VULNERABLE renters who have fallen into arrears during the pandemic will be helped with a £65 million 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 £500 million 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.
Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Eddie Hughes said: “We have taken action throughout the pandemic to support the most vulnerable families, and it is vital we continue to provide support as we enter the winter months.
“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.”
DLUHC said the Government is “grateful” to landlords for their support and the funding will help more of them reach agreements with existing tenants.
Some 3.8 million households on low incomes are estimated to be in arrears with household bills, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
Around 950,000 are thought to be in rent arrears, 1.4 million are behind on council tax bills and 1.4 million 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 around 11.6 million 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, 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: “We welcome the announcement of this funding and urge local authorities to target it at those tenants most struggling with Covid rent debts.
“It is great news that those households worst hit by Covid-related arrears may be able to access financial support.
“However, £65 million does not fully reflect the scale of the problem. NRLA analysis has put the figure of Covid rent debts at over £300 million.
“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.”
Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, said: “I am very pleased to hear the Government has listened to our call to keep people in their homes and stop mass homelessness.
“It is vital that they are taking preventative action to ensure people will not be left homeless this winter.
“The end of furlough and the lift of the eviction ban have posed a very grave danger to everyday families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet as a result of Covid-19 poverty.
“This is certainly a welcome announcement, however there is £360 million in rent arrears in the UK currently, so far greater action will be needed to stop a catastrophic rise in homelessness.
“We have seen brilliant and bold action taken by this government during the Everyone In programme and the Job Retention Scheme. I hope we see more of this over the next few months.
“Although one of our calls to the Government has been observed in part here, we desperately need to see investment in jobs and training in sustainable industries as part of the long-term solution.”
Additional Reporting by PA Media