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Helen Andrews
 

“It’s so frustrating, I’m ready to move . . .”

Mother-of-three Helen Andrews has lived in Kintbury, Berkshire, for 23 years. It is the community and the home in which she has watched her family grow.

Her children have now left home, her 19-year-old son moving out last year, leaving behind two ‘spare’ rooms. These empty rooms mean she has been affected by the under-occupancy charge, or ‘bedroom tax’.
Part of the Welfare Reform changes introduced in April 2013, every empty room means a percentage of housing benefit was lost. For Helen, who works on a low income at a stable in nearby Hungerford, it means she has to find an extra £34 per week in rent.

Helen, 43, is ready to move from the family home and is eager to downsize now the children have gone, but there are not enough smaller properties for her. In the meantime she struggles to pay.


“It’s the village more than the house. I intended moving when my children moved out, but staying in the village. You walk out the door and stand and
talk, I feel part of this community. 

“But most of the homes are two-bedroom and they are always for older people. It’s all happened so quickly, it’s hard to find a one-bedroom home.” 

Despite her eagerness to move, even if a smaller property becomes available she will be up against everyone on the waiting list, full of people
desperate for a home.

She admits that suitable properties were available in Thatcham, around 15 miles away. However, as well as leaving behind her community the cost of
the commute wouldn’t make work pay.

“I don’t earn that much and I couldn’t afford to travel from Thatcham every day. It would have been pointless working,” she said.

But it meant that her Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), which helps people adapt to the changes, was stopped by the local authority when she didn’t bid on the homes outside of her village.

“I’ve never been in debt. I’ve always tried to pay my way, so when that happened, it was horrible,” she recalled. “I don’t put my heating on. I use blankets to keep warm. I can’t afford to put a lot on the electric.”

Helen has been helped by Mel Goodman, one of Sovereign’s 12 Tenant Support Advisors. The team have helped more than 1,000 residents in the last year, providing advice on benefits and finances, employment or training opportunities and supporting those wanting to downsize.

“Mel has always been very good. She came out and explained what I had to do and she has tried to help. She helped me to fill in the forms to get the DHP, went through everything I needed to do on the internet.”

In the meantime Helen is watching the Home Choice website, waiting to bid, and hoping for a new start in a new home. “It is so frustrating, I’m ready to move.”

 

“I was in a mess. I thought I was going to lose the house and end up on the street. It was just so scary.”