Government pledges £65m ‘lifeline' to help vulnerable renters in arrears in England

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Vulnerable renters who have fallen into arrears during the pandemic will be helped with a £65m support package this winter, the government has announced.

The funding will be given to councils in England to support low-income earners in rent arrears – helping to prevent homelessness and support families get back on their feet, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said today.

The cash injection aims to assist 3.8 million renters who have fallen into debt since Covid arrived in the UK. The numbers of tenants in arrears have tripled in the past year, with 80 per cent not in debt prior to the financial strain caused by the crisis.

The move brings English renters in line with Wales and Scotland, who have been eligible for support since the pandemic began.

Unveiling the package, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Eddie Hughes MP said: “We have taken action throughout the pandemic to support the most vulnerable families, and it is vital we continue to provide support as we enter the winter months.

This new funding will support families that are struggling and help to get them back on their feet as we begin to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

While some charities have praised the “lifeline,” some say the funding doesn’t go far enough.

Renters have built up around £440m in arrears, meaning the package covers around 14 per cent of the debt, according to poverty campaign group the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

“The build-up of rent arrears among households on low incomes is a huge problem and one of the clearest signs of the unequal impact the pandemic has had, so we are pleased to see the Government respond to this issue,” Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships at JRF said.

“The funding announced today will be vital in preventing people from going through the traumatic experience of being evicted and potentially becoming homeless.”

Ms Schmuceker said without addressing “the fundamental inadequacy of social care support,” the problem is “only likely to grow,” even with the relief package in place.

The scrapping of the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift on October 6 cut funding worth £5bn from 4.4 million households containing 3.5 million children. Following the cut, Chancellor Rishi Sunak a £500m winter hardship fund for struggling families.

“With the cost of living continuing to rise sharply and households on low incomes still reeling from the huge overnight cut to Universal Credit, without further action this problem is only likely to grow despite the support announced today,” Ms Schmuecker said.

“Until we address the fundamental inadequacy of social security support, we will continue to see families at the sharp end swept into poverty and homelessness.”

“We urge the Government to reinstate the £20 in Universal Credit at next week’s Budget, as well as relinking housing benefit to local rents,” she added.

The Government said renters have been protected across the pandemic because of its action, including a temporary ban on evictions and a £400bn support package for the economy.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter said the news will be “a huge relief” to renters.

“The Covid crisis saw incomes plummet and debts spiral. People have struggled to keep their heads above water, with the protections from the eviction ban and furlough now ended, the threat of homelessness is very real,” she said.

“With winter approaching, the government is absolutely right to act to keep people safe in their homes and prevent a wave of evictions and homelessness. For those who can access it, this funding will be a lifeline.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said it is “vital” councils in receipt of the funding use it to “help people most at risk of losing their home.”

“With almost a million households across the UK in rent arrears and the cost of living rising rapidly, it is impossible for this funding to meet the demand we face. To prevent homelessness in the first place, we desperately need the UK government to ensure that housing benefit covers the true cost of renting by unfreezing the Local Housing Allowance,” he added.

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