1.7 million renters expect to lose their job in the next three months

Posted 16 Apr 2020

Almost one in five private renters in England – an estimated 1.7 million adults – say they are likely to lose their job in the next three months because of the coronavirus crisis, new research by Shelter reveals.

The polling, which was carried out by YouGov shortly after the government announced its employee retention scheme, shows almost one in four renters (24%) have already seen their incomes fall, or lost their jobs, as a result of the pandemic. Even more worryingly, two million renters (23%) say losing their job will leave them immediately unable to pay their rent.

The housing charity is warning a growing number of people will need to rely on welfare benefits for the first time to cover their basic costs. An alarming situation already reflected in the latest Department of Work and Pensions data, which shows a staggering 950,000 new claims for Universal Credit were made in the last two weeks alone – a tenfold increase.

But with people now unable to safely move to cheaper housing, Shelter is arguing current Universal Credit rates are still too low, despite a recent increase, to stop people falling massively behind on their rent.

To prevent spiralling levels of debt, poverty and needless evictions further down the line, the charity wants the government to increase housing benefit, so it covers the average cost of local rents. It says this emergency measure is essential to help people through the financial shock caused by the virus.

The housing element of Universal Credit only covers the lowest third of market rents in an area, meaning those paying average rents will face a large shortfall. For families in a two-bedroom home, the shortfall is as high as £400 a month outside of London, and up to £1,227 in the capital.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “The government has rightly suspended evictions until June, so no one has to face homelessness in the middle of this pandemic. But millions of renters will be in dire straits further down the line without more government support.

“As renters lose their jobs and see their incomes hit, many will have to rely on the welfare safety net for the first time. Our services are already hearing from families in homes they could comfortably afford under normal circumstances, who are now in serious financial difficulty.

“We’re facing an onslaught of people suddenly unable to afford their rent, at a time when people need to stay put and cannot safely move to a cheaper home. To avoid spiralling debt and needless evictions once the ban lifts, the government must increase the housing element of Universal Credit so that it covers the average cost of local rents.”

Emma lives in Manchester with her partner and the rent on their flat is £1,390 a month. Both Emma and her partner recently lost their jobs as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak and are now struggling to pay their rent. Emma works in tourism and her contract has been ended while Emma’s partner is an outdoor instructor with school groups and his work has completely cancelled.

“Both myself and my partner have now lost our income. The landlord has offered a rent deferral but while we can pay we will, otherwise we will end up in thousands of pounds of debt over the next few months. Even with the deferral we'll have to pay it back at some point anyway.

"Nobody knows when we will be able to earn again, so we are stuck. We have just got to pare everything back and keep our heads above water if we can. I have applied for UC however the first payment isn’t available until May 13, and even then, I don't know if it will be enough to keep paying our rent."

Notes to editors:

Anyone who is facing homelessness can get free and expert advice from Shelter by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help or by calling our emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444.

  • YouGov surveyed 498 privately rented adults England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th - 27th March 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all privately renting adults (aged 18+) according to information provided by Shelter.

  • Estimates of the population of renters are calculated using a combination of the English Housing Survey 2018-19, Census 2011 and ONS 2018 mid-year population estimates by age. All calculations by Shelter. All estimates are based off a total adult population of 8,674,570 private renters in England.

  • Shelter estimates that 1,696,000 private renters think they are likely to lose their job in the next three months. One in five (19%) renters said that this was either very or fairly likely.

  • Full results and question wording are available by request

  • The gap between the cost of renting an average home in a local authority, and the maximum amount of housing benefit a family could claim compares the most recent available data on private rents published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England with the maximum LHA levels for each home size for April 2020 to March 2021 published by the VOA on the 27th of March 2020. LHA levels are published for Broad Rental market Areas (BRMAs) To understand how LHA rate levels affect people in each local authority area, we aligned these as closely as possible with local authority boundaries.

  • Statistics on private rents are available here.

  • LHA rates are available here.