“I wanted to move out of there so badly, I was going to sleep every night with my jaw clenched."
Hannah has lived in accommodation provided by two different supported "exempt" housing providers and had two very different experiences.
“I lost my driving licence. I was self-employed, so driving a car was my means of earning money. I lost my job, and then the landlord needed to evict me. I’d been engaging with a drugs support service to try and get my life back on track, and they referred me to a service for supported housing.”
In the first place, which was linked to the local council, she had had a care plan. “It was very much directed towards me and what I needed.” However, Hannah didn’t always feel safe there. “It was chaotic!”
Moving to a new provider
Hannah wanted to move to a different area and found another supported accommodation provider nearby which was independent from the council.
“When I moved, it totally changed. It was like the rules were being made up as we were going along, which was quite unhinging.”
There were some positive things about the new place. “I was struggling to get sober in the other place because you had three chances, and they were very flexible, whereas this place was, ‘If you drink or use, you are out straight away’. And for me, that worked at the time when I moved in.”
There was a strong focus on ‘fellowship’. “You go to as many meetings as you can and so I was quite close to the people that I lived with.”
No tailored support
However, the support wasn’t tailored to Hannah’s needs. “The manager made a care plan, but no action was taken, everyone had to live by the same rules. The support was practically non-existent. There was no female support worker either, so there was no option of that.”
“There was a self-development type course they put you on with a partner organisation, but they lost the funding and it folded, and suddenly all these people in supported housing didn’t have anything to do. You can’t work.
“They even didn’t like voluntary work. I was still in a drama group when I moved in. I loved it, and I was so proud because I’d got the lead role in a show.”
But Hannah was told to leave the drama group, as it was run by the drugs support service. “My support worker said: ’You don’t want to be hanging out with those’.”
“Because of their unrealistic rules, you didn’t feel like you could go to them with anything, so right from the beginning it was almost like you’re hiding yourself from them.
“You’re trying to make it look like you’re doing what they want you to do.”
Holding me back
As Hannah recovered, she was looking for affordable housing to move on to, but this was actively discouraged. “I had to go down to Shelter sneakily and get them to help me get onto the council list. Again, this is something I’ve got to hide.”
“And with all the rules they had, I was breaking them just by trying to live my life. After a year and a half, I got a boyfriend – that wasn’t allowed.”
“I just started to lie – and then I thought, I don’t need to lie about this. I’d been ready to move on from supported housing for ages, but I was stuck.”
“I was desperate, I wanted to move out of there so badly, I was going to sleep every night with my jaw clenched. I just needed to move on with my life – I so badly wanted to go back to work. I was happy, I was sober. And this was holding me back. There was no move-on support at all. It feels like your hands are tied.”
“I was working but I was on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because you have to be on ESA to pay the bills for the supported housing.
“I was stuck because I could only work up to 16 hours, I was trying desperately to find somewhere else to live, phoning estate agents – but no one was interested because I was on benefits. It was hard to find somewhere I could afford, and doors were slamming in my face left, right and centre.”
Her support worker turned up with an eviction notice after she admitted that she had a boyfriend, but the notice wasn’t legally compliant. Hannah then spent months liaising with the council.
“You’re so tired of faceless organisations, and all the while feeling like you’re on a timeframe and the bailiffs are going to come.”
At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, Hannah finally managed to secure a privately rented property by agreeing to take it on without even viewing it.
Hannah is in a good place now. “I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve got a job and I’m doing an apprenticeship now. I’m on placements around the organisation, and I’m hoping that when the apprenticeship finishes, they’ll have a job vacancy. I feel at home there.”
The future of exempt accommodation
“I’m still in denial – or perhaps grief, from all the time I was in supported housing.” Hannah thinks supported accommodation can provide a useful service for people who need it.
“But they need to have more clear rules that are written down. Don’t just make them up as you go along. I would hate to see these places disappear, but the way they are at the moment, they’re taking advantage of a vulnerability.”
Regulate the Rogues is Crisis’ campaign to stop rogue landlords exploiting people who need housing and support to leave homelessness behind.
Everyone should have a safe home that meets their needs.
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