Working families can’t afford private rents in two-thirds of the country

New Shelter report lifts lid on how low-wage families are forced to turn to housing benefit as their pay packet doesn’t stretch far enough

Working families in two-thirds of the country are forced to turn to housing benefits to cover private rents thanks to England‘s ‘rent trap’.

New figures from housing charity Shelter reveal that there are 218 council areas where families with low income would be forced to spend nearly a third of their salary on rent with 112 areas forking out more than 40 per cent.

Spending such a high proportion of earnings on rent is slashing the amount of cash available to cover living costs, childcare or utility bills and leaving families on the knife-edge.

Shelter analysed average private rents for two-bedroom homes in every local area in England to assess how affordable they would be for low-income families with one adult working full-time and another part-time.

Renting privately left me paralysed with fear – I couldn’t see a future without benefits and was constantly worried that my landlord would put my rent up

Of the around 1.5 million working families living in privately rented homes in England, they would be least likely to be able to afford rents in Kensington and Chelsea – the area where the Grenfell disaster happened in 2017 – which is a low affordability hotspot.

In the London borough the average rent is 127 per cent of the average low-earning family’s pay while Westminster and Camden follow at 111 per cent and 92 per cent respectively.

Outside the English capital’s notoriously sky-high housing prices, affluent university towns Cambridge and Oxford fare poorly at 61 per cent and 57 per cent as well.

Families with a sole full-time bread-winner would be forced to spend more than 30 per cent of their pay on rent in 320 areas – 98 per cent of the country – and in 228 areas that rises to more than 40 per cent.

Shelter have been leading the calls for more social housing for some time and they argue that only a significant boost to the number of social rent homes available would stop families from requiring to rely on housing benefits to stave off homelessness.

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That was the antidote for university dance teacher Lauren, 48, who was struggling financially while living with her teenage daughter near Brighton until securing a social home.

She said: “Renting privately left me paralysed with fear – I couldn’t see a future without benefits and was constantly worried that my landlord would put my rent up.”

The charity found that social rents were affordable to low-wage families in 100 per cent of the country with Hertsmere – at 26 per cent of annual income – paying the top proportion of rent for those with one full-time and one part-time worker.

Shelter says that the next Prime Minister should make hitting the target of 3.1 million social homes over 20 years – as recommended by their Social Housing Commission in January – a priority to slash the £8bn housing benefit bill paid out in 2017/18.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Families in lower-paid jobs are having their bank balances bled dry by expensive private rents across huge swathes of the country.

“The steep decline in social housing has left a growing number of families caught in a debilitating ‘rent-trap’. It’s disgraceful that despite working every hour they can, many parents are now forced to rely on housing benefit to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

“It makes no sense to continue haemorrhaging billions of pounds in housing benefit to private landlords, when the government could support families by investing in a sustainable, long-term solution to the housing emergency instead.”

The government has committed to building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s but, so far, has only managed to deliver 222,000 while social rent builds remain low, with only 27,200 built last year.

Image: PA