Shelter issues warning ahead of critical Christmas season, as free helpline receives a call every 22 seconds

Posted 27 Nov 2017

Shocking new figures show Shelter received a call for help every 22 seconds in the run up to Christmas last year, and the charity is warning that the situation this winter could be set to get worse.

New research from Shelter and M&S shows that in 2016 the charity’s helpline received over a hundred thousand calls in the two months leading into Christmas – while more than 500 calls were made on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone.

A crippling combination of rising homelessness, sky-high rents, problems with Universal Credit and a dearth of affordable homes means the charity is preparing for huge numbers of people struggling with homelessness and housing problems to come to them for support.

And with calls to the free Shelter helpline increasing by 25% over the past year, their expert advisers are overwhelmed with pleas for housing help.

Mark Cook, a helpline adviser for Shelter, said: 'Every Christmas I speak to parents in despair as they face the trauma of homelessness, when they should be filling stockings and looking forward to Christmas dinner.

The Shelter helpline is funded by M&S customers throughout the festive season, with 5% of every purchase made from the ‘Festive Collection for Shelter’ going directly to the charity. This means the helpline can offer housing advice and support every single day of the year for people battling bad housing and homelessness.

'Even though I’ll be working at Christmas, I think myself so lucky to be able to go home at the end of the day when there are so many families having to go without such a basic need.

'No family should face the agony of losing the roof over their heads, which is why we’re calling on people to get their lunch from M&S’s Festive Collection for Shelter. Something as simple as buying a sandwich could make the world of difference to a family whose home is on the line this Christmas.'

Mike Barry, Plan A Director at M&S, said: 'We know our customers care about this issue and purchasing lunch from our Festive Collection for Shelter is a small, simple way they can make a big difference this Christmas. With calls to the Shelter helpline increasing by 25% over the past year it’s more important than ever we support this important cause.'

Case study: Andrea was evicted from her home after her private landlord put up the rent and she was unable to keep up with her payments. Andrea spent Christmas homeless and eventually rang the Shelter helpline, desperate for help.  

'When I was made homeless the council told me they couldn’t rehouse my whole family because my son was grown up – even though he had never lived away from us. But after calling the Shelter helpline, their legal advisers turned things around and stopped us from being split apart.

'Mentally I’m a strong person, I’ve been through quite a lot – but this pushed me to my limit. I felt as though nobody had time for me, nobody was really interested in me. I was just another statistic. The Shelter helpline was my saviour and the best thing I’ve ever done. If hadn’t called that day, I would be in a very, very bad place and without my son.'

Due to the help from Shelter, Andrea is now housed by the council with her whole family and has been able to get back into full-time work.

Notes to editors:

  • Shelter’s free, national telephone advice line is opened Monday to Friday from 8am–8pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am–5pm. Shelter’s trained housing advisers can give immediate and practical assistance and explain your rights, while suggesting specialist or local support services that can help longer term. For housing advice call 0808 800 4444.

  • Shelter’s national helpline receives a call for help every 22 seconds over the Christmas period of November and December. This is based on the opening times for the helpline during that time (681hours) and the total number of calls the helpline received during the 2016 Christmas period (111,401 calls).

  • The number of calls made to Shelter’s helpline rose to 618,189 in the financial year 2016/17, compared with 494,570 in the financial year 2015/16 – an increase of 25 percent, or 123,619 more calls. Figures represent the total number of calls made to the helpline. Some people may call multiple times before they get through to an adviser. Call volumes for November 2016 have been estimated in line with previous years.

  • Marks and Spencer’s contribution to the Shelter helpline means it is responsible for all calls being answered over October, November and December.

  • M&S and its customers have contributed £9.8 million since 2005. M&S supports Shelter in lots of different ways; from the special Shelter Food on The Move Christmas collection where 5% from every item is donated to Shelter, to donations of head office clothing samples to Shelter Shops, and donations from the Sparks card.

  • Recent Shelter analysis showed that 307,000 people are homeless in Britain today.