A SOMERSET single mother faces being thrown out of her home before Christmas as a result of ‘no-fault’ eviction laws.

Esther Lohneis has rented her home in the village of Coxley (between Glastonbury and Wells) since 2018, living alongside her two daughters and cat.

Having undertaken numerous improvements to the property, she was informed by her landlord that she was being evicted using a Section 21 notice – which allows landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason after a fixed tenancy period has ended.

Ms Lohneis – who works as an online counsellor – has struggled to find alternative accommodation, with neither Somerset Council’s Homefinder service nor commercial letting agents proving to be helpful.

Without leniency from her landlord or finding a new home at the eleventh hour, she and her family face the prospect of being homeless in the run-up to Christmas.

Ms Lohneis was visited by her landlord (who is based in Buckinghamshire) in early-January, who complimented her on how well she had taken care of the property.

Since moving in back in 2018, she had made numerous improvements to the property, including fitting a new stop-cock and installing a cabin in the back garden during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing her to run her online counselling business from home while her daughters were unable to attend school.

In April, her landlord contacted her again by email, stating: “We’ve decided to move back to Somerset, so we will need our house back.”

She was served a Section 21 notice with more notice than required, and began house-hunting – with no success.

She said: “I looked on the private rental market and found in the Mendip area, where I live and have based my life for more than 20 years that there were just ten properties for rent in a 15-mile radius.

“Eight of them were out of my price range and the two remaining looked too small to be able to fit myself, my 19-year-old (during the long university holidays), my 11-year-old and the cat. It was clear by the prices that I would only be able to afford a two-bed property.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my eldest daughter’s belongings or where she was going to sleep.”

Ms Lohneis began to approach letting agents and contacted Somerset Council’s housing team for support.

She had previously been on Homefinder for three years, having to re-apply in 2021 after the system was changed.

By September 2023, she had been unsuccessful in finding alternative accommodation, with private rental agencies informing her that certain landlords would not accept children, that her income was insufficient, or that the lease could only be for six months.

She said: “I filled in financial checking forms for two local estate agents. When I put that, as a single working mother, I receive a universal credit top-up, I never heard from them again – and despite attempts to contact them, my emails were never answered.”

She had just as little success with the council, being informed that there were an average of 27 viewings for every rental property in the former Mendip area and that only five per cent of families on the Homefinder register had been housed in the last 12 months.

She said: “A three-bedroom housing association property around the corner became empty.

“My neighbours told me to apply for it – I tried to tell them I was doing what I could do, given the system. I didn’t tell them that I was only allowed to bid on two-bedroom properties.

“Instead of it coming up on the Homefinder site however, a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared. The council was selling it on the open market instead of housing a family – that was one of the many days I went home and cried.”

As if this wasn’t enough, Ms Lohneis began to notice a change in attitude from her landlord – resulting in an unexpected increase in her rent.

She said: “Every now and then, the landlord sent me hopeful emails, enquiring if I had found somewhere and eventually taking legal advice.

“He had to return my deposit to me as he had not put it into a government scheme at the start of the tenancy. He was then obliged to reissue the Section 21 as he hadn’t fulfilled his legal obligations – with the new date to vacate changed to the end of November.

“After this, I noticed a distinct change in his attitude towards me, asking me why I had not simply moved. He sent me an email putting the rent up by £250 per month and telling me that if I couldn’t afford it, I could use the returned deposit to pay for it.

“I asked the council’s housing officer to speak to him and told him that there was a housing crisis. She pointed out to him that in housing law, I had a legal right to occupy the property until a court granted possession of it.

“There seemed to be some idea of coming in and changing the locks to get me out, which would be an illegal eviction. I felt unsafe and frightened by this.

“What was I supposed to do? My youngest daughter’s dad had been made homeless the year before and since then had been living in a tent – is that what I was supposed to do with my 11 year old?

“If I went into temporary accommodation, I would have to put my furniture into storage and pay for it to be moved and for the storage fees. If we ever were housed or I found somewhere affordable to live, I would have to move everything again – in effect moving and paying twice.”

Ms Lohneis was subsequently told by the council’s housing team to bid on homes within an hour’s drive of her current address – which would result in her daughter having to change school.

She said: “I told her we might have to move schools, when she had only just started in September, and her face fell and she looked devastated. After she went to bed I cried for her, for me and for the impossible position we find ourselves in.

“This is the third move I have had to make in eight years. It costs a lot of money to move and is very disruptive.

“There is no security of tenure longer than six months and if I decorate or do anything to improve the property, we lose that investment every time we move.

“I have rented in this area for more than 20 years. I have paid off other people’s mortgages but am not allowed to have my own.

“I am a single parent, I work, I have sacrificed much to bring up my children as happy and secure individuals. The current system allows my efforts, under very trying circumstances of low income and being a mother, to be disregarded and treated as if we are nothing.

“We have lives – they are meaningful. My daughters are gorgeous, emotionally intelligent, bright people who are kind and contribute positively to life and those around them.”

The end to no-fault evictions was first announced by then-prime minister Theresa May in April 2019, appeared in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto and was backed by both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Since the ending of no-fault evictions was first announced in April 2019, a total of 8,320 households in the south west have been kicked out of their homes due to a no-fault eviction using a section 21 notice.

Before the second reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill in the House of Commons in late-October, the government revealed it would not be scrapping Section 21 until the courts system for dealing with housing issues has been reformed.

The Labour Party has claimed that this delay will leave another 3,229 households in the south west facing potential homelessness thanks to eviction by late-January 2025 – the latest the next general election can be held.

Ms Lohneis said: “I find myself, unwillingly, on the front line of this country’s housing crisis, of this country’s treatment of fellow human beings treated as less than human and squeezed on all sides.

“Why have no affordable homes been created? Why are houses being built and no one in the local area can afford them?

“We need urgent, radical systemic change in this country to address the widening inequalities that we all face. Doesn’t everyone deserve a safe and stable home?

“This is the very ugly truth of what is happening in this country, a rich country that could afford to house every single one of its citizens if only it had the will. Meanwhile myself and my family face homelessness and the unknown this winter.

“I find myself standing in the metaphorical ruins of my home, my children behind me, doing my best to protect them from the storms to come, as I turn to face the future praying for a miracle.”

Somerset Council declined to comment on the specifics of Ms Lohneis’ case, but said it was doing all it could to provide appropriate, low-cost housing across the county.

A spokesman said: “Homefinder Somerset is a partnership between the Somerset Council and registered providers of social housing (commonly referred to as housing associations) working in Somerset. There are almost 12,000 households registered with Homefinder Somerset.

“Our housing officers work closely with all clients to help them find appropriate housing in the private renting sector, via social housing with housing associations or via the council’s own housing stock.

“There is a very high demand for the limited number of social housing properties in Somerset. Unfortunately, not everyone will be successful in securing a home through Homefinder Somerset.

“All applicants are assessed in the same way, using criteria to ensure fairness and consistency.”