The perfect storm? A chaplain reflects on the challenges faced by renters

21 September 2021

'I am still behind on my rent because of Covid.'
'Being evicted is all I think about.'
'I can't sleep for worrying about how I'm going to pay my rent.'

This week I met Mark and he told me that his life had fallen apart in the space of a month. 

Mark had been looking for work when the pandemic began in spring of 2020. He enrolled on Universal Credit for the first time in his life whilst continuing to look for a job. The benefits didn't cover his rent, so Mark fell behind on his payments. When Covid restrictions were relaxed, Mark's landlord asked him for his full rent and payments towards the arrears. Unfortunately, Mark had not been able to find work so there was no way he could clear the rent debt. He was evicted and without a job, a home and no where else to go, he found The Brick via our food bank at St George's Church in Wigan town centre.

Talking to me about his situation, Mark cried when he realised that we weren't going to judge him, question his choices, or tell him what to do. The Chaplain, like all Brick staff, is there to listen, to help a person make sense of what is happening to them, and together to find a way forward. Mark needed hope and he found it with us. 

It is alarming how hard the pandemic has hit renters. They are more likely to be working in sectors which have shrunk, and they are very unlikely to have been able to save 'for a rainy day.' This means that they are particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless. 

In England, the government's support during the pandemic is coming to an end. Next month eviction notices will return to what they were before the Covid crisis began: a mere two months. Courts are reopening for evictions. And the government may well scrap the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit.

This is a 'perfect storm' for renters. The charity StepChange estimates that rent arrears now stand at £360 million. The National Residential Landlords Association has described the issue as a 'crisis.' 

There are many, many more 'Marks' out there. We are here to help. The Brick charity has its roots in the Methodist Church and continues to be closely linked with Queens Hall, Wigan. My role is funded ecumenically and we have a number of chaplaincy volunteers from a variety of Christian traditions. We are all committed to responding to issues of poverty, homelessness and marginalisation. No one should be without hope. 

The Revd Caroline Ainger is Chaplain to The Brick, Greater Manchester.
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