At least 100,000 renting households will be placed at risk of eviction when the government’s planned £20-a-week cut to universal credit comes into effect next week, the housing charity Crisis has warned.
The proportion of private renters relying on benefits in England has surged to around one in three since the start of the pandemic, leaving thousands at risk of homelessness due to arrears if the uplift to UC is removed by ministers as planned.
The footballer Marcus Rashford is among those calling for its retention, citing fears about child hunger.
The squeeze on renters is being compounded by the final lifting of the emergency restrictions on evictions during the pandemic in England and the end of the furlough scheme on Friday.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have extended more liberal measures on evictions until next year.
“For many struggling renters this cut could be the final blow that forces them from their homes,” said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. “The UK government must change course and keep the £20 uplift so that people don’t needlessly lose their homes this winter and we have a fighting chance at recovery. The UK government assured people they would not lose their home because of the crisis; we must not fail them now.”
The charity predicts evicted households who seek help from local councils with emergency housing will end up costing the public purse more.
With a third of renters relying on benefits following the pandemic, the impact could be widespread.
The number of private renters relying on UC or housing benefit for rent surged to almost 2 million in May 2021 with 560,000 renters joining benefits queues since February 2020, according to analysis by the housing charity Shelter of Department of Work and Pensions figures.
The biggest increases were seen in the most expensive areas of London and the south-east, but other hotspots where the majority of renters rely on benefits include Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Great Yarmouth and Torbay.
Dan Wilson Craw, the director of the Generation Rent campaign group, said the UC cut would have a twin effect on renters, pushing some into arrears that would lead to eviction and make it harder for them to pass affordability checks to get a new home. He said about half of private renters who rely on local housing allowance benefits already do not get enough to cover their rent and have to top it up.
“Without the uplift, and with the end of furlough … we will see another surge in eviction notices served in the run-up to Christmas,” he said. “There’s still time for the government to step in with a Covid rent debt fund to clear renters’ arrears and keep people in their homes.”
From 1 October, the notice periods for anyone served a section 21 “no fault” eviction notice in England will have two rather than four months’ notice to find a new home. For tenants in arrears, the notice period for anyone owing less than four months’ rent was cut from four to two months and for anyone with longer arrears to four weeks.
A government spokesperson said the UC uplift was always temporary and “designed to help people through the toughest stages of the pandemic.”
“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and we will deliver a fairer and more effective rental market that works for both tenants and landlords,” they said, adding the government is spending £750m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over 2021-22 and will publish a white paper on renting including the abolition of “no fault” evictions in due course.
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