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Citizens Advice: Barnet’s massive increase in housing problems

Citizens Advice Barnet has already seen over 1300 people with over 3400 housing related problems writes Violet Mermelstein

A man receiving housing advice from a woman as they both sit looking at a computer screen
Citizens Advice Barnet has seen over 1300 people with over 3400 housing related problems since January – (Credit – Citizens Advice Barnet)

For some, the cost of living crisis has been most keenly felt in the pinch on household expenditure. The phrase “£2 for pasta?” has been heard at supermarkets up and down the country. For others however, this is just the tip of the iceberg that threatens to sink their entire livelihoods. 

Advisers working at local charity Citizens Advice Barnet, were met with a heart wrenching sight on arrival at their Hendon office one morning – a sight that is becoming all too common. A family on the doorstep, all their belongings packed into suitcases. They were made homeless that morning. They had nowhere to go and did not even know where they would sleep that night. 

Rent prices in Barnet have soared in the last year (up 13.6% compared to 2022). Since January, Citizens Advice Barnet has already seen over 1300 people with over 3400 housing related problems. This is a jump of almost 1000 problems compared to two years ago. The situation is set to worsen in the coming months, as winter pushes up the cost of energy bills. 

These problems can range from mould and damp causing health issues, all the way to rent increases and the feared section 21 evictions. The only common factor is that those affected feel completely powerless in their struggles.

Bar the obvious effects on people’s ability to work and study in London, Citizens Advice Barnet has seen the adverse effects on community mental health and the links to other pressing issues such as complex debts. Our advisers report that it is now a common occurrence to have people reporting suicidal ideation as a result of their precarious housing situation. 

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“The problem is,” says Sayeed, Advice Services Manager at Citizens Advice Barnet, “all classes of people are being impacted by the cost of living. Those with properties are having to increase rent prices as their mortgages go up and this is inadvertently putting pressure on those in the private rented sector.”

The situation doesn’t improve even if renters seek cheaper options. 

“Often when renters are forced out of a property they are faced with a market where prices are high everywhere.” Sayeed explains, “Their only option is to leave London and their communities behind. This leads to isolation and often the fragmentation of social groups. This, in turn, grows resentment between renters and landlords.” 

The long term solution is investment in affordable social housing in London. Unfortunately this is beyond the scope of Citizens Advice Barnet. 

As demand for support increases, Citizens Advice Barnet is stepping up its housing advice services, in conjunction with other organisations. For those encountering a shortfall between their income and their rent, Barnet Council is offering one-off discretionary housing payments which can be applied for directly. Citizens Advice Barnet is also signposting to funds from certain religious organisations (e.g. the Zakat fund), and working within the community to provide a holistic and supported approach to housing issues. 

Meanwhile our dedicated front of house team continues to deal with housing emergencies as best they can. 

Violet Mermelstein is Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Citizens Advice Barnet, a local charity which helps people in Barnet with expert advice and support. This is part one of a three part series exploring the effects of the cost of living crisis through the charity’s work.

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