At Shelter, we believe everyone has the right to a safe home.
The pandemic has exacerbated the problems faced by millions of people living in bad housing in the private rented sector.
We have seen a sharp increase in people coming to us with issues, such as rent arrears due to job loss or having been furloughed, illegal evictions and questions about disrepair and landlord access.
Many of the queries that come into our emergency helpline can be resolved faster by visiting our comprehensive online advice pages.
Shelter’s online advice team work hard to ensure that we have the most user-friendly, helpful and up-to-date content possible available for people to access whenever they may need it.
Andy Parnell has worked at Shelter for over seven years, initially as a helpline and webchat adviser and now as a content designer for our online advice pages.
"We have developed a variety forms including videos, tools, guides, template letters and other resources to allow people to self-help.”
All content developed is informed by the latest insight on housing issues.
“We research user needs to identify themes, looking at the types of enquiries coming into our emergency helpline, webchat and social media.
"We start with identifying the pain points of what people may be needing help with.
"For example, many people come to us with questions about how best to communicate with their council to access the support they’re entitled to.
"We therefore developed a template letter that can be downloaded and sent to the local council for help with harassment and illegal eviction.”
Over the last year and a half, keeping abreast of the latest legislative changes and the Covid-19 landscape has been key in order to regularly review, update and create new content for our online advice and social media pages.
“We’ve had to be reactive to ensure our advice is as up-to-date as possible.
"The pandemic has affected just about every area of housing law, from eviction notice periods changing to things like dealing with rent arrears, domestic violence, landlord harassment and whether landlords can have access to properties to deal with disrepair.
"We created a dedicated Covid-19 advice page that covers the most common types of enquiries and links out to other parts of our online advice for people who need more information.”
Over the last financial year, we have seen over 6.5 million visits to our Shelter England online advice pages.
"Following the end of the uplift to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme, we expect to see a further increase in the numbers of people who need information and advice on financial support and evictions.
“So many people are going to be without a safety net when the furlough scheme and Universal Credit uplift end.
"However, if someone is struggling financially, for example, dealing with rent or mortgage arrears, we have content on our website that can help, such as how to access Discretionary Housing Payments or how to challenge benefit decisions and guidance on how to maximise income.”
It is key that people with housing issues access Shelter’s online advice early in order to prevent relatively minor issues spiralling into crisis.
“We recommend that people seek advice as early as possible.
"For example, if someone thinks they might struggle to pay their rent, it’s important they speak to their landlord.
"Most landlords will be understanding and willing to come to an arrangement as long as the tenant stays in touch.
"All the information on our advice pages is practical and comprehensive, available in formats that are accessible and straight-forward to use,” says Andy.
We often receive positive feedback from people who have used our online advice, thanking us for the useful content which resolved their housing issue or answered the questions they had.
“We updated the illegal eviction pages in March, and after a few weeks we received a comment from someone who had been looking for advice on behalf of a family member.
"This family member was being harassed by their landlord who was trying to push them out of the property.
"After they had used the template letter to contact the landlord and enforce their rights, the landlord stopped harassing their relative.
"It’s really heart-warming to see the content we work on help those who need it.”
While the past year and a bit has been difficult, Andy feels it has also shown how housing and other professionals have come together to support people at a time of need.
“On a personal level, so many people have worked really hard since the start of the pandemic.
"It’s been amazing to stand in solidarity with other dedicated, caring professionals who, despite challenging circumstances, go above and beyond to help people.”
As winter approaches, we anticipate a further increase in demand for Shelter’s services due to the financial strains of the holiday season and housing issues, such as damp and mould worsening.
“If you’re a professional working with clients who need Shelter’s help, please encourage them to look at our online advice pages and resources, as they are designed to be as helpful as possible with the advice they need, in the format they need it in.”