Fiona King: Don’t ignore home risk

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January is traditionally the time for fresh starts, making resolutions and looking forward to the year ahead.

For hundreds of thousands of households in Scotland, however, it is impossible to look ahead because they are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Our research from December, and released yesterday, shows that one in four people in Scotland responsible for paying the rent or mortgage are worried they may not be able to make a payment at some time during 2015.

At Shelter Scotland we know that people can be tempted to just ignore problems and hope that they go away, but in reality this can be a slippery slope of debt and spiralling housing costs.

We want to ensure that everyone gets the help and advice they need before they face the reality of losing their home.

These widespread concerns are shared across Britain with millions facing a worrying time in 2015.

One in nine rent or mortgage payers – the equivalent of 3.2 million people – said they are worried they will be unable to make their housing payments this January. This bleak picture is compounded by the fact that 59 per cent of rent or mortgage payers in Britain are already struggling to keep up with their housing costs.

So, for many thousands of households in Scotland, there is great uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead.

It is deeply concerning just how common these issues are but with money and debt pressures and sky-high housing costs, we know that many people are at a very real risk of losing their homes.

It is important to let all those families and individuals who are struggling with housing costs and money and debt problems know that they are not alone – there is help available. At Shelter Scotland we have specialist advisors online and on the phone who can help, but it is critical that people get in touch as soon as they can, to prevent debt and worries spiralling out of control.

A quarter of people in our Britain-wide survey said they would feel too ashamed to ask for help if struggling with housing payments. For some people it can seem like the only option is to bury their head in the sand and hope issues will resolve themselves, but this simply compounds the problem.

And we know that this is the time when some people can come to rely on payday loans and take on even more unmanageable debt. Payday loans may seem like a quick fix to pay for housing costs but with interest rates in their thousands annually, they are completely unsustainable and can quickly lead to snowballing debt, eviction, repossession and in some cases homelessness.

This Christmas Shelter Scotland helped hundreds of families and individuals who were struggling to meet their housing costs and who were at risk of losing their homes. Every day we hear from people who are feeling overwhelmed by mounting rent or mortgage bills and our expert advisers do all they can to try and resolve the issues and find solutions. People feeling trapped and worried about housing costs are not alone and we would encourage anyone to get in touch as soon as they can. Advice from Shelter Scotland and other agencies is only a click or a phone call away – help is at hand to prevent things from spiralling out of control.

For free and independent advice from Shelter Scotland, visit shelterscotland.org.uk/advice or call the free national helpline on 0808 800 4444.

• Fiona King is campaigns & public affairs manager at Shelter Scotland