Vulnerable renters who have fallen into arrears during the pandemic will be helped with a £65m support package this winter, the government has announced.
Councils in England will be able to use the funding to support low-income earners who are behind on their rent, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said.
However, organisations representing landlords and people at risk of homelessness said the money will not be enough to help everyone struggling, and called for the government to go further.
The funding is in addition to a £500m package announced in September to help families struggling to afford food, energy, water and other essentials. This, too, was described as insufficient to meet the scale of the challenge facing low-income families as living costs rise.
The minister for rough sleeping and housing, Eddie Hughes, said: “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.”
Some 3.8m households on low incomes are estimated to be in arrears with household bills, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). About 950,000 are thought to be in rent arrears, 1.4m are behind on council tax bills and 1.4m are behind on electricity and gas bills, the foundation said.
It looked at households in the bottom 40% of incomes in the UK, with a household income of £24,752 or less. This represents about 11.6m households.
The findings suggest that a third (33%) of low-income households are now in arrears – triple the 11% estimated by a similar study before the coronavirus pandemic, the JRF said.
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, said: “We of course welcome this funding that should help keep some of those most at risk of homelessness off the streets this winter. It is now vital councils use this funding to help people most at risk of losing their home.
“But 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.”
Chris Norris, policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “It is great news that those households worst hit by Covid-related arrears may be able to access financial support. However, £65m does not fully reflect the scale of the problem. NRLA analysis has put the figure of Covid rent debts at over £300m.
“With warnings that rent debts could pose a risk to the economic recovery and the government admitting that many landlords are highly vulnerable to arrears, the chancellor must go further.”