A YouGov poll commissioned by the charity found 15% of private renters are in problem debt – meaning they cannot afford debt repayments – compared to around 8% of the wider population in England, Wales and Scotland.
Last week the government introduced the Renters Reform Bill to parliament to give tenants more security in their homes in England. StepChange welcomed the new legislation but said it will not go far enough for tenants struggling to get by.
Richard Lane, StepChange director of external affairs, said: “The government’s Renters’ Reform Bill will rightly withdraw landlords’ rights to carry out no-fault evictions, but there is more to do to protect those who should be in socially rented accommodation but have no hope of accessing it.
“Unless we see benefits that cover the real cost of renting, alongside strengthened rules that protect financially vulnerable tenants who fall behind on their rent, the cycle of debt and housing insecurity will be doomed to repeat itself for millions of people.”
The situation has worsened for renters in recent months as inflation and rising rents have made it more difficult to cover monthly payments to landlords.
Half of all private renters have seen their rent increase in the last 12 months, StepChange said. The poll found a quarter of private rent increases were over £100 with 4% of tenants experiencing steep surges over £500.
The rising cost of renting meant 36% of respondents had cut back on essentials to be able to afford rent while 18% fell behind on their rent payments. Around 15% fell into arrears on another household bill while 10% turned to credit to help pay their rent.
Overall, there has been a rise in the number of tenants falling into problem debt – 800,000 people were in financial difficulty in January but by May that number had grown to 1.1 million people, StepChange said.
That was having a knock-on effect on wellbeing with two-thirds of tenants who experienced a rent increase reported that it had a negative impact on their mental health.
The Renters Reform Bill is meant to give tenants more security by shifting the power dynamic with landlords more in their favour.
The legislation will ban no-fault evictions, which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason, while also allowing renters to keep pets and challenge rent increases.
The bill will also bring in measures to improve the standard of private-rented homes, help for landlords to recover properties from tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour, and introduce a new ombudsman to settle disputes.
Local housing allowance is meant to cover the 30th percentile of rents in local areas, but research carried out by homelessness charity Crisis and property portal Zoopla last year found 90 % of private rented homes in England were unaffordable for people on housing benefits.
Lane added: “Everyone deserves to live in a house they can call home, but this is becoming increasingly out of reach for a growing number of private renters.
“Against the backdrop of a frenzied rental market, where bidding wars, sky-high deposits and rising rents are commonplace, those who are financially vulnerable are often left with no choice but to take on unaffordable, insecure, poor-quality accommodation just to keep a roof over their heads.”
You may also be able to get support from your local council through discretionary housing payments. They are available to cover a rent shortfall, rent deposits or rent in advance for people who need to move home. Contact your local council to see if you’re eligible.
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