'Callous' benefit freeze sees more than 40pc of London tenants on universal credit struggle with rent
- Credit: Chantelle Billson
As some east London tenants face a £200 monthly rent shortfall, landlords have called on the government to raise benefits to help people afford the rising cost of living.
Data released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) at the end of last year has been analysed by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), which found 40.4 per cent of private tenants in London who rely on universal credit (UC) to pay their rent face a monthly shortfall.
The average shortfall across London was £162 a month, with one of the highest impacted boroughs being Redbridge, where 51.3pc of tenants face a gap of £200 between the help available and the cost of their rent.
In Havering, the data found 40.6pc of UC recipients with a local housing allowance (LHA) have a gap of £150 in the benefits they receive and the rent they must pay, while in Barking and Dagenham that figure was 48.5pc and in Tower Hamlets it was 38.6pc with a shortfall of £116.
This comes as this newspaper launched our Your Money Matters campaign, in order to offer practical advice and support as you grapple with a surge in the cost of living.
The government increased LHA in April 2020 to help the worse-off 30pc of private renters during the pandemic, but since April last year the rate has been frozen despite rental inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.
The freeze means the number of renters in receipt of UC who can afford to live in privately-rented accommodation is likely to decline, according to the NRLA.
In a bid to prevent this, the organisation has called on the chancellor to unfreeze housing benefits to reflect the reality facing tenants.
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NRLA spokesperson Richard Blanco said: “The chancellor needs to listen and respond to the concerns of both renters and landlords by unfreezing housing benefits as a matter of urgency.”
Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, called the government's decision to freeze the LHA “wrong and callous”, saying it had caused “massive problems for London boroughs” with families “facing homelessness”.
He said the “housing market in England is profoundly broken, with London being the worst case” and suggested the government “greatly increase the supply of new good quality and genuinely affordable rented homes through council building programmes”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said the LHA increase during the pandemic was “beyond inflation” and benefited over one million households by an average of over £600 over the year.
“We’re maintaining that boost, keeping support for private renters above pre-pandemic levels,” they added.
Results from a survey run as part of this newspaper's Your Money Matters campaign has shown how people across east London are being impacted by crippling costs.
A total of 178 people from Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets participated in our survey.
A staggering 79pc of this number said they were worse off than a year ago, with 21pc saying they had used a foodbank.
Participants were asked how much their monthly bills had increased, with 21pc saying they had increased by £51 to £100 and 20pc saying the increase was between £101 to £150.
A concerning 31pc of respondents hadn’t heard from their gas supplier and were unsure about what the hike would be.
The majority of participants (96pc) said they had seen food shopping become more expensive, with an increase in electric (88pc) and gas (84pc) coming behind.
Frances Collins lives in Harold Wood with her parents, to whom she pays rent, but she aspires to rent her own property with her boyfriend.
“I work minimum wage in a care home and me and my partner are trying to rent a place and it’s just not feasible, especially around here [Harold Wood] because the prices are so much more expensive.
“We are looking to move up north because the price of a flat here would get us a three-bed bungalow to rent up there and it would be so much cheaper than renting down here, where you can spend £950 for a one-bed flat plus all your bills and shopping on top of that.”
However, the 28-year-old said moving away from home would be a wrench as her mum has suffered bouts of ill health.
“It’s driving people away from their families just to find somewhere cheaper to live,” she added.
Mortgage and protection adviser at Just Mortgages in Harold Wood, Kim Woodbridge, said more people than ever are renting because they can’t afford to buy.
“My generation, being 27, are called generation rent because you can’t afford a deposit, you’re paying more on rent than if you were to have a mortgage.”
The 27-year-old said most people are “priced out” of the Harold Wood area and this is forcing people to Grays or Tilbury.
She claimed the average age of home-buyers is now 35, an increase from a decade ago when that figure was under 20. She also said around 80pc of people rent as opposed to the 20pc who buy.
“The working middle-class are the worse impacted by the cost of living as below that get help and anyone above it doesn't affect.”