Tonight 120,000 children in England will spend the night in temporary accommodation.
This week the government pledged to “fix the broken housing market” and invest an extra £2bn in affordable housing.
One mum, heavily pregnant with her third child and evicted from her privately rented flat more than 18 months ago, tells the BBC what living in temporary accommodation means for her family.
To the outside world, Steph would look like a successful single mother. She has a full-time professional job, two girls, a baby on the way and one big secret: she’s worried she’s about to be made homeless. Again.
“I’ve been in temporary accommodation for a year now. There’s damp on the walls, a leaky sink and rats living in one of the bedrooms. They charge me £1,000 a month to live here.
“Our whole family is sleeping in one room because of the rats in the second bedroom. There’s also a hole where rainwater seeps in, so I can’t sleep in there.
“Yesterday I came home to a hand-delivered notice to quit this flat, saying I have to contact the council or they’ll force my eviction.
“The rent is expensive and I’ve ended up in arrears. When you’re homeless you have to take what you’re given – you don’t get a choice to live in a more affordable area.
“I’ve asked if they could rehouse me and my girls in Kent. I drive, so I could commute into work and the rent would be cheaper, but I’ve been banned from bidding for a permanent council house because I’m in arrears here.
“Because I work full-time, I don’t get any benefits other than universal credit and child benefit, which is how I’ve got so behind on the rent.
“They changed the universal credit payment cycle and I got into debt. I tried to pay it off but I’m living hand-to-mouth. I work overtime just to be able to feed my kids. We don’t have any luxuries. I get paid and the money goes out the same day.
“The council only contacted me once about my rent arrears. They never tried to set up a repayment plan and I was only made aware of the scale of the problem when I logged on to the website and found I owed them £4,000.
“My sister lent me £2,000 in July which went straight to the council. But the next time I looked, the monies owed had gone back up to £3,000 because the rent had been taken out and my universal credit hadn’t come in time.
The council’s view
Southwark Council said it would meet her to “discuss next steps”.
It said 80 private tenants on housing benefit were losing their homes each month in the borough and while it does not want to house people in accommodation of lower quality, “sometimes when there is an urgent need to put a roof over someone’s head, it is the only choice”.
“I’m feeling extremely distraught over this. Even if I manage to pay off all my rent arrears it won’t make any difference – I’ll just go straight back into debt next month. It’s just got out of control.
“We were put in a B&B for six months when we were first made homeless. It was the worst six months of my life.
“The B&B was disgusting. I was put in one room with my two girls – I refused to use the dirty shared kitchen so we lived on takeaways for the most part while we were living there.
“I’m one of those people who just gets on with it. I work in a professional office and no-one would ever know what I’m going through.
“But inside I’m going crazy.
“It’s really impacted on our family life. My teenage daughter has been a nightmare. She’s struggling at school because we’ve been so unsettled. At least we live closer to her friends now, which is helping.
“I’m about to have another baby and all four of us will have to share the one room. How is that even possible?
“The council are meant to help people but they haven’t helped me. I’ve been complaining about the state of this property since October, I’ve been writing to the MP, complaining on Twitter and writing to the council. A housing officer came round and then left the council, so nothing got done.
“Now I’m fighting to keep even this roof over my head, but unless I can do something about my debts, I’m trapped in this damp, unsuitable, temporary flat.”
Produced by Kate Berry and Rebecca Maxted
Steph spoke to Stephen Nolan on BBC 5 live