: When you say 85,000 children homeless on Christmas Day, you mean in Britain?
ANTONIA BANCE: I do mean in Britain. That’s right.
CHRIS MANN: So where are they?
ANTONIA BANCE: They’re spread all over the country. They’re in London, but they’re also in cities elsewhere, and they’re in smaller communities as well, children and young people, living with their families in temporary acommodation, many of them in bed and breakfast. And we know that bed and breakfast use is at a ten year high.
CHRIS MANN: So that’s provided for by the councils, by the local authorities.
ANTONIA BANCE: That’s right. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: There’s a statutory obligation on them.
ANTONIA BANCE: That’s right. But bed and breakfasts are often not a good place to bring up a child. Often the children that are living there, they see drug use, they’re having to share kitchens and bathrooms with strangers. Them and their family are all in one room. It’s no place to spend Christmas as a child. And it’s Shelter’s job to help to try to reduce the number of people that will spend Christmas in that situation. If your listeners want to get involved, please visit or text HOME to 87080 to give some money to our emergency appeal, to make sure that we can answer every phone call for help this Christmas.
CHRIS MANN: Antonia what you’re talking about of course is s short term fix, to get us over the next few weeks which are obviously a very emotive time of the year. But in the long term, how does this problem get solved?
ANTONIA BANCE: In the long term what we need to do is to build the homes that Britain’s families need. Everyone hopes that their children are going to be able to bring up their own families, near them, in a home that they can afford. But at the moment that just feels out of reach for so many people, with house prices so high, with rents so high, and with people struggling to afford to get by. At Shelter we know that the only way is to build the homes that Britain’s families need. And in the long term, that’s what we’ll be pushing Government to do. But right now we need the support of all of your listeners to make sure we can answer every call for help this Christmas.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Antonia Bance, Head of Campaigns at Shelter. So some pretty shocking stats. And on the day that report by Shelter is released showing how many homes are in danger of being repossessed, in Cambridge work has begun on over 100 new homes. Some will be for rental (from) the Council, and some will be put up for sale. I’m joined now by Cllr Catherine Smart, who’s the Executive Councillor for Housing on Cambridge City Council. Catherine, hello to you.
CHRIS MANN: First of all, this whole business of houses being under threat of being repossessed, what’s the policy in your council if someone’s behind on their rent?
CATHERINE SMART: Oh well as soon as they start getting behind on their rent we actually .. we have some people who go and talk to them, and try and get them to assess how they are, or put them in touch with the C.A.B. because the Council gives money to the C.A.B. so that they can give independent housing advice. And we do try and get them to .. well not fall into arrears in the first place, but certainly not go down .. so far down that they .. that we have to start looking at other measures.
CHRIS MANN: And will you be evicting people before Christmas?
CATHERINE SMART: Certainly not. No. In actual fact, the evictions are a bit fewer this financial year than this time last year. Our numbers are down.
CHRIS MANN: How bad do things have to be before you put people out of their homes?
CATHERINE SMART: Oh quite bad. But we don’t want to get .. we don’t want to be there. We don’t want to go there at all. Our policy is to try and help them before they get, a long time before they get to that stage.
CHRIS MANN: And if they’ve got children, small children, you still evict?
CATHERINE SMART: Well if they’re not paying their rent, what would you suggest?
CHRIS MANN: It’s not for me to suggest. I’m asking, do you?
CATHERINE SMART: Yes. Eventually. But ..
CHRIS MANN: So what happens to them? Because you’ve got to house them anyway, haven’t you?
CATHERINE SMART: Yes. Then they have to go into temporary accommodation.
CHRIS MANN: You put them out of a council house, because they’ve not paid rent. And then you have to pay more money to put them into a B&B or somewhere.
CATHERINE SMART: Well not necessarily B&B. We’re actually well down on our use of B&B as well I’m glad to say.
CHRIS MANN: So where do you put them then?
CATHERINE SMART: The Shelter person was quite right that putting a family in B&B is not a good thing. But sometimes we have to. But, you know, we do it as little as possible. But people have got to pay their rent. But the other thing of course is getting the housing officer to go and talk to them and find out what the problem is, see whether they’re actually claiming everything that they ought to be claiming, or that they’re entitled to I should say, all that sort of thing. We want to do all that well before we’re talking about evictions, well, well, well before.
CHRIS MANN: You obviously know about lots of individual cases Catherine, in your experience. Obviously these aren’t people who want to be homeless. They don’t want to be out of their homes, they don’t want to be able to not pay their rent, I’m sure. How does it happen then?
CATHERINE SMART: There are some people who actually can .. well they get their priorities in a twist, I think is the best way of putting it. That’s not very elegant, but that’s the way it is.
CHRIS MANN: What do you mean?
CATHERINE SMART: Well they put other things … make other things a priority before paying their rent. That’s one of the things that really the C.A.B or housing officer or somebody needs to talk to them about.
CHRIS MANN: Perhaps they’re involved in drugs or drink or whatever, and they can’t help themselves. But it’s the children that at Christmas in particular of course, but at any time of year, it’s the children who are suffering if they’re evicted and don’t have a home. That must be quite a moral dilemma for you.
CATHERINE SMART: It should be a moral dilemma for their parents, shouldn’t it?
CHRIS MANN: That’s a tough answer.
CATHERINE SMART: Well, I’m not their parent.
CHRIS MANN: But if a child is homeless at Christmas, and you’ve got to find accommodation for them, that’s pretty tough.
CATHERINE SMART: It is very unlikely to happen at this time of year.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. So will there be an amnesty in Cambridge City Council until after Christmas?
CATHERINE SMART: We couldn’t get through the courts by now, so let’s be realistic. (LAUGHS)
CHRIS MANN: Catherine, thank you for joining us. Appreciate it. Catherine Smart there who’s the Executive Councillor for Housing on Cambridge City Council.