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Open Doors and the Big Issue: helping people to help themselves

Written by Nazia Azad-Warren (Open Doors Project Officer) 

Earlier in the year, my colleague Sarah Vining met Lotty Talbut, Vendor Development Team Leader for the Big Issue Cymru at a networking event for support providers in Wales. During this exchange, Lotty expressed some deep concerns for a Big Issue vendor who seemed to be on the receiving end of some ‘questionable’ behavior at the hands of his landlord.

The vendor in question had no heating system in the property and was advised prior to moving in that one would be installed ‘very soon’. Unfortunately the landlord was yet to come through with his promise, despite the vendor having had lived in the property for more than three years! In haste to avoid any confrontation with his landlord, the vendor purchased portable electric heaters however as many of you may know, portable heaters are incredibly expensive to run and after one too many brisk winters, the vendor found himself in some considerable debt.

I was curious to know whether this type of tenant experience was commonplace for vendors so I reached out to Lotty to find out more. After the initial conversation, it soon became apparent that various vendors across Wales have been and are currently experiencing significant barriers with both access in to the private sector and living safely and securely within it.

Access, affordability and poor property conditions have been cited as the most common barriers experienced by Big Issue vendors. Living in a privately rented home can be particularly distressing for vendors, many of whom have lived through or are currently living through particularly difficult circumstances. 

High upfront costs combined with blanket policies that a lot of landlords and lettings agencies have of not renting to benefit claimants has contributed to vendors being extremely limited in their ‘choice’ of home. Vendors are pushed towards ‘slum rentals’ where a small minority of rogue landlords are taking advantage of arguably some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Many vendors are often conflicted when it comes to raising an issue with their landlord. Whilst problems at the property have a natural tendency to exacerbate stress and anxiety levels, vendors are scared to ‘rock the boat’ out of fear of being made homeless and having to navigate their way through quite a difficult system again.

Many vendors are at a loss as to where to turn to for help when they experience issues with their landlords. Even if they are aware of who to contact for help, a simple barrier such as not having credit on your phone to make the vital calls to support services is resulting in many people suffering in silence. 

As a response to this, Open Doors has teamed up with the Big Issue in Cardiff to provide monthly drop in sessions where vendors are supported through their private housing related issues. In addition to Open Doors intervention, vendors are also able to benefit from support provided by Shelter Cymru in relation to their debt issues during these drop ins. It is this joined up, partnership approach between different organisations that is truly making an impact to the people that need it most.

Whilst issues such as high market rents and blanket policies on ‘No DSS’ are issues that we cannot directly influence, we can rest assured that these vendors have a known place to turn to, to help them navigate their way through the support they desperately need.

The Big Issue Group’s mission is to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity through self-help, social trading and business solutions. As well as The Big Issue Magazine, they have a social investment arm, Big Issue Invest and an online shop selling products with a ‘social echo’. The charitable arm is the Big Issue Foundation, visit www.bigissue.com

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Open Doors and the Big Issue: helping people to help themselves.

Open Doors Project Officer, Nazia speaks about the types of PRS challenges vendors at the Big Issue Cymru offices are having. 

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