Chancellor must act to tackle rent debt crisis

Posted 18 Feb 2021

The Rent Debt coalition of charities, tenants groups and landlord organisations that Shelter is part of has sent a joint letter to the chancellor ahead of next month's budget.

The letter calls for private renters to be given emergency financial support to pay off 'Covid arrears', along with adequate welfare support to keep renters in their homes and prevent rising homelessness.

At least half a million private renters are in arrears due to the economic impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). The UK government’s own research shows that ‘private renters report being hardest hit by the pandemic’.

Renters and landlords whose finances have been affected since lockdown cannot keep tenancies going without additional financial support.

We welcome many of the measures taken to date, which have helped to sustain tenancies in the short term. But they do not go far enough to adequately protect renters going forward.

The longer the chancellor waits to take action, the more rent debts will increase, and the greater the risk of homelessness will become. Without additional support, more renters will lose their homes in the coming months, with the risk of an increase in homelessness.

As organisations with the aim of sustaining tenancies wherever possible we consider that this requires two things in the forthcoming Budget.

First, a targeted financial package to help renters pay off arrears built since lockdown measures started in March 2020. This will help to sustain existing tenancies and keep renters in their homes – whilst also ensuring rental debt does not risk them finding homes in the future.

Secondly, we need a welfare system that provides renters with the security of knowing that they can afford their homes. The pandemic has shown how vital this is to providing security at a time of crisis. The government increased Universal Credit and Housing Benefit because it recognised that the system was not doing enough to support people in the first place, yet it has chosen to freeze Housing Benefit rates again from April and is considering cutting Universal Credit at the same time. It cannot be right that these measures could be pulled away from renters during continued economic uncertainty.

We urge the chancellor to act now to avoid renters being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing and a wave of people having to leave their homes in the weeks and months to come.

-ENDS-

Notes to editors:

1. MHCLG’s English Housing Survey Household Resilience Study, Wave 1 report for June-July 2020 notes on page 2 that: “Private renters report being hardest hit by the pandemic.” Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/945168/Household_Resilience_Study_Wave_1_June-July_2020_Report.pdf.

2. A number of organisations have recently estimated the number of private renters in arrears due to the economic impact of the pandemic:

  • Citizens Advice, New year, same arrears: How the pandemic is leaving private renters with unmanageable debt, January 2021. Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/CitizensAdvice/Housing%20Publications/New%20year,%20same%20arrears.pdf

  • National Residential Landlords Association, Government needs to tackle rent arrears crisis, December 2020. Available at: https://www.nrla.org.uk/download?document=1240

  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Struggling renters need a lifeline this winter, November 2020. Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/file/56906/download?token=nsM_akne&filetype=briefing

  • StepChange, Tackling the coronavirus personal debt crisis, November 2020. Available at: https://www.stepchange.org/policy-and-research/debt-research/covid-debt-2020.aspx