council houseGiven the fact that I’m agnostic, I had an ironically Biblical experience just before Christmas. Our landlord got in touch and told us that he wanted us to vacate his property. Hugely pregnant and financially pushed, we emailed back with a plea to his humanity and he clarified that although, eventually, he intended to re-let the property to a smaller family, he didn’t expect us to move until the summer.

Skip forward a few months and Husband and I were fully in the swing of house-hunting.  Despite having recently had BB, we’d managed to save and put away what we needed for a deposit, as well as being able to cover admin fees. We saw a few houses we liked and started making serious plans to move, when we met our biggest stumbling block.

Estate agents.

It’s been almost 5 years since Husband and I have had to look for a house and in that time, something seems to have changed. See, before, if you liked a house you’d hand over the admin fees and should you fail the credit checks your money (minus a small fee) would be handed back to you. These days, it seems, Estate Agents think that it’s reasonable to keep the WHOLE fee if anything in the checks doesn’t come back squeaky clean, which means that every single time we find a house we like, we’d effectively be gambling with a not insignificant portion of the money we’d saved; the cheapest fees we were quoted during this time were £300. Worst of all, none of the Estate Agents would tell us what the full criteria were for the checks we’d need to pass, so we couldn’t even hedge our bets by working out if our affairs were in good order.

In the end, our Landlord decided that he’d rather have us here for another year than foot the bill of an empty house, so we’re not homeless for now, but it got me to thinking.

A couple of years ago, I had the bright idea of getting us on the Council Housing list. Being a pair of freelancers (one of whom ME has slightly iffy credit from many years ago) means that our chances of getting a mortgage would be pretty much nil. Our only chance of getting a place we could make our own and not pay through the nose for would be if we got a Council house. So, I applied and dutifully ‘bid’ on houses, week in, week out, until we got a letter through our door telling us that we weren’t even eligible to bid on houses any more because our needs weren’t great enough. I appreciate that housing stock is low in many areas (thanks for that, Maggie, you bitch…) but isn’t social housing supposed to be for normal, working class families?

In the last five years, it also seems that rents have risen ridiculously in our area. I mean, it’s no real surprise; with people unable to afford mortgages, the landlords of the world are in hogs heaven and when demand is high, prices rise. Unfortunately, higher prices do not in anyway mean an improvement of the quality and during our search we saw houses which cost almost £1000 per month (£12,000 a year, when the average family income for our area is £21,000) which were damp, had peeling wallpaper, stained carpets and wiring which looked like it had been installed during Churchill’s era.

And, of course the economy is in a shit state; consumer spending is what drives the economy and no one has any money to spend on anything other than keeping a roof over their heads and heating their homes during the winter. How many news stories do we have to read about working people who are having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their  kids? But it’s okay, Channel 4 are doing a bang-up job of demonising anyone on benefits by showing a handful of morally devoid people who flout the system, forcing decent people with genuine need to resist asking for help for fear being stigmatised.

What’s even worse is that, instead of realising that normal families are at the neediest they’ve ever been, we’re seeing more things like this popping up:
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Those, in case you are unfamiliar, are known as anti-homelessness spikes. Let me make that clear for you: not anti-homelessness SHELTERS or anti-homelessness soup kitchens. Nope. SPIKES. So that we can stop the horrible inconvenience of having homeless people try to find a tiny slice of shelter as they sleep rough on our streets. What kind of world do we live in where we not only refuse help to our neediest citizens, but we actively attempt to make their lives as difficult as possible? Are we living in the Dark Ages?

So, what if our landlord hadn’t had a change of heart? Where would we be? In a hostel, with a kid, a baby and a dog in tow?

One of the main problems seems to be that people are allowed to stay in council properties which are totally unsuitable for them. The estate near us is made up of mainly 3 bedroom houses and I’ve seen several of these properties inhabited by a lone old person – I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of old ladies being wrenched from their homes, but at the same time, should a young family not be being given a chance to live in a property with reasonable rents?

It’s all very well campaigning for empty council houses to be reclaimed and done up, but what about the ones with a lone occupant rattling around three bedrooms? This isn’t about entitlement, it’s about fairness.

Fortunately, we’ve now got a years grace in which to carry on saving and hopefully I can attempt to repair my credit so that when the time eventually does come for us to move, I won’t be putting our savings at risk. I’m pig sick that we’ll be lining a greedy Estate Agents pocket, but I really don’t see what other option we have.

And the sad thing is, we’re just one of MILLIONS of families who are suffering this exact conundrum in the UK right now.