Frontline workers living in discounted homes feel ‘unappreciated’ after their housing association said it is raising the rent in less than a month, despite the coronavirus lockdown.
Residents at the block of flats in Brixton, south London, feel like they’ve been put in a tight spot by Notting Hill Genesis, who have told them to sign the agreement or move out by June 1. While the Government has made moves to re-open Britain’s housing market, many are still worried about the practicalities of finding a new place as they work harder than ever through the Covid-19 crisis.
Sexual health adviser Lucy Barrow, 34, shares a one bedroom flat with her furloughed husband and four-year-old daughter. She says the family can just about afford £860 per month, but she’s worried about falling into debt after being asked to pay an extra £90.
She told Metro.co.uk: ‘As you can imagine trying to find a property right now is difficult. Me trying to get time off to look at properties or even to get a removal van to our road is not possible. Everybody’s rent is going up on June 1, it’s the middle of lockdown, what are we supposed to do? You either sign it or you have to leave with nowhere to go.’
Lucy, who works at an NHS clinic in Southwark, central London, said tenants in her block are charged 80% of the area’s market rent as part of an initiative to help emergency workers live in more pricey parts of the capital. The letter from Notting Hill Genesis was dated May 5, but the mum-of-one says she only received it on Wednesday.
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Tenants at Brixton Water Lane are set to be charged an extra £120 a month for a two bedroom flat and £150 for a three bedroom property. The Housing Association say they are upping the rent in line with the area’s increased prices.
Lucy said: ‘It’s really unfair at this time that we are stressed and they haven’t even thought “maybe this could wait a month”. My husband is furloughed at the moment so we are budgeting our money.
‘You know what we are going through right now, just having to be in work and having to cope with everything that’s happening and then you just throw this at us. We’ve got a daughter, she’s four, we do want to consider looking at bigger properties, we are all in a one bedroom flat as that’s all we can afford right now.
‘The timing of it is inconsiderate. It feels like we are not being appreciated for the work we are doing as key workers, I feel like it could have been delayed for a couple of months.’
However Notting Hill Genesis does encourage tenants who worry about covering their rent to speak to their housing officer. Its letter says: ‘We can sign post you to a variety of agencies that can assist you with budgeting, debt and financial advice as well as referring you to an in house Welfare Benefits Advisor.
‘We know that many residents will be struggling financially as a result of the current crisis and worrying about how to make ends meet. We want to assure you that we will not be taking tenancy enforcement action if your arrears have escalated due to the impact of Covid-19.
‘If you are not covering your rent we need you to get in touch so that we can understand your circumstances and set up an affordable payment arrangement.’
But Lucy, who was born and raised in Brixton, still has concerns about how falling into arrears could affect her family’s future. She added: ‘It’s just not good for your credit in terms of finding somewhere in the future.’
A Notting Hill Genesis spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: The properties at Brixton Water Lane are intermediate market rent (IMR) homes let at 80% of market rates, rather than being part of our social housing stock.
‘Each year some of these fixed tenancies come to an end and are either renewed, or the tenant chooses to leave. Homes at Brixton Water Lane had not had rent rises for several years and were due an increase to bring them back up to 80 per cent of market rates.
‘In this case the increase would have been £116 a month but we apply a cap to further ensure affordability, which for this property is £90. Our IMR residents are also now being offered three year-tenancies, with rents that rise in line with social housing levels, providing more security and affordability. This had been decided prior to the Covid-19 crisis.
‘If any of our residents are experiencing financial difficulties we urge them to get in touch immediately. We are able to support them in obtaining any financial support to which they are entitled, such as Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, that will allow them to maintain their tenancy.
‘If a resident on a fixed-term tenancy chooses not to renew they need to let us know. We do not want anyone to feel the need to move at this difficult time and will work with them to agree a more suitable date.’
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