When women in absolute poverty are denied their kids, legal help and housing

Here’s a scenario that I’ve seen several times now: a woman facing homelessness after losing her kids in a custody battle that she couldn’t afford to fight.

One of the women I’ve written about several times for this blog has been in touch to say that she is facing eviction and homelessness. She has serious rent arrears – thousands of pounds. She has an eviction notice and will be thrown out her flat.

This woman is facing street homelessness. The arrears and eviction likely mean that her council won’t help her find housing. They’ll decide that she’s responsible for her eviction – that she’s made herself intentionally homeless.

Except that things aren’t quite that simple. They rarely are.

This woman is in arrears for two reasons:

The first is the benefit cap. The arrears began when the benefit cap was applied. The woman lost over half of her housing benefit entitlement literally overnight. There was no way she could make up this sudden loss of rent money.

The second reason is that the woman recently lost custody of her children. This was brutal. I can’t give much detail here, but I’ve seen this scenario several times.

The woman’s relationship with her ex-partner ended acrimoniously. Her much-better-resourced ex lawyered up and went to court for the kids. The character assassination this woman endured during this case was nasty.

So was the woman’s isolation. She had no money and no lawyer for most of the time (she scraped together a bit of money for advice early on, but couldn’t keep that going on any level. She didn’t have any money). This woman was one of the thousands of people who are now forced to represent themselves in bitter, convoluted and drawn-out custody fights. Even getting basic advice about entitlements and rights was impossible. She never had a chance.

So – the rent arrears. Already in debt, the woman stopped receiving housing benefit (Universal Credit in her case) for the bedrooms that her children had occupied. She couldn’t meet rent payments at all. The thing is completely out of hand.

She’ll be evicted soon.

God knows what happens after that. I guess that at best, she’ll find a crappy studio flat somewhere – if she can scrape together money for a deposit and rent, and find a landlord who accepts Universal Credit claimants who’ve been evicted for serious rent arrears. At worst, she’ll be street homeless. She’ll have no chance of getting her kids back without a place for them to stay.

Any constructive suggestions on this situation are welcome. I’ve interviewed three women in the same situation in recent times. There must be a way of getting legal representation and housing for people.

43 thoughts on “When women in absolute poverty are denied their kids, legal help and housing

  1. Pingback: What is still happening to the women silenced by the culture on twitter | The Idge of Reason

  2. Terrible state of affairs. There is no safety net. And getting a flat isn’t always all that easy, even for a crummy flat in a bad area they often require a bond (£300 in my case) plus a month’s rent in advance. I’d have been homeless myself if it wasn’t for my sisters bailing me out, but if you’ve got no one to turn to you’re screwed. I guess this woman will end up in a hostel or on the streets. There ought to be some special fund available for people with housing needs like this.

    • It’s so extraordinarily unbalanced and unfair. Someone’s got to get a grip on this stuff. Brexit is killing everything.

      • This isn’t Brexit this is the Conservatives unpicking the welfare safety net via supposed austerity cuts.

        • Yes of course, but because Brexit is taking up all of Parliament’s time and dominating media coverage other more important issues get ignored, e.g. Poverty, housing, homelessness, foodbanks, sanctions, universal Credit, the wholesale destruction of our Social Security etc.

  3. The Tories sneaked in the cuts to legal aid years ago. It’s virtually been scrapped as a system, another victim of austerity cuts. A deliberate strike at the poor and the unemployed by a government that couldn’t care less for them.
    Now its more a question of getting a copy of ‘How To Be Lawyer’, and having a go yourself.

    • Tories don’t want poor people to have any Representation, they’ve deliberately turned us back some would say to Victorian times, I’d say the Middle Ages, it’s like neither Peterloo nor the Magna Carta ever happened. One thing that certainly did happen though was the Enclosures (or Inclosures), whereby the State and the Aristocracy came to own the common land, and the English became a nation of landless peasants forcibly driven off the land, their dwellings burned down, forced to become rent-paying tenants in the newly emerging towns & cities as the agricultural workforce became the Industrial Working Class. The same landowning classes still exist and they still own the land, and the homes we have to rent. Nothing has changed expect the industry has gone, and now (as Crass pointed out back in the 80s) they owe us a living.


      • Absolutely true Trev. And it is all part of the same dreadful programme of social re-engineering that the Phillip Alston UN report has shown. First unemployment benefits cut, then the attacks on disability benefits, then the removal of legal aid. So now not only are people impoverished, they can’t even afford legal aid to do something about it. And who should be having legal aid if not the poor ?

    • At my local JC they were actually trying to sell these wretched call-centre jobs to people. Without much success.
      Who would want to sit in a DWP call-centre, taking 60-70 calls a day, many from people who had been denied disability benefits ?
      Not exactly a nice working environment.

      • Years ago before UC I got sent for an interview for precisely that job, working in a DWP call centre in Halifax. It was target-driven, so many calls per hour, and people had to put their hand up ✋ to go to the toilet. Somehow I managed to pass the civil service entrance exams and got through to interview stage, but managed to blow it by saying all the wrong things, but that was a close one!

        • P.S.
          I signed on this afternoon (had a late appointment, so it was hanging over me all day) and after the usual third degree about what’s preventing me from getting a job etc. the Dole Clerk Adviser woman gave me a job to apply for that is based right out in the sticks, miles away, with a poor bus service and a 7.30am start. I had just told her that I have no transport and many (most) of the vacancies I see are situated far away and the employers want people who have own transport or who live nearer. Then she gives me that! Honestly these jobcentre advisers are off their rocker. Anyway I found the job online and applied for it, but when I submitted the application it asks if you live in that postcode, I clicked NO and sent it nonetheless, but am obviously not going to get the bloody job.

          • They give people these crap job applications that they don’t want to do. Is it any suprise that somehow, for some strange mysterious reason. the application isn’t all that good ? And then they don’t get the job.

          • Or more to the point, as in this case, the employer specifically asks if you live in their postcode! So even a decent application will get filtered out if you click NO to that question, making the whole thing pointless.

  4. Just a thought, but I know several of the universities in London offer free legal services. Using law students. Could one of these possibly help this lady with her appeal ?

  5. hi, this story is heart breaking to read and extremely upsetting that they are becoming all to common these days!… I don’t know if you know of the Pro-bono unit, this is a government run charity for people who need legal help but are unable to claim legal aid. they will look at her application and then try and assign and scout for a barrister who will act on her behalf free of charge. I hope this helps and I sincerely wish her luck for the future

    • failing any help from the pro-bono unit, the charity “Barnardo’s” is another place she can get instant free help from, these are very experienced in family court matters and homelessness etc, so I would advise she contacts them as soon as possible, they will be able to advocate on her behalf to her landlord and give her advice and support her threw the court and children issues

  6. Also depending on the area you live in there may be women’s centres who can give women advice and guidance,. If coercive or abusive treatment by a partner is an issue, that can contribute to defence in a custody case. Calderdale and Kirklees have womens centre, and some WAFE braches may still exist though funding for all has been cut drastically under the Tories.

  7. Arguably it’s too late to replace Universal Credit. The Tories have shoved it together by stealth over the years. Knowing from day one it would never save any real money. As a new approach, a deliberately harsh system. Designed to discipline and control claimants . They spent 4 years fighting in the High Court to stop the truth coming out. At the same time racing to introduce it in Jobcentres as fast as they could. Before they were found out, and somebody stopped them. If the 2013 reports into UC had been published, that would have been it for UC. But like some cheap jerry-builder, they managed to keep botching it together under cover of secrecy.

    • Hopefully Labour will replace it with Unconditional Basic Income as John McDonnell has mentioned introducing, if they ever win an election. I think their earlier ‘plan’ of “pause and fix” is so meaningless and impossible that they’ll have dropped that nonsense by now. But who knows? Personally I just hope I can live long enough to make it to retirement age, realistically that’s the best (only) hope many of us have.

      • It would take a while to explore the best way to implement UBI, and also to decide on the best form.

        However, that doesn’t mean that in the meantime that the worst elements of UC couldn’t be dealt with to make it more palatable. Getting rid of the absolutely farcical 35 hours work related activity a week would go a long way towards making it much less stressful for those actually getting it. For those who are putting in claims, making the application process a little easier would help, and maybe allowing paper applications – though I can see nothing wrong with JCP+ staff being required to help the less computer literate complete the online form as it’s not that hard, though that would require the recruitment of more staff, as well as a complete change of culture, neither of which would be a bad thing. About the only thing that would need changing then would be the payment frequency. Under JSA there was even the possibility of weekly payments, and this should be restored, so that weekly, fortnightly or monthly payment options are available – as these payments are automated, and through banks there is negligible cost involved..

        The right-wing panic over people making living on benefits a lifestyle choice could easily be countered if jobs weren’t so a) difficult to get, and b) offered hours, pay and conditions that made them attractive and c) there were other options available, such as decent training availability, and also maybe even ‘make work’ schemes such as those that used to run under the Community Programme of the late 70s and 80s which did much good work in running schemes that provided decently paid work of real community benefit without undermining the existing economy.

        There will always be a few people who will, for whatever reasons, choose to live on benefits, bit even they are probably making a positive contribution in some way or another if they aren’t breaking laws, and at the very worst, they are financially insignificant, especially when compared with the tax evading and avoiding rich.

        • Yes as I recall the proposal was that UBI would be trialled in certain areas, Sheffield, Liverpool and somewhere else I think. In the meantime all they need to do would be to drop the conditionality of UC, like you say the ludicrous 35 hours jobsearch , and suspend Sanctions, and how about sending out payments fortnightly, or if they really must do it monthly why not pay it a month in advance. Will any of this really happen? Probably not, but we shall see. First step in the advancement of Society is get rid of the Tories.

        • Sorry to bring up the dreaded B-word but Brexit would have never happened if Cameron’s weak leadership hadn’t caved in to the UKIPPERS, and the LibDems hadn’t sold us out by climbing into bed with the Tories. The result has been a decade of ruinous Austerity to pay for a gigantean bail out of the Rich, the Financial sector and Big Business, to the tune of a Trillion pounds – read that again – £1Trillion! The other B word is the Banality of people voting LibDem ! Read this:


  8. How Governments use fear as a means of control:





    Fear of Benefit Sanctions, destitution, eviction, homelessness, starvation, imprisonment, losing your kids, fear of immigrants (xenophobia), fear of losing your job, etc. Sound familiar? A decade of Tory rule based on fear.

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