Thousands of renters ‘will be in dire straits’ without help

Charity warns private tenants need more support from UK Government to avoid debt and homelessness.

Private tenants need more support from the UK Government to avoid debt and homelessness as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a charity has warned.

Shelter Scotland said current Universal Credit rates are too low in light of the fact many are applying for benefit for the first time.

There are around 340,000 private renters in Scotland, while the UK has recently recorded a tenfold increase in new claims for Universal Credit.

The housing element of the benefit only covers the lowest third of market rents in an area, meaning those paying average rents will face a shortfall.

For example, the average rent for a two-bed property in the Lothian region is £900 a month, while the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate for a two-bed home in the region is £822.73.

In the Greater Glasgow area there is an even larger shortfall. The median monthly rate for a two-bedroom home is £750 but the LHA is £648.

The shortfall is larger for those considered to have extra rooms.

Shelter Scotland is calling for the UK Government to increase housing benefit so it covers the average cost of local rents.

Assistant director Gordon MacRae said: “The Scottish Government has rightly changed the law to ensure tenants cannot be evicted at the first sign of rent arrears.

“However, thousands of renters will be in dire straits further down the line without more support from the UK Government.”

He added: “As renters lose their jobs and see their incomes hit, many will have to rely on the welfare safety net for the first time.

“We’re facing an onslaught of people suddenly unable to afford their rent, at a time when people need to stay put and cannot safely move to a cheaper home.

“To avoid spiralling debt and needless evictions when we come out of lockdown, the Government must increase the housing element of Universal Credit so that it covers the average cost of local rents.”

Shelter Scotland also shared the story of a woman from Dundee who is struggling with money due to the Covid-19 outbreak, along with her partner and toddler.

The woman, Samantha, faces a shortfall of £181 a month as the housing element of Universal Credit does not cover her rent payments.

Their self-employed income has fallen to zero as a result of the coronavirus outbreak but their landlord is still seeking the full rent every month.

She said: “The coronavirus outbreak has had a massive impact on our income. Our earnings have fallen to nothing.

“We have been self-employed for less than a year so we don’t qualify for support from the Government.

“We were already receiving Universal Credit but it doesn’t make up for the loss of our earnings. We were just getting on our feet so this is a huge setback.”

She added: “We’ve cut back on our bills and we are getting help from family, for which we are really grateful but we feel like a burden and we know that can’t go on forever.

“It’s worrying because we don’t know how long this will last.

“If Universal Credit covered the cost of our rent it would get the landlord off our backs and be a lot less pressure.”

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