Helpline opens to aid the homeless

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF people around Britain are facing homelessness because they are given bad advice or no help at all, according to a new report by the housing charity Shelter.

Children are particularly vulnerable, but owner-occupiers, victims of domestic violence and the elderly often face critical housing problems. To tackle the issue, the charity has set up a free, 24-hour, telephone helpline with BT.

Shelter examined 700 cases involving more than 1,200 people. It found that in more than 60 per cent of cases, people suffered because they did not receive information at the right time. More than a quarter had received poor service or inaccurate advice, which aggravated the problems. In one case in seven, local authorities had made the wrong decision.

Almost 80 per cent of those surveyed were either homeless or were facing homelessness. Others were suffering harassment or benefits delays, or had problems with repairs or arrears in rent or mortgage.

On any one night in Britain, up to 2,500 people sleep on the streets, 600 people face losing their homes and 80,000 are in bed-and-breakfast rooms.

More than 300,000 people live in homes where they are three months or more behind in their mortgage payments, more than one million people live in homes unfit for human habitation and nearly three million children live in households that cannot afford their housing costs without help from the state.

Of the 700 case histories, nearly 10 per cent were owner-occupiers, of which three-quarters had had their home repossessed or were facing repossession. A quarter rented in the private sector and a fifth were local authority tenants.

Under the 1996 Housing Act, if people apply for rehousing they must show they do not have accommodation elsewhere which is reasonable for them to occupy.

Even then they may be judged to have made themselves intentionally homeless and lose their right to housing. People may also be told it is reasonable for them to stay in their current accommodation.

In West Sussex, a couple with four children witnessed a murder in their home town. They gave evidence to police and were scared of reprisals. They applied as homeless to another local authority and were told to return home. In another case a local authority refused emergency housing to a 16-year-old rape victim who had been thrown out by her parents.

"Some of the cases we see are beyond belief," said Shelter's deputy director, Louise Casey. "It is unbelievable that a woman who has been beaten for years and who finally summons up the courage to flee with her children is told by a local authority she has made herself intentionally homeless."

Shelter worked with 100,000 people last year but with thenew helpline it expects to assist 300,000 next year. The helpline covers England, Scotland and Wales and is for people with any type of housing problem.

The helpline is on 0808 800-4444

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