After 30 years, I had to move – and I found myself plunged into a dog-eat-dog battle to find a home
This article is part of the heat or eat diaries: a series from the frontline of Britain’s cost of living emergency
After 30 years at my old flat, I’ve moved and it is wonderful. My old flat is where I brought my two children up and I do have happy memories of it, but it was also somewhere I felt trapped. It hadn’t been updated while I was there – when an estate agent came round to look at re-letting it, they said it wasn’t in a fit state – and I always felt embarrassed about inviting people round. But because I was living on benefits and carer’s allowance while I brought up my two children, who both have autism, and my rent was paid by housing benefit, I was nervous about moving to somewhere that might end up being less stable.
I think I might have been right. When I started to look for flats, I got disheartened very quickly. Even though my universal credit account has been dormant since I got a job – I had been a volunteer at the food bank for several years, but have had a full-time position since June – I still felt discriminated against when looking for flats.
The first flat I went for, the agent just said no. It was frustrating, because I knew my wages would cover the rent, but they wanted proof that I had more than the monthly amount. Another estate agent said there was a formula, which would mean earning £28,000 for a £800-a-month flat. I don’t earn that much, but I went to look at it anyway – it was a tiny square when you opened the front door, and the other three “walls” were doors which led to a bathroom, bedroom and a kitchen-diner.
It was tiny and cramped, and I really wouldn’t have wanted to live there, but it probably got snapped up by someone else. When I would ring to book a viewing, they already had too many people or someone had already put in an offer. It was a bit dog-eat-dog; you’d see the same people at viewings when you were queueing up outside. Who was going to put their name down first? And if you don’t get this one, what if there isn’t another one? You start to think “this will do”, even if it’s horrible.
I went for another couple of flats, and the agent said people who found it hard to prove their earnings could pay six months’ rent in advance. There is no way most people in my position would have that, but I’ve had a small inheritance stashed away and so I could pay it. It’s tragic, but you feel you have to convince someone you’re a good enough person to live in their property, that it’s worth taking a chance on you – and that you won’t disappear and not pay the rent, or whatever it is they’re concerned about. You’ve got to put up a fight. I’ve been a good tenant for 30 years – I’ve never been late with the rent or caused any problems, even though I probably should have demanded more from my old landlord.
When I found my new place, I fell in love with it. I don’t know if they took pity on me, but I’ve been so lucky. I’ve got a six-month contract and I hope I can stay on after that. Even though my rent is paid, I’m putting my monthly rent in another account, so further down the line I’m used to paying it. It’s more rent than I was paying before, and I have to pay for a bus pass to get into work, but I’m very happy where I am. I’m not embarrassed to have people around for dinner. They’re not extravagant meals, but that’s the cost of living right there.
I absolutely love my job at the food bank. It’s been difficult for people over the holidays with children off school, and the number of clients coming are through the roof – we’re getting 40 people in sessions that we used to get maybe 20 in, and we have big families who need to feed the kids at home for the holidays. Our donations have also gone down a lot, which has made a real dent on the stock we have. Hopefully now children are back in school, it will be a bit easier on families.
Some days, tensions are high and I do understand it because people are stressed and they don’t want to be there, but I get a real satisfaction from helping people. The other day an elderly man told me that he was putting on weight, which was lovely to hear because had been going hungry.
When I started this column last year, and costs were rising, I considered a reduced loaf of bread a treat, and would do mental sums to work out the cost of loo roll per sheet. Now I’ve got a new home I love, and having a full-time job at the food bank, after volunteering there for years, is brilliant. I still have to be very careful with every penny, but the mental wellbeing my job has given me is worth a lot. My confidence isn’t quite there, but I feel better about myself and where I am, and what I’m doing.