Even though I now have a job, my history of being on benefits made flat-hunting a nightmare.
After 30 years at my old flat, I’ve moved and it is wonderful. My old flat is where I brought my two children up and I do have happy memories of it, but it was also somewhere I felt trapped. It hadn’t been updated while I was there – when an estate agent came round to look at re-letting it, they said it wasn’t in a fit state – and I always felt embarrassed about inviting people round. But because I was living on benefits and carer’s allowance while I brought up my two children, who both have autism, and my rent was paid by housing benefit, I was nervous about moving to somewhere that might end up being less stable.
I think I might have been right. When I started to look for flats, I got disheartened very quickly. Even though my universal credit account has been dormant since I got a job – I had been a volunteer at the food bank for several years, but have had a full-time position since June – I still felt discriminated against when looking for flats.
The first flat I went for, the agent just said no. It was frustrating, because I knew my wages would cover the rent, but they wanted proof that I had more than the monthly amount. Another estate agent said there was a formula, which would mean earning £28,000 for a £800-a-month flat. I don’t earn that much, but I went to look at it anyway – it was a tiny square when you opened the front door, and the other three “walls” were doors which led to a bathroom, bedroom and a kitchen-diner.
It was tiny and cramped, and I really wouldn’t have wanted to live there, but it probably got snapped up by someone else. When I would ring to book a viewing, they already had too many people or someone had already put in an offer. It was a bit dog-eat-dog; you’d see the same people at viewings when you were queueing up outside. Who was going to put their name down first? And if you don’t get this one, what if there isn’t another one? You start to think “this will do”, even if it’s horrible.
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