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One in three ‘rent burdened Brits’ borrow to cover rent

Posted 11 May 2017

One in three low-earning renters in Britain have had to borrow money to cover their rent according to new research released today, as housing charity Shelter calls for the next government to step in and help ‘rent burdened Brits’.

Shocking new figures from Shelter and YouGov show people are being driven into debt to keep on top of their rent, with over half a million low-earning renters borrowing from credit cards, overdrafts or friends and family in the last year alone.

And huge numbers of low-earning private renters are only just managing to keep a roof over their heads, with a staggering 70% either struggling with or falling behind on rent.

With private rents eating up so much of their income, 800,000 hard-pressed private renters are not even able to save £10 a month according to a Shelter analysis of government statistics.

Anne Baxendale, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: “It just isn’t right that so many hard-working private renters are having to take on desperate or dangerous debts just to keep a roof over their heads.

With a general election just around the corner, the charity is calling for a new generation of living rent homes for ordinary working families, and urging the next government to invest in half a million of these over the course of the next parliament.

“No family should have to choose between relying on their credit card to keep up with the rent or moving miles away from their jobs and schools to find a home they can actually afford.

“Right now there’s nowhere for these people to turn but it doesn’t have to be this way. The next government must commit to building half a million new living rent homes to genuinely help ordinary families to get by and give them a firmer foundation for the future.”

Case study: Tracy, and her two sons rent privately in London. A yoga teacher and single mum, Tracy constantly has to borrow money from her Mum to cover the rent.

“Desperate for somewhere to live after our last tenancy ended, and with hardly any options, I took this place knowing that it would be a struggle and I would have to rely on borrowing money from my mum in order to keep up with the rent. Even though she can afford it, it feels awful to be borrowing money from her, especially since she’s retired.”

“My eldest son is seven now, but he’s had six addresses in his short life. He misses our old home, and the one before that. We sometimes drive by our old houses and reminisce on what we once had: more space, a bigger garden, a better location. Each time we move it feels like we’re paying more for less.”

“I don’t know when we’ll ever break this cycle of rent and debt. I certainly don’t want my boys to grow up like this, but right now we have no other choice, and that is a really depressing thought.”

Notes to editors:

  • Anyone who is worried about losing their home can contact Shelter for free, expert advice. Visit

  • The numbers and proportions of low-earning private renters borrowing to pay their rent are from a YouGov survey of 2208 18+ GB private renters, 372 of which were working and had household incomes in deciles 2-5 (banded and equivalised) – see table 1 below. The survey was carried out online in April 2017 and was weighted in line with the profile of GB private renters. Estimated numbers have been calculated by Shelter and are based on an estimate using survey results of 1.561m private renters meeting the working and low-earning criteria. Estimates are conservative because those not disclosing their income (around a quarter of the sample) are assumed not to be in the group.

  • The number of low-income private renters who not able to save £10 per month is from analysis of the Family Resources 2014/15, by Shelter. The figure of 800,000 represents 51% of this group. The group criteria are very similar to that used for the YouGov results – see table 1.

  • The estimate of half a million homes needed over five years has been calculated by comparing the number of PRS households who can’t afford a typical shared ownership in their area to the number of new general needs social tenancies that become available each year. The number of private renters who cannot afford shared ownership is updated from the methodology used in this report.

  • Living rent homes are homes at rents that allow people to live a decent life, not just scrape by. To be genuinely affordable they should be linked to local earnings. We estimate a household on a lower income should pay around a third of their income on rent. They would also have secure ten year contracts. Unlike social housing, living rent homes would be allocated solely to households in work but on lower pay: those unable to afford shared ownership but unable to get social housing. After five years, the tenant would have the option to buy the house if they were able to.

Table 1: Criteria used to define ‘low-earning renters’ groups in YouGov survey and analysis of Family Resources Survey

Household typeNo. dep. childrenGross household income, lower bandGross household income, higher band

AND: Aged under 65, lives in privately rented self-contained home, working (YouGov only)

Table 2: Results of YouGov survey

Unweighted base3721,561,000
Weighted base:379
% lower earning private rentersEst. no. lower earning private renters
Reduced the amount I/we save21%326,000
Borrowed from overdraft19%299,000
Used my savings to pay rent19%298,000
Borrowed from credit card16%249,000
Went behind on other payments (i.e. council tax, utilities, TV license etc.)9%144,000
Borrowed money from parents6%99,000
Received money from parents, which I didn't have to pay back to them6%95,000
Borrowed money from friends/ other family6%91,000
Received money from friend/ relative other than parents, which I didn't have to pay back to them5%86,000
Used benefits other than housing benefit5%81,000
Borrowed from bank or building society4%57,000
Borrowed from payday loan3%42,000
Net: Borrowed or received from parents11%178,000
Net: Borrowed33%511,000
Net: Borrowed or Gone behind on bills35%540,000
Net: Borrowed or used savings or gone behind on bills51%791,000

Source: YouGov survey of 372 lower earning private renters, GB, April 2017, online, weighted. Figures are estimates based on a total group size of 1.561m low-earning private renters. See press release for fuller details of methodology. None, Don’t Know and other excluded, all other results are shown.