A recent survey has suggested that since the coronavirus pandemic started, more than 170,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent, and an estimated 230,000 renters in England have fallen into arrears [source: Shelter]. Local charity, West Somerset Advice, fear that this will increase when the government lifts the ban on evicting tenants.
Based in Minehead and delivering their service across the west of Somerset, West Somerset Advice runs a housing advocacy project which was set up in response to increasing demand for housing advice. In 2018 they were awarded a 3-year grant for £108,923 from the Hinkley Point C (HPC) Community Fund, administered by Somerset Community Foundation (SCF).
In the last year, West Somerset Advice has provided specialist housing advice and support to 709 people in communities in west Somerset, with an additional 600 family members also benefiting. In the last 12 months the charity has seen an increase of more than 150% of welfare cases related to the affordability of renting.
With funding for the project now in its third year, Susan Clowes, Manager at West Somerset Advice explained: “Since the coronavirus outbreak we have had to redesign our service, so that we can now offer socially distanced advice.
“There is still a need to provide face-to-face services for people who are digitally excluded or too vulnerable to use the ‘phone, and, having set up our office to comply with government guidance, we’ve been able to offer limited face-to-face appointments since August. And we’re currently working to find an alternative to our outreach sessions by using technology such as setting up a virtual waiting room that can be accessed from any PC, laptop or mobile phone, or from public computers in libraries for those facing digital exclusion.
“If our virtual waiting rooms are successful, they could be particularly beneficial for rural outreach during the pandemic.”
Since the pandemic, West Somerset Advice has also taken a key role in the provision of food to people who are shielding, working closely with Public Health and the Community Resilience team at County Hall, and making referrals that help to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities gain access to the right services.