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Pandemic leaves six million people more afraid of becoming homeless

Posted 16 Mar 2021

Pandemic leaves six million people more afraid of becoming homeless 

Shelter’s helpline braces for deepening crisis in the year ahead 

One in seven adults (14%) – equivalent to more than six million people – in England are more worried about becoming homeless due to the pandemic, new research by Shelter reveals.  

With people’s incomes slashed, job losses mounting, and people hanging onto their homes by a thread, the charity expects the pressure on its frontline services to only grow. 

Eleanor Wilson, a Shelter helpline adviser recruited in response to the pandemic, said: “People are frightened, they’re scared they might do the wrong thing, they don’t know their rights and they’re really worried they will lose their home. People can be quite distressed and don’t know where to turn. It can be emotional because you feel responsible for every caller.” 

Unsurprisingly, Shelter’s latest poll carried out by YouGov, shows it is private renters who have fared the worst during the Coronavirus crisis. A staggering one in four private renting adults (27%) now fear becoming homeless (2.2 million people).  

Private renters are also almost twice as likely to feel depressed and anxious about their housing situation, compared with the general public (26%). In fact, nearly half (47%) of private renters say they are more depressed and anxious in light of the pandemic. 

These concerns are not unfounded when a quarter of private renters (2 million people) have seen their income decrease in the last six months, and many are struggling to pay their rent. In just the last month: 

  • 24% of private renters have had to borrow money to pay their rent  

  • 18% have cut back on food or skipped meals to pay their rent 

  • 12% have cut back on heating their home to pay their rent 

This worrying snapshot of the people struggling to get by during the pandemic chimes with the charity’s frontline services data, which shows two-thirds (63%) of calls answered by its emergency helpline in the last year were from people already homeless or at risk of homelessness.  

To meet demand for its emergency services, Shelter has already taken on 26 new housing advisers and doubled the number of calls answered by its free helpline. In a bid to maintain this extra capacity and help more people during the rocky months ahead, the charity has launched an urgent appeal for public support – Lives on the Line

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Through our helpline we have seen just how scared people are about their homes and their futures. People’s lives are literally on the line. They are desperately struggling, and the threat of homelessness is very real. 

“At Shelter we are working hard to keep people safe in their homes. Thanks to the generous support of the public and our partners we have been able to answer double the number of calls, but we need to keep this up if we are going to weather the coming storm. To make sure we can always be on the other end of the line, we’re asking the public to support our appeal.” 

Shelter helpline adviser, Eleanor Wilson, continued: “I started working at Shelter’s emergency helpline in September. One of the most surprising things is the sheer volume of people who are teetering on the edge of homelessness. There are now a lot more of us to answer the phone, but the amount of calls is just relentless. 

“The helpline is so important. When people get through to us they've often called everyone else and they’re running out of options. When we are able to offer support, advice, and an action plan – it's fantastic. I’ve got people off sleeping on the streets, kept people from being illegally evicted, and found last minute emergency accommodation for families facing homelessness that very night.” 

Case study: Shaiso, 36, from London was working as a wedding planner and living in staff accommodation at the hotel where she worked.  She was made redundant in November and lost her home too. Shaiso got support and advice from Shelter and is now living in temporary accommodation. 

She said: “When the pandemic hit everything came crashing down. I lost my job as a wedding planner in November and my housing along with it, I was getting bounced from council to council and was starting to get really worried I was going to end up on the streets. A friend told me to call Shelter’s helpline to see if they could help.  

“The helpline adviser I spoke to was so kind and they were able to link me up with a local case worker, called Lily, who really helped me. Lily called me all the time and told me about all her conversations with the council.  Literally within a day, Lily had found somewhere for me to go. If it wasn’t for Shelter, I don’t know where I’d be now.  

“When this whole situation unfolded, my mental health really hit a low. Speaking with Lily has helped me to feel more positive and to start working on my depression. In the future I’m really hoping to get back into a stable home that I can call my own.” 

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Eleanor’s advice for people worried about losing their home during the pandemic:   

  1. Making a start can make all the difference. Whatever the housing problem you face, take the first step towards getting help by visiting Shelter also has a dedicated Coronavirus advice webpage where you can find out more about your housing rights during the pandemic.    

  2. Respond to letters and phone calls: It’s natural to want to keep your head down and hope your renting worries will go away but it’s important to read everything your landlord or letting agent sends to you. Keep a record of every letter and phone call.   

  3. If you are struggling to pay your rent speak to your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible, as they may be willing to agree a repayment plan, reduced rent or accept a late payment. Just be sure to get the details of any agreement in writing.  

  4. Find out about extra support. You may be able to claim Universal Credit to help with your housing costs. To find out what benefits you might be entitled to, you can use this benefits calculator, and Shelter also has an online guide to Universal Credit.  

Notes to editors:

Notes to Editors: 

  • The survey results in this press release are taken from a YouGov survey of 3,603 people in England (551 private renters), online, weighted, 18+, 28th January – 1st February 2021. 

  • The equivalent number of people is estimated by Shelter using the survey results in conjunction with population size data. In the case of all people (adults), the data used is the ONS single year population estimates, which shows there were 44.263m people aged 18 or over and living in England, in mid-2019 (latest available). In the case of private renters, and people paying housing costs, it is based on analysis of the English Housing Survey 2018/19 (raw data files), which is then applied to the 2019/20 published data to give an estimate of 8.188m privately renting adults in England and 29.260m adults paying housing costs. 

  • Shelter helpline figures: Homelessness status is captured by advisers to record if a client is currently homeless, homeless from tonight, homeless within 56 days, at risk of homelessness but not within 56 days looking at calls taken for November and December 2020. 

  • The data for the doubling of the calls answered comes from looking at the average calls answered per month from Jan 20 to Nov 20, and comparing this average to the number of calls answered in Dec 20 (the first month we had the new advisers fully “live” answering calls). 


About Shelter: Shelter is the UK’s leading housing and homelessness charity and believes that everyone should have a safe home. It helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing and homelessness through its free emergency helpline, webchat service, and local advice, support and legal services. And it campaigns to make sure that one day no one will have to turn to Shelter for help. For free and expert housing advice visit: