Help for residents worried about losing their homes during coronavirus pandemic

Apr 21, 2020 | Local News

Residents concerned about losing their home due to the financial impact of Coronavirus are being urged to contact a council’s housing team as soon as possible.

Durham County Council has reissued the plea following a recent poll by the homelessness charity Shelter, which found almost one in five private renters in England – an estimated 1.7 million adults – say they are likely to lose their job in the next three months as a result of the pandemic.

According to the research, 24 per cent of renters have already seen their income fall or have lost their job, with two million tenants saying becoming unemployed would leave them unable to pay their rent.

And with record numbers of people across the country claiming Universal Credit, Shelter is calling on the Government to increase the housing benefit element of the welfare payment. It argues that the current level will leave renters who pay an average amount of rent with a massive shortfall.

In County Durham, the council’s Housing Solution team is working hard to support residents who are concerned about paying their rent or mortgage during these uncertain times. Housing advice is being offered by telephone and email and information is available online at www.durham.gov.uk/covid19housing

There is also advice and information for businesses, employees and the self-employed at www.durham.gov.uk/covid19business

Cllr Kevin Shaw, the council’s Cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “The research published by Shelter is very concerning and I would encourage any County Durham residents who are worried about paying their rent to contact our Housing Solutions team as soon as possible. Similarly, if you are concerned about paying your mortgage, please contact your mortgage provider and then get in touch with us.

“The sooner we hear from you, the sooner we can provide advice and support and put your mind at ease. Help is available; and we will do what we can to ensure you remain safe and secure in your home.”

As well as the assistance being offered by the Housing Solutions team, the council is committed to supporting residents who are finding it hard to make ends meet because of the pandemic.

Durham County Council is already one of only a small number of local authorities in the country to provide council tax discounts of up to 100 per cent for eligible residents. The Government’s £500 million Coronavirus Hardship Fund has allowed the council to offer further reductions of up to £300, with revised bills with a combined saving of £1.9 million sent to more than 7,000 households in the last two weeks.

Debt recovery for anyone falling into arrears with their council tax has also been postponed and an additional £1 million from the Hardship Fund has been invested into the Welfare Assistance Scheme. This offers short-term awards for daily living expenses to help people in crisis situations, providing food, clothing, sanitary products and help with utilities.

Tenants who need additional support to meet their housing costs may also be eligible for Discretionary Housing Payment. The council awards these stand-alone payments to help meet rent shortfalls in the short-term, while the tenant addresses their money problems in the long-term.

Cllr Angela Surtees, the council’s Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “We know some of our residents are finding it tough at this time. If you are struggling, please be reassured that we will do as much as we can to help. We have a range of support measures in place, including our Welfare Assistance Scheme, which provides assistance when people need it most.”

The Housing Solutions team can be contacted on 03000 268 000 or housingsolutions@durham.gov.uk