homeless families uk
© Benjamin Youd
Mary and her children lived in three temporary homes in two years
Tens of thousands of working households in temporary accommodation because they are unable to pay 'hideously unaffordable' rents, warns Shelter

More than half of homeless families across England are in work but soaring rent and a lack of social housing is pushing more households into temporary accommodation, a charity has warned.

Data obtained by Shelter shows that more than 33,000 families in temporary accommodation are holding down a job despite having nowhere stable to live - a figure that has increased by 73 per cent since 2013, when it was 19,000 families.

One single mother, Mary Smith, who works full-time in a shoe shop, told The Independent she and her three sons had been stuck in a "vicious cycle" of unstable temporary accommodation for two years after being evicted from their private rented property. They have been unable to afford to rent somewhere else.

They are among thousands of working households in low-paid, part-time or contract jobs that are no longer able to afford rents and are therefore being forced into poor and overcrowded temporary accommodation, according to Shelter.

The charity said losing a tenancy was now the single biggest cause of homelessness in the country, accounting for more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all households accepted as homeless in the last year.

It comes after analysis revealed at least 310,500 households in England have been waiting to be moved into social homes for more than half a decade, with more than 100,000 stuck on waiting lists for more than 10 years and some waiting for as many as 18 years.

Separate research by Heriot-Watt University in May showed the country had a backlog of 3.91 million homes, meaning 340,000 new homes need to be built each year until 2031 - a figure significantly higher than the government's current target of 300,000 homes annually.

Ms Smith and her three sons, now aged 18, 19 and 21, had lived in a private rented property in Watford for 13 years when the landlord evicted them two years ago, forcing them to move into a hostel.

"We were stuck in an absolute hobble of a rat-infested hostel. Food would get stolen. I nearly lost my job when we first became homeless because transport links to work were so bad," said Ms Smith.

The family spent three months in the hostel before being moved into temporary accommodation, and they have since been moved to two other temporary properties, which Ms Smith said was destabilising for both her and her sons.

Despite working full-time and recently getting a pay rise, her salary is not enough to rent a property.

"I feel like we're in a vicious cycle. We've been in properties that are freezing and have mould crawling up the walls. And we're still uncertain of our future. The boys have gone through a lot. It's meant they haven't reached their potential. There's just no safety net for us," she said.

"I love my job and have worked there for four and a half years. I've just accepted a 40 hour a week temporary to cover the manager, which meant I got a pay rise, but I don't see any benefit from the salary.

"Higher pay doesn't seem to make you better off because it just means you get less support. I've struggled to put food on the table. As a proud person, I don't like asking for help, but it's from the kindness of friends we got through. It's heartbreaking."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said it was "disgraceful" that even when families were working every hour they could, they were still being forced to live through the "grim reality of homelessness".

"In many cases, these are parents who work all day or night before returning to a cramped hostel or B&B where their whole family is forced to share a room. A room with no space for normal family life like cooking, playing or doing homework," she added.

"We cannot allow struggling families to slip through the cracks created by our housing crisis - the government must urgently come up with a new plan for social housing that delivers the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need.

"Our commission on the future of social housing will be calling for bold solutions, because more of the same is simply not good enough"

A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: "Everyone deserves a safe and decent place to live and we are providing more than £1.2bn so all those left homeless get the support they need.

"Councils have a duty to provide suitable temporary accommodation to those who need it, and families with children get priority. So families can get a permanent home, we are investing £9bn in affordable properties, including £2bn for social rent housing."