Around 370,000 low-income households renting privately in Britain, including more than 100,000 families with children. They struggle financially because housing allowances lag so far behind rents as a result of the benefit freeze. Housing benefit levels have been frozen since 2016, part of a wider four-year freeze on working age benefits, which has fuelled an average 8% widening in the rent gap nationally between 2015 and 2018, with double-digit rent gap increases recorded in the south-east and east of England and the east Midlands. Although ministers said last month the overall benefit freeze will end in April, it has emerged that housing benefit was not included in the announcement and a decision on this has been delayed for whoever forms the next government.
Benefit cuts mean Britain’s poorest private tenants are having to find an average of £113 a month to meet a shortfall between their housing benefit payments and their rent, putting many at risk of poverty and homelessness. Official data obtained by housing charity Shelter found that London renters on full benefits faced the widest rent gap in cash terms, needing to find an average of £211.94 a month, followed by £139.66 in the east of England and £138.23 in the south-east of England.
Shelter said that for many people on housing benefit who are by definition on very low incomes these can be catastrophic amounts, forcing many to choose between paying rent and buying food. If they cannot meet the difference they are at risk of eviction.
In a Shelter survey what sacrifices they had made in order to pay rent, 40% of private renters said they had cut back on buying clothes, 37% had used benefits earmarked for living costs, over a third had cut back on food, 28% had turned down the heating, and a third had sold possessions.Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said: “The freeze on housing benefit is pushing families into poverty and homelessness. People are being forced into desperate measures to pay their rent from selling their possessions and borrowing money to skipping meals...Politicians kicking [the housing benefit freeze decision] into the long grass means too many families will struggle through the winter, weighing up whether to pay their heating bill or their rent.”