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500 calls a day to Shelter helpline

Housing charity Shelter is receiving almost 500 cries for help a day from people struggling to keep a roof over their head as it braces itself for a fresh surge of calls this Christmas.

The number of calls Shelter is dealing with has already rocketed by 10% compared with last year and December is traditionally a time when it sees a spike in the number of households who are in danger of being tipped over the edge.

The charity's 50-strong team of advisers is typically dealing with 477 calls to its helpline every day from families worried about losing their home, a figure which has ballooned from an average of 433 phone calls on a daily basis a year ago. Shelter said the number of visits to its advice website pages has also surged by nearly two thirds (64%) year-on-year.

Liz Clare, who has been a Shelter helpline adviser for nine years, said she has "never seen the helpline as busy as it has been this year".

She said: "The threat of homelessness is devastating at any time of year, but it seems to get worse around Christmas as the strains of the holidays close in and the weather gets cold.

"One Christmas Eve I answered a call from a mum with a disabled son. They were evicted from their home that night and had to sleep on the streets in the cold.

"We managed to find them a place to stay, but I'll never forget the devastation in her voice."

The charity helped more than 12,600 people who called its helpline last December, marking a 15% jump on the same month in 2011.

Shelter fears that mounting pressure from household bills in the run-up to Christmas amid stagnant wages will leave more people struggling to cope. A string of price hikes announced by energy companies are set to kick in as temperatures plummet, prompting concerns that some families will be forced to choose between heating and eating.

Despite some recent signs that the economy is improving, consumer research released by Legal & General found this week that around one fifth (18%) of households are struggling to make ends meet and do not have enough money to cover their bills, up from one in eight (12%) a year ago.

Shelter also highlighted the case of a woman named Amanda, who turned to the charity last year when she was unable to keep up with her mortgage repayments on her own after she and her husband split up. H er home was repossessed and she and her two children had nowhere to live.

Amanda said: "It was an extremely scary time for me and my children. I tried my best to keep them safe and happy, but not knowing whether we would have a roof over our heads made it stressful and demoralising."

She said that Shelter helped to find accommodation, adding: "The difference between this Christmas and the last is huge.

"Thanks to Shelter we now have a place to call home, and my children are safe, settled, secure and happy. Their education has not been disrupted - my son is even looking to do his maths GCSE two years early."

Earlier this month, the charity launched an emergency appeal to help 80,000 children in Britain who will wake up homeless this Christmas. It warned that many of these children will be forced to spend Christmas day cramped into one room of a hostel or bed and breakfast with their entire family.

Marks & Spencer has supported Shelter since 1998, raising over £6.5 million to help the charity. In November and December, the store makes 5 pence donations to Shelter's helpline for items sold through its Christmas range of Food on the Move.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "These figures should serve as a stark reminder of the families who will be facing an everyday struggle to keep a roof over their heads this Christmas.

"While most of us will rightly be enjoying the festivities at home with our family and friends, Shelter helpline staff will be taking calls from people on the brink of homelessness.

"But with the number of calls for help they receive rising quickly, they need more support to keep going."

Recent figures released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) showed that the number of homes being repossessed fell to its lowest level in the third quarter of this year since records began in 2008.

Ultra-low interest rates have kept mortgages relatively affordable for many households, but CML director general Paul Smee has cautioned that home owners should be thinking now about how they will cope with higher mortgage payments as and when interest rates rise.

Lettings network LSL Property Services, which owns chains Your Move and Reeds Rains, also reported last week that average private sector rents have surged to new highs for two months in a row and are now at around £758 per month across England and Wales.

LSL said the proportion of rent being paid late has fallen to the lowest levels it has seen since it started tracking the figures in 2008. But it also warned that a lack of supply of homes for families to choose from will mean that rents are likely to continue on an upward march amid strong demand.


From Belfast Telegraph