Cost of living challenges leave Northerners ‘living in fear’ 

Northerners who spent the pandemic in poor quality housing are now ‘living in fear’ after being hit hard by cost-of-living challenges. 

That’s the bleak conclusion of a new report from academics at the University of Huddersfield. The Northern Housing Consortium is now calling on the government to implement a three-point plan to resolve the crisis.

A team led by Professor Phillip Brown has reached out to residents they last spoke to at the peak of the pandemic, who lived in private rented accommodation, or were owner occupiers. They found little improvement in housing conditions. 

Residents’ financial challenges have got worse because of soaring energy prices, impacting their physical and mental health, and the condition of their home. Many residents continue to live in homes with hazards. 

Owner occupiers felt they had some hope of resolving the problems, but many private tenants faced apathy or hostility from landlords when they reported issues. Some reported worries of reprisals such as rent hikes or eviction. With rising rents, participants spoke of fear of being unable find a new home if they were evicted. 

A private rented tenant from Leeds said: “It is a constant worry of where I’m going to live if the worst happens, and it does grind you down. You find yourself not sleeping at night worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet.”

The study sets out a three-point plan to ease the squeeze on struggling households:

  • The speedy progress of the Renters’ Reform Bill to end no-fault evictions
  • Local Housing Allowance levels must continue to keep pace with spiralling rents
  • New support with energy bills, including a ‘social tariff’ to help people meet soaring costs of gas and electricity.

Northern Housing Consortium Chief Executive, Tracy Harrison, said:

“This report highlights the despair of thousands of northerners. They’re trapped in poor quality homes they can’t afford to heat. Despite cutting back, even on essentials, they have little hope of being able to afford to move. This is impacting their mental and physical health. 

“This was a small-scale study but, the Northern Housing Monitor, our state of the region housing report illustrates these problems are likely to be widespread. The North West and Yorkshire and the Humber have experienced the biggest market rent hikes in England. The North accounts for a disproportionate proportion of homes with the most serious hazards, and there is a higher-than-average percentage of households experiencing fuel poverty. 

“We’re backing the report’s calls for legislation to end no fault evictions and improve standards in the private rented sector. We welcomed the announcement in the autumn statement that Local Housing Allowance will be returned to the 30th percentile of local market rates, but it must continue to keep pace with rents otherwise thousands of people will again be priced out of the private rented sector.

“Soaring energy costs must be tackled with more support, such as a social tariff. Making homes more energy efficient is the long-term solution as it means warmer more comfortable homes and it lowers the impact of rising bills.”

Report author University of Huddersfield Professor Philip Brown said: 

“During the winter months, people living in poor housing conditions are more likely to die as a result of respiratory, circulatory and cardiovascular diseases and are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. In certain parts of the UK, such as the north of England, this is made even worse by the prevalence of older, colder and poorly maintained properties. 

“But even if you are fortunate enough to have adequate accommodation, this does not insulate you from the spiralling cost of living, in particular rising energy prices. Our research has shown how people are getting by from crisis to crisis. Using savings, drawing on credit, managing worsening mental health and disengaging from activities which could help their wellbeing, but which cost money.”

The report was part funded by the Nationwide Foundation.

Chief Executive of the Nationwide Foundation, Samantha Stewart, said:

“Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. However, as the report discovers, the impacts of the housing crisis are being compounded by factors like the cost-of-living crisis, meaning that an increasing number of people are being forced to settle for poor-quality housing they are struggling to afford, and this is having a devastating impact on their quality of life and overall mental health and wellbeing. Meanwhile the threat of eviction is leaving people insecure, unsettled, and afraid to report issues with their homes. 

“We know that the UK housing system is in urgent need of reform, and it’s reassuring to see that this report sets out reform of the private rented sector as one of the top solutions to the housing crisis. As a member of the Renters Reform Coalition, we are firmly behind the speedy progress of the Renters Reform Bill through parliament and are working with other members of the Coalition to ensure the Bill will provide the best outcome for renters.”

‘Living in Fear’ looked at the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and poor-quality housing on people’s health, finances and daily routines. Researchers caught up with 15 people who had taken part in 2020 research Lockdown, Rundown, Breakdown to find out how and if things had changed for them.  

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