Ministers must help struggling renters… not just homeowners, says celebrity chef Aldo Zilli

 

HOMELESSNESS is an issue very close to my heart. I’ve been there myself — sleeping in phone boxes, petrol stations, braving freezing temperatures and eating food that had been thrown away.

The kindness of a stranger and a lucky break meant I went on to enjoy my career as a chef, but I never forgot what it was like to spend a night on the streets.

That’s why I feel very deeply for the 1.8million people who fear losing their homes at short notice in England.

As of last night, the current ban on evictions by bailiffs — brought in to protect people during the pandemic — has ended.

From today, notice periods for the majority of private renters in England will be cut from six to four months.

And some renters could receive a mere four weeks’ notice if they have more than four months’ rent arrears. An estimated 445,000 people in England are in rent arrears and could face losing their homes.

Many have real debt due to the Covid-19 crisis, but the average rent arrears for private renters is just £900 per adult.

STAY POSITIVE

It is tragic that for the sake of £900 someone could be kicked out of where they live and become homeless this summer.

People who rent are the most likely to have been hit hard by the pandemic. But it is wealthier homebuyers, who have benefited from a stamp duty holiday tax break, who the Government has helped.

Ministers need to do more to support people at the most insecure end of the spectrum.

There needs to be more help for people struggling to make ends meet. We are not a poor nation and there are far too many homeless people for the country we’re in.

It’s very sad that we are still in the same boat, if not worse, than before the pandemic. Now the eviction ban has been lifted, things are likely to get worse, not better.

Some people have more money than ever before — having been paid in full throughout the pandemic but spending less on travel, shopping and nights out.

But if you were in an unstable job in an industry hit hard by the lockdown, you may well be struggling to afford to keep a roof over your head.

In the hospitality industry alone it will take some companies years to get into shape after the pandemic.

As businesses struggle to make ends meet it is bound to have an effect on some people’s livelihoods and their ability to pay rent.

I know what it’s like. At the age of 17, after leaving my home in Italy to find a job, I found myself sleeping rough on the streets of a foreign city.

'KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE'

Thankfully, after a few weeks I managed to connect with a man who ran an Italian restaurant and he gave me a job.

From there I developed my passion for cooking and the career I love. But if I hadn’t had that lucky break, homelessness could have changed the course of my life.

Landlords whose tenants are facing financial issues due to the lockdown should put their hand on their heart and see how they can help.

If they can, landlords must try to work with their tenants to find a solution together. For those worrying about losing their home, keep hold of your self-esteem.

If things go wrong look after your health first then everything else can be fixed.

Instead of staying silent, try to talk to people about your concerns. It’s very important to talk to your family, your partner, even your friends about what is going through your mind.

If your landlord wants to evict you, the first thing you can do is talk to them. You may find there’s a way forward.

I help represent the homeless charity Centrepoint, which supports 15,000 vulnerable young people a year by providing accommodation, education and physical and mental health support.

If you are struggling and want to ask for advice, the charity has a helpline. In the meantime, try to stay positive and carry on working or looking for work.

I believe there is a job out there for everyone, especially now everything is reopening.  Things will get better.

  • Aldo Zilli is a Chef Consultant and founder of Casa Zilli.

Act, don't bury your head in the sand

IF you are worried about losing your home after the restart of bailiff evictions it is important to be proactive.

That’s the message from homeless charity Shelter.

Ruth Ehrlich, the organisation’s policy manager, says: “Being in any sort of precarious financial situation is really stressful and sometimes the instinct is to bury your head in the sand.

“But it’s really important to reach out to your landlord if you’re struggling, as addressing the problem could mitigate things down the line.

“It’s vital you are responding to any letters your landlord is sending and that you’re keeping in touch with them.”

Trying to tackle the problem early can be key. You can also reach out to advisers at Shelter via its helpline, website, or in person to get more support.

Checking if you’re eligible for benefits such as Universal Credit could help relieve some of your financial worries.

And if you are facing potential eviction, it is vital to be aware of your rights.

Ruth adds: “Even if you have rent arrears you are still entitled to a legal process and your landlord has to follow certain steps if they want to evict you.

“If your landlord is sending you loads of letters and isn’t being reasonable and isn’t engaging with you, it’s still really important to get some advice.

“You’re entitled to notice. You’re also entitled to wait until the end of the notice period and then your landlord still has to take you to court if you haven’t found anywhere else to live.

“It is a long process from having initial problems to being physically evicted by the bailiffs.

“That means there is a lot of opportunity to get advice and try to resolve whatever is putting you at risk in the first place.”

The Shelter Helpline is available for all ages and can offer advice if you have nowhere to sleep or may be facing eviction soon. Call 0808 800 4444 or visit england.shelter.org.uk/get_help.

The Freephone Centrepoint Helpline is available for young people aged 16 to 25 who are worried about homelessness. Call 0808 800 0661 for advice or visit centrepoint.org.uk.

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