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Almost half a million low-income tenants who are claiming universal credit – many of whom were forced to apply for the benefit during the pandemic – are struggling to pay rent because it only covers the cheapest third of rents in each part of the country.
New analysis by Generation Rent suggests 474,000 tenants in the UK currently face a shortfall between their universal credit housing payments and their actual market rents, including 91,904 people in the north west of England which has particularly badly hit by coronavirus.
The typical rent for a two-bedroom flat in Manchester, which is under the most severe tier three Covid restrictions, is £850 a month but the most a family in the city can claim is £598 – a shortfall of £3,020 a year. In Birmingham, the gap is £1,795 a year for a similar-sized property while in Nottingham the gap is £1,424.
Every region has seen substantial increases in tenants applying for universal credit since March. The number seeking help in the north west increased by just over a third in the first three months of the pandemic, with 46% of renters in the region now reliant on state support. In London, there has been a doubling of tenants claiming universal credit, with 40% of households in privately rented accommodation in the capital receiving the benefit.
The analysis indicates a further 403,000 working renters could be made redundant or see their income drop in the coming months after the end of the original furlough scheme at midnight on Saturday night and as more businesses are forced to close under public health restrictions. Many more people would then become dependent on universal credit housing payments to keep their homes.
Will Lewis applied for universal credit after he lost his job as a chef in September. Lewis – whose name has been changed because he fears his landlord’s reaction – already owes hundreds of pounds because his £1,200 universal credit housing payment does not cover the £1,460 rent for the small, two-bedroom flat he shares with his partner and two young children in Haringey, north London.
“We are about £260 a month short on rent and that’s with cutting back on our food budget and spending almost nothing on clothes,” he said. “We’ve bought the kids some school uniform and that’s it – normally coming into winter we would buy them some new winter clothes but that can’t happen this year. It makes me feel inadequate.”
Lewis is worried this could lead to the couple running up large, unmanageable debts and eventually losing their home. “Our landlord is not great – I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already put something into the courts,” he said. “We can’t risk being evicted because we haven’t got the money for a deposit.”
He has tried to speak to his landlord and his associates numerous times, as recommended by the government, but they have refused to either drop the rent or agree a repayment plan. “There are too many people out there that just want money,” Lewis said.
Generation Rent called on the government to suspend evictions for arrears and ensure that the housing element of universal credit covers median rents in each part of the country. Alicia Kennedy, the campaign’s director, warned that the government would end up presiding over “mass impoverishment” unless it provided more assistance to tenants. “Thousands of renters started claiming universal credit at the start of the pandemic and have found that it is nowhere near enough to cover the rent they owe,” she said.
She added that the end of the government’s furlough scheme had left many worrying about how they will keep their heads above water. “More than a million employees are at risk of redundancy and a quarter of them are private renters,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “We’ve taken unprecedented action to protect renters, including a six-month ban on evictions and have increased local housing allowance rates, benefiting more than one million households by £600 a year on average.
“We’ve also raised universal credit by £1,040 a year, and a further £180m of discretionary housing payments are available for those who need additional support.”
Source: The Guardian
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