These are tough, scary, anxiety-inducing times. And I can understand why movements such as ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ and ‘Enough is Enough’ have found such support.
But not paying has consequences.
When I look to this oncoming winter, I fear not only for myself and the onslaught of eye-watering bills, but also for my tenants. I know some of them will face difficult choices, and if I’m honest with myself, I know some will be tempted to not pay their rent.
I would love to say I have a solution, but the fact is: if you don’t pay, you don’t stay.
As a landlord I do not have access to a magic money tree and I, like my tenants, am also being stiffed with soaring bills. If the boiler breaks down, it will be my responsibility to fix it. If the roof leaks, it will be my bill to bear. The cost of materials and labour has spiralled to a frightening level.
These are terrifying times.
But it is because I am scared that I am prepared. This year I have focussed on selling properties I thought may become an issue. I have served notice on those tenants who are in arrears and taken back possession of their properties. I have identified tenants who I think may struggle and taken out extra insurance on new tenancies and ensured guarantors are in place.
This winter is set to be a shitstorm. There is no point pretending there will be a happy ending, you have to be ready.
Martin Lewis has done a sterling job keeping us informed about the impending utility bills disaster and the Money Saving Expert website is a valuable resource. Since the start of the year, he has warned of this looming catastrophe. But despite his best efforts, the doomsday is fast approaching. The tips about how to cut energy usage are very useful, as is the advice to cut what you can now and, if you can, start saving towards these impending bills.
But, the most critical thing Martin Lewis has demonstrated is the importance of not putting your head in the sand.
Communication is king.
Early intervention is key.
If you’re struggling, the best thing you can do is ask for help before it gets too late. There are resources available: energy suppliers have grants and targeted help, councils have discretionary payments that may be applied for and those on certain benefits may be eligible for more.
Landlords (on the whole) are not ogres. They can be talked with, reasoned with. No landlord enjoys evicting a tenant, but not paying rent will mean they only have one choice; they are not made of money. Not paying will not make anything go away, it will likely make things worse.
Talking about any issues early on is the best course of action.
I wish I could say this winter won’t be horrible and it won’t be difficult, but it’s not true. It’s going to be dreadful and many of us will have to make decisions we never believed possible. And while despair may feel like the only emotion going, being pragmatic and planning for the worst is the way forward.
This is a spike and it will pass.
We don’t know how long it will take, but you need to hang in there.
Sources of support:
If you are struggling to pay for your energy bills, contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. The rules from energy regulator Ofgem state that your energy supplier has a duty to help you and can help to set an energy payment plan that you can afford. Options to help include a full payment plan review, affordable debt repayment plans, payment breaks, payment reductions, more time to pay, or access to hardship funds.
Citizens Advice has dedicated cost of living resources available on their website. Trained Citizens Advice advisers can be contacted over the phone through the Citizens Advice national phoneline, or you can visit a Citizens Advice centre in-person.
The Money Saving Expert website, founded by Martin Lewis, includes a range of resources, guides, money saving checklists, budget calculators and tips focused on the cost of living crisis.
StepChange is an organisation that offers free, flexible debt advice based on a comprehensive assessment of your financial situation. Any advice provided is confidential and will not affect your credit score. StepChange have put together resources focused on the rising cost of living, which you can access here.
Your MPs constituency casework team may be able to signpost you toward local sources of support and provide support in instances of benefit delays or when accessing the benefit system. You can also make an appointment to speak to your MP through one of their advice surgeries. You can find your MP, and their contact details, here.
The Trussell Trust supports a nationwide network of food banks and provides emergency food and support to people in poverty. They also campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK. If you need to use a foodbank, or are able to donate to a foodbank, you can find your nearest Trussell Trust foodbank here.