24, careworker on zero hours and facing eviction from Focus E15

Update Monday 10 November: Quick update: the eviction was averted. Doughty Street lawyer Jamie Burton came down and was able to negotiate a repayment plan and a review in two months’ time.

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This afternoon, I spent several hours talking with a 24-year-old woman who is in rent arrears at the Focus E15 hostel and must appear in Bow County Court tomorrow at 2pm to try and stop her eviction from the hostel. If that fails, she’ll be evicted on Tuesday by East Homes. (East Homes is part of the East Thames Housing Group – if you like, give them a shout here @EastThamesGroup to ask them why they think homelessness is an acceptable option for young people who are already struggling, especially with winter approaching). If the eviction goes ahead, this young woman is pretty sure she will be out on the streets. She is probably right. She’s facing eviction from a homelessness hostel, which will make her – err, homeless. This woman suffers from depression. She is young and she is not rich. She’s in arrears and she will be punished. She has nowhere to go if she must leave Focus E15.

“I haven’t got anywhere else, because the only people I know are in the [Focus E15] hostel.” she says. “I want them [East Homes] to give me a month, or maybe two months to show that I can pay some of the money.”

A judge will make a call on that tomorrow. This young woman hasn’t got legal representation yet. She works as a carer on a zero hours contract and couldn’t get away from work on Friday to meet with a lawyer who may have helped. She will rely on a duty solicitor at the Monday hearing and hopes to get from work to court in time to get her story across to one. Such is our charming era.

I looked through this woman’s papers today. The whole situation is a shambles. It seems that as a Focus E15 resident, she once had a support worker who may have worked through some of these problems with her. She says that she went without a support worker for over a year, though, and a new one has only just been appointed. That left her foundering by herself in the usual bureaucratic hell – getting letter after letter about rent, arrears, council tax demands (she’s just sorted out a payment plan for that) and all the while wondering how many hours work and pay she’d get each week from the care agency she works for. She says that from time to time, her depression made it hard to sort her financial problems out. She’s young and she’s had nobody to guide her. A lot of people get into financial trouble when they’re young and discovering how the world works, if “works” is the word for it. Not everyone has wealthy relatives to bail them out. This woman is only 24 now. “I don’t mind admitting that sometimes, I would just think I’d let it [the problems with the money] go.”

A lot of the problems seemed to begin when this woman started work as a carer on that zero hours contract. The new income affected her housing benefit claim. She was responsible for a rent shortfall. Her income varied a lot, though – in a good month, she’d get £700. In a bad one, she’d get less than £100. Managing a housing benefit claim, and benefit claims generally, when you’re on a variable income can be difficult and painful in the administrative sense, and I meet a lot of people who aren’t at all sure what to do about it. This is one of the real problems with our zero hours age. People earn some money one week and very little the next. They don’t know if they can sign on for JSA to cover gaps, or whether they’re entitled to working tax credits, or how their changing income will affect their housing benefit claim. Wage slips need to be sent to councils and average housing benefit claim amounts decided. Big swings in income usually need to be reported to councils as a change in circumstances for housing benefit claims. A great many of the people I talk to have absolutely no idea who to ask for help with any of these things, or even that help might be available. Mix all that in with youth, inexperience, depression and you can see how people get into a mess.

This woman has paid some money here and there towards her arrears. She needs East Homes to agree to a direct debit payment plan so that she can start paying her arrears and stay in the hostel. The HA could even – wild idea – give some thought to wiping the debt, if you ask me (they haven’t). This woman needs another chance. I would have thought that this is exactly the time to give her a chance, too. She’s got a job – something that our political class would surely find thrilling, given its obsession with making everybody (else) work – and she’s trying to hang onto it. It’s hard to see how she’ll manage to hang onto it if she’s got nowhere to live. The HA’s emphasis should be on keeping her housed, not getting her evicted. If Newham council can piss £111m away on a building that it later decides it doesn’t want, then surely allowances can be made for a young person who has nowhere to live.

But that is not our era, of course. The have-nots must be made to pay if they get it wrong in any way. It’s different if you’re an MP, of course. If you’re an MP on the make with second homes and house flippings, you just get the records of any embarrassing or inconvenient parts of your financial history deleted from history. That is absoutely fine. On the other hand, if you’re a very young person who has no money, has missed rent payments at a homelessness hostel for reasons to do with youth, inexperience, isolation and poor pay, and you’re trying to earn a maximum of £800 a month on a zero hours’ care contract to patch things up – well, Tough A for you. Your money problems are all your fault and you must be rubbed into the ground. At the very least, you must spend the winter outside in the rain. No matter that you’re trying to work your way out of your problems. No matter that plenty of young people have problems managing money when they start out. You’re going to be flattened, regardless. I guess that’ll learn you.

Don’t start me.

Court hearing tomorrow (Monday 10 November 2014):

2pm
Bow County Court
96 Romford Road E15 4EG

If you can’t make it, go ahead and drop East Thames a line at:

@EastThamesGroup

info@east-thames.co.uk

and give Newham council a shout while you’re at it. Why not. They love a few tweets from the masses.

@NewhamLondon

Ask all of them about their plans for the Focus E15 hostel and for the young people who are still living there. Ask how long they plan to keep the hostel open and if any other young people there are facing eviction. Maybe also ask how much everyone at director level at both organisations earns and how many houses they all have. And ask if we can all go and stay. Definitely ask about that.

2 thoughts on “24, careworker on zero hours and facing eviction from Focus E15

  1. Hi, Kate

    On the Kilburn Unemployed blog that I publish, I have blogged intro to this with my own personal preface.

    As a former zero hours contract paid care worker myself, I know that with council ‘zero growth’ budgets for care [eg, minimal in-service training] work going back at least as far as 2005, there is statutory neglect by the State toward people delivering frontline care to vulnerable people in society, whether those frontline carers are paid charity/agency staff or cared-for-persons’ own families.

  2. Pingback: A sense of entitlement | Hello from Raging Crip

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