Family tension, the cost of Christmas and rising mortgage rates mean more people become homeless in January than any other month. REBECCA TAYLOR speaks to organisations offering help and support to those without a roof over their head.
AS HOUSE prices peak in Chester, and a growing student population pushes the rental market to its limits, anyone earning under £20,000 now struggles to rent a one-bedroom flat in the city.
Those who need to live alone can now expect to pay at least £450 a month in rent, plus a down-payment of around £800 in agency fees and deposits.
And, because of the boom in buy-to-let developments run by lettings agencies, people with a poor credit history or claiming benefits are unlikely to be accepted as tenants.
As a result 700 people every year call on the charity Chester Lodgings and Support Providers (CLASP) for help putting a secure roof over their head.
The charity does not charge clients for help finding a home, and has support workers who help furnish accommodation and give support to people unused to living alone or with mental health issues.
It has a database of approved landlords, including those who let rooms out in their homes and other who own properties to let.
Most clients are single males aged 25-40 who are low priority for housing association accommodation, but general manager Anne Evans says anyone can find themselves without a home.
She said: “We can help people of almost any age who are either homeless, about to be made homeless or living in unsuitable accommodation.
“People think of homeless people as rough sleepers, but the majority are sofa surfing – spending a few nights here and there with friends but with no secure home.
“I remember one middle-aged man who had a successful business, a nice house, a nice family, then broke up with his wife and had a nervous breakdown, lost his business and house and ended up in a bedsit.
“He went from having everything to nothing because of a fast chain of events that could happen to any of us.
“In November alone we saw around nine people whose homes were repossessed and we are expecting to see a lot more in 2008 as people struggle to pay their mortgages.”
Project Officer Georgina Millington adds: “Even if you own your own house you are two months away from being homeless because that is all the mortgage provider will give you before they throw you out.”
CLASP is also able to offer support for people with mental illnesses, which Georgina says can be either the cause or the effect of finding yourself without a home.
She said: “Having suitable, secure housing is the key to everything. It provides people with security, it makes it easier for them to hold down a job, it can provide somewhere for their family to visit them, which is very important for parents who have shared custody of children.
“It seems to be the crucial component and once you get it sorted out the rest of the problems in someone’s life come together.”
CLASP is currently looking for more homeowners to let out a room in return for help towards their mortgage payments.
Lodgers usually pay around £60 a week and CLASP is offering to help landlords register with Chester City Council, produce a lodgers agreement and deal with any problems that arise with lodgers.
Georgina said: “We are trying to appeal to people who have got huge mortgages and a spare room and want extra income.
“When we interview people we always get their background, references and proof of income before we accept them.
“But the landlords have choice over who lives with them and, with a lodger, they only have to give one week’s notice if they need them to leave.
“We give them full support, and they will have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping make someone’s life better.”
CLASP landlord Bernard Davies, of Saltney, has let out rooms in his house to four tenants for the last five years.
He said: “I always find it difficult to get tenants through adverts because you don’t know if you can trust the reference.
“With CLASP tenants I know they have been interviewed and checked and that there will be some support afterwards.
“It is not something people should go into without thinking seriously about it, you don’t know who you are going to get and it can affect your life quite heavily.
“But most people are fine and you get a lot out of doing it.”
To become a CLASP landlord or tenant call 01244 318728 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org