Citizens Advice helped more than 8,000 people with homelessness issues in October, the highest monthly figure ever recorded.
A rising number of Section 21 no-fault evictions for private rental tenants, often led by rising mortgage interest payments for landlords, was listed as a significant contributor.
Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary on Monday, having said earlier in the month that homelessness was a “lifestyle choice”.
Citizens Advice (CA, formerly Citizens Advice Bureau) is a charitable organisation that provides confidential information and advice to assist people with problems including those related to debt and housing.
They record data on people that come to them for help so they are able to be aware of changing trends and issues affecting certain groups more than others.
In addition to those facing homelessness in October, almost 20,000 people were given a food bank referral, the third highest month on record, and more than 45,000 received debt help, the most since 2014.
More than half of people CA helped with homelessness were private tenants, a reversal of pre-pandemic trends when social tenants were most exposed.
Sky News analysis earlier in the year showed that renters could be more vulnerable to higher housing costs caused by interest rates than mortgage-holders, despite not being directly exposed themselves.
More than 2,000 private renters were helped by CA last month after being served with Section 21 no-fault eviction notice.
That figure is also a new record high. It’s the fourth time the record has been broken this year.
The number of people seeking help with no-fault evictions were at or close to record highs in all English regions, but have been falling in Wales over the past 12 months.
The Welsh government changed the rules around renting on 1 December 2022, to protect tenants if landlords failed to make necessary repairs, and give more notice ahead of no-fault evictions.
CA analysis shows that single parents, black people and women were more likely to have been affected by no-fault evictions than others.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Citizens Advice Chief Executive, said: “We’ve kind of gone beyond a crisis into something which is concretised. A mismatch between income and expenditure for many, many people on low incomes.
“Next week is the autumn statement, which is one of the key moments when governments can – if they choose – shift the dial.
“I think a very strong message that we would give based on this data is that it needs to be pulling levers to alleviate the problems that people are coming to us or to other charities with.”
Citizens Advice recommended policy changes in three areas:
1. Increase benefits with inflation so that they are back in line with where they were a few years ago
2. More energy price support this winter – Dame Moriarty said “although energy prices will come down compared to last year, in the absence of the sorts of support that was in place last year, people are going to be paying around the same and we know that there are many, many people who can’t afford to pay that”.
3. To increase Local Housing Allowance so that it keeps up with rent increases
Housing allowance provision falls behind rental price increases
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are used to calculate the maximum housing benefit that can be received by tenants renting from private landlords.
They had previously been linked to the cost of 30th percentile rents (those at the cheaper end of the rental market, 20% lower than the average rent in the area).
However, this benefit has been frozen since 2020, meaning it has not risen at all in the last few years of rapid rent inflation.
Official data from the Valuation Office Agency shows that by 2022, a significant gap had emerged between housing allowances and actual rent costs across every area in England.
The biggest shortfall is in central London, at 30.6% on average across all property sizes. The average 30th percentile rent for a one-bedroom property was £394, with housing benefit capped at £295.50.
Outside of London, the biggest gaps between housing benefit and rent were around Manchester, with a 17.4% deficit in Tameside and Glossop, and a 16.5% deficit in Central Greater Manchester.
The average 30th percentile rent for a two bedroom property in Central Greater Manchester was £180.66, with a £31.07 (17.2%) shortfall from the £149.59 allowance.
The latest detailed breakdown of rental market data from the Valuation Office Agency is only available to September 2022, but since then rents have continued to rise and, with housing benefit frozen, these shortfalls continue to grow.
Private rental data inflation for September 2023 showed a 5.6% average increase in rents across England, the highest on record going back to 2006.
The latest CA cost of living survey found that “the vast majority of housing benefit and universal credit claimants renting privately now report a shortfall between benefit income and rent of more than £100 per month”.
Citizens Advice has called for the unfreezing of Housing Benefit as a matter of urgency: “Looking ahead to the Autumn Statement, relinking LHA to the 30th percentile of rent costs in each Broad Rental Market Area is the most immediate priority.
“The situation for housing benefit and universal credit housing element claimants today is at least as serious as 2020, when the link was last restored after a period of being frozen.”
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