‘Once we pay rent and council tax, there’s not enough left to live on’
No one should lose their home because of coronavirus. But despite government measures put in place during lockdown, people are falling through the cracks. If the government doesn’t act now, the current strategy could see thousands of people facing homelessness long after the pandemic ends.
We asked people across the country to tell us how they are being affected. Over 1,900 people from across 414 constituencies shared their stories with us.
Their Home Truths highlight the devastating impact the crisis is having on the nation’s renters. We’ve shared just a few of their stories in this report, but their words echo those of the millions of renters who need the government to increase benefits to help them pay the rent, and legislate to stop them losing their homes as the end to the ban on evictions looms.
Find out how the crisis is already touching people’s lives below – plus what the government must do to protect people’s homes as we move out of lockdown.
The effects of this pandemic have exposed our failing renting system. Our Home Truths report shows renters are worried about losing their homes once lockdown ends and the current eviction ban has been lifted. Many people have already been served eviction notices, while other people’s health and wellbeing is being affected as they live with the constant fear of eviction hanging over their head.
The government acted quickly to ban evictions as we went into lockdown, but they must go further. If they fail to act before the eviction ban is lifted, thousands of people could become homeless, our research shows 174,000 renters have been told they'll be evicted once the ban on evictions is lifted.
Many of this country’s 11 million private renters have similar stories to those told below.
We’ve just been served with an eviction notice. I’m a single mother to a 6-year-old boy with autism and as a carer I have been at the frontline of this pandemic. But now I have no clue where we will end up – I’m working but can’t afford anywhere else as I don’t receive help towards our rent.
I am terrified of being evicted. I can’t sleep - the thought of a letter of eviction coming through my door is in the back of my mind all day, every day. I am in arrears with my rent and have contacted my landlord several times, but to date have had no reply. I just don’t know how I’m going to catch up with the arrears.
I feel sick to the stomach that in a few weeks we will be facing eviction proceedings. My daughter is settled in her school – I just don’t know where to turn.
2. Renters in debt
Lockdown has brought normal life to a standstill, meaning renters across the country are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.
With many not eligible for support, or struggling with delays and insufficient benefit payments, the financial pressures are having a profound impact on people’s ability to keep a roof over their heads. With many tied into contracts they now can’t afford while others are unable to find cheaper accommodation, people are being sucked into a spiral of rent arrears and debt.
Karen, Rashid, and Nichola are just a few of the 20% of private renters expecting to have to take on more debt in the next three months.
I am terrified we will be evicted as we are now behind on our rent. We were only just about managing before. Everything is so expensive and we don’t have any spare money or savings, so I don’t know how we will manage to catch up.
We are overcrowded as it is, but we can’t afford anything bigger and even other properties the same size are now more expensive. I am terrified we will be made homeless with nowhere else to go.
I've been in the UK 25 years now - I'm a 45-year-old cab driver with a wife and two kids. For two months there was no work, but I couldn't get benefits as I'm on a family visa, so have no access to public funds. It was fine while I was working but I've had a tough time during lockdown. No Recourse to Public Funds is tearing society and families apart.
I was furloughed in March and now we’re struggling. I’ve not been able to pay the whole rent because I did some food shopping instead. I couldn’t pay the council tax and did apply for a reduction, but now they’ve sent me a bill wanting almost £250 a month. I can’t pay as I’m the breadwinner as my husband is too poorly to work but not entitled to help. It’s getting so much worse – we’re having to decide between food or rent.
3. Social safety net
Until renters can pay their rent, they will always be at risk of homelessness.
Over two million more households have claimed Universal Credit since the pandemic began, many of them for the first time. Despite the government increasing LHA – the part of Universal Credit that pays for housing – as lockdown began, it’s still well below the price of average rents, often leaving people short and at risk of eviction. The benefit cap is also stopping many people getting the help they need.
For many, this means having to choose between paying rent and feeding their families. Moving somewhere cheaper has often been impossible thanks to social distancing, a lack of affordable housing, and DSS discrimination.
These are just a few of the stories people who told us about their struggle to make ends meet.
Coronavirus has made our lives hell – both my husband and I lost our jobs on the same day. We’ve had to claim Universal Credit but it’s not enough, so we’ve been left relying on the food bank
I had no choice but to rent privately following my separation from an abusive relationship. The cap on benefits means I pay more towards my rent. I can’t save for emergencies and live in constant fear of something breaking as I have no savings to afford anything additional after rent, food, and bills
The benefit cap is really affecting our family and a lot of others. After we’ve paid the rent there is hardly any money left for other bills and the daily expenses we need to get by.
The government has accommodated thousands of people since lockdown began by providing funding for councils to pay for hotel rooms. Ministers’ desire to get everyone in from the street shows what can be done with the right political will.
The recent announcement of £85 million in funding to help people facing homelessness to access private rentals is very welcome. But there has been no clear guidance from government on who should expect help, meaning councils may continue to turn some people away.
More people are becoming street homeless every day, with many more likely to have nowhere to go once the temporary ban on evictions ends. If nothing more is done, we’re facing a rise in homelessness. The government must make sure people with nowhere safe to stay have access to accommodation and support.
Jill is just one of the hundreds of people who told us how scared they are at the prospect of becoming homeless.
I am now in arrears for my rent and utilities. I am terrified that I’ll lose my home through eviction - I’m scared I won’t be able to afford to pay any rent in the future, let alone the arrears.
It’s going to blemish my credit and my renting record will keep me from being able to rent elsewhere.
I’m literally ill with worry about becoming homeless, losing my beloved pets and all my personal property.
5. What the government can do
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the devastating impacts of the national housing emergency into stark relief.
An unaccountable, expensive private rental sector and our broken welfare system have buckled under the pressure of lockdown. Unless urgent action is taken, thousands of renters could lose their homes. Millions more people are likely to be put at risk of homelessness as the health crisis gives way to a perilous financial landscape.
The government will not be able to tackle homelessness or end the housing crisis without building the social housing this country needs. But if government makes the following changes now, we can protect those at risk and make sure everyone has a safe home as lockdown eases.
The government must:
1. Help people facing eviction
- suspend automatic evictions for people with rent arrears
- give judges real power to ensure no-one is evicted as a result of coronavirus
- amend section 21 to ensure landlords are unable to evict anyone without doing all they can to work out a feasible rent repayment plan with their tenants
2. Help people pay the rent
- increase Local Housing Allowance to cover the cost of average rents
- lift the benefit cap so people can access the money they need to make ends meet
3. Help people at risk of street homelessness
- make it clear to councils how they should be accommodating and supporting anyone at risk of street homelessness
Share this page and help change the law
With your help we can make sure the government gives renters the protection they need. Please share this report and tag Housing Minister Robert Jenrick and your MP asking for urgent change.