Joyce was a full-time carer to her elderly father; they both relied on benefits for their income. They lived in a Suffolk village in social housing, a two-bedroom bungalow. When her dad passed away last spring, Joyce tried to find somewhere smaller to live, but there was just nothing available (there is a real shortage of one-bedroom social housing in the area).
Now with only a single person’s Universal Credit to live on, Joyce was struggling to keep up with rent payments. She was also hit with bedroom tax for having two bedrooms, despite the fact that she was doing all she could to find somewhere smaller to live. The end of Universal Credit top ups in October left her with £20 a week less to try and make ends meet, making things still worse.
Joyce was overwhelmed with worry and stress that she was going to get into debt - all of this came at a time when she was still grieving her dad and trying to come to terms with losing him. She felt embattled, alone and trapped by circumstances she had no control over. She even thought about suicide - she said to us, “It’s not my fault I’m stuck here yet I can’t afford it, it’s pushing me into debt with no way out. I’m trapped and I’m getting more and more depressed. I feel like I might as well go and join my dad.”
We were able to offer Joyce a weekly £25 food voucher through a Covid scheme. However, there is only one shop in her village and it only stocks basics. She had no car and public transport is almost non-existent. So we would take her shopping list and get what she needed from Haverhill and drop it in to her.
We also chased up a Discretionary Housing Payment to help Joyce pay the element of rent that she can no longer afford. This in turn led to a suspension of the extra bedroom tax until March next year. Meanwhile, Joyce continues her search for a one-bedroom property through HomeLink.
On Joyce’s birthday, Jo took a cake and some flowers round to her – Joyce said it was the best birthday she had had in years and that it was like a light at a dark time.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2021: With a little help from us, Joyce has found a new one-bedroom home and will be moving in before Christmas! Through your support, we’ve organised for it to have new carpets (social housing often doesn’t include floor coverings), and Joyce is so excited. She says, “It’s just the best Christmas present! Having a home I can afford means I can make ends meet again. And that means I can pay off the debts I’ve built up, start looking for a job, and get on with living. Suddenly life feels full of hope and possibilities again! A very big thank you to REACH supporters, volunteers and staff – I was sliding down a slippery slope and you gave me the helping hand I needed to break free.”
Joyce’s story illustrates how people trying to get through some really difficult times can often have the added pressure of being caught up between national processes (e.g. bedroom tax) and local challenges (e.g. lack of social housing). It could have crushed her. But thanks to the generous support of people like you, Joyce can now move on with her life.
*Client name and some details changed to protect identity