Universal Credit has now been cut for almost 1.5 million renters across England and Wales. They are now set to lose out on more than £1,000 a year. At the same time the Government’s furlough scheme, which acted as a safety net for those whose jobs were put on ice during the pandemic, also came to an end. Throughout the pandemic, the overall proportion of privately rented households in arrears has tripled. This perfect storm of circumstances could have a devastating impact on those left trying to make ends meet. According to the 2019/20 English Housing Survey, 14.4% of privately rented households in receipt of benefits were behind on their rent and the new cuts are likely to significantly worsen their level of debt. The rent debt crisis has been building in the sector for some time, with the NRLA lobbying for a financial support package to help keep tenants in their homes. We know that the majority of tenants want to pay their rent, with our own research showing 82% of those currently owing rent were paying on time – and in full – prior to the pandemic. We also know that many of our landlord members have gone above and beyond to help support tenants to remain in their homes. However, with a high proportion of landlords reliant on rent payments as their own – and sometimes only – source of income, this cannot continue indefinitely.
The figures speak for themselves, with data from MHCLG’s English Private Landlord Survey showing:
Fears of a crisis ahead does not just come from ourselves, with the NRLA one of 100 industry organisations to sign a letter last month calling on the Government to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit,, to avoid the potentially devastating consequences. The Bank of England has also issued warnings, saying renters are more likely than any other group to have lost their jobs or been furloughed, and also warned Covid-related arrears could be a threat to the country’s economic recovery. This raised concerns about the impact rent-related debt will have on tenants’ credit scores in the long term. This could be catastrophic, not only preventing those struggling from finding somewhere new to rent, but potentially impacting their ability to get a mortgage in future. It would also put further pressure on local authorities to find new homes for them. We agree, and believe the move to go ahead with the cut to Universal Credit is at best short-sighted, and at worst, dangerous. Practical steps to address this problem can and should be taken to support those in need.
We are calling on the Government to end the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit, and allow tenants to have the housing element of their Universal Credit payments sent directly to their landlord. We are also asking the Chancellor to develop an interest free, Government-guaranteed hardship loan, to support the majority of tenants with Covid-related rent debts, and who are not eligible for benefit support. This scheme would help these tenants pay off their rent debts, and would follow the introduction of similar schemes in Scotland and Wales.
By ending furlough and cutting benefits in quick succession, and without introducing a targeted package to tackle Covid-related rent debt, the Government is worsening an already critical situation. We are urging the Chancellor not to turn his back on those renters and landlords that are in such desperate need of his help.
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About the Author
Ben Beadle is chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), the UK’s largest trade body for landlords.
A landlord himself since the age of 20, Ben started out as property manager before working his way up through the ranks at Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS).
He was then Operations Director at property management business Touchstone before overseeing the merger of the National Residential Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA) to create the new trade body earlier this year.
His key aims as head of the organisation are to strengthen the voice of landlords in Westminster and Cardiff, to improve the reputation of landlords in the media and to support members through information, training and accreditation.
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