The high costs of renting, coupled with ongoing housing benefit freezes have led to a growing number of evictions, according to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
The study, led by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, shows the shocking number of people losing their homes – more than 40,000 in England during 2015 alone.
It is an increase of a third since 2003 and the highest level recorded. The research appears to confirm fears that a mixture of rising costs and falling state support would lead to a rise in people being forced out of their homes. It will raise concerns that even those in work are struggling to pay their rent.
High numbers of ‘no-fault’ evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.
The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas. Housing benefit was no longer covering the cost of renting in some cases, with average shortfalls ranging from £22 to £70 a month outside of London, and between £124 and £1,036 in inner London. Housing benefit has not risen in line with private rents since 2010, and a current freeze means the rates paid will not increase until 2020.
A series of interviews with private renters who are struggling to meet their bills exposed the pressure some low-paid tenants are now under. One man said that the £50 shortfall he had suffered was “almost a week’s money in itself”.
“And then you’ve got the other bills…I just couldn’t make it work. I had to choose, what do I pay this month – do I pay the rent? Do I pay the electricity? Do I buy some food? And it just snowballed.”
A single mother in her 20s said: “I paid it as much as I could, but my youngest child has been quite sickly … If my kids are sick, I don’t get paid.”
The problem is particularly acute in London and the south-east. Four out of every five repossessions using Section 21 orders are in London, the east of England and the south-east. Nearly two-thirds are in London. Within the city, Section 21 repossessions are concentrated in the boroughs of Newham, Enfield, Haringey, Brent and Croydon. Of the 40,000 evictions, there were 19,019 repossessions in the social housing sector, and 22,150 in the private rented sector.
The number of private tenants forced out of their homes exceeded the number evicted by social landlords for the first time in 2014. Social housing tenants can usually only be evicted for rent arrears or a breach of tenancy. While tenants are given time to find a property, some reported that they could find nothing they could afford, so families were under extreme levels of stress. Others simply waited for help from their local council.
Letting agency fees, the need for a guarantor and finding the cash for a deposit were all major barriers to securing a new home. Most tenants said they would prefer social housing, but were either ineligible or not a sufficient priority to be allocated a home.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of JRF, said: “The stark figures and harrowing stories show the struggle people on low incomes face in the private rented sector.” He called for the freeze on housing benefit to be lifted. “With higher rents, a benefits freeze and impossible choices about what bills to pay, evictions have reached record levels and put families under enormous strain,” he said. “Tenants told us about the misery and insecurity they face.
“The government has made welcome moves to offer renters more protection. But it is intolerable that more than 100 families a day are losing their homes. The government must take immediate action on housing costs. This means lifting the freeze on housing benefit.”
The housing charity Shelter warned last month that more than a million households living in private rented accommodation were at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing. The charity has calculated that if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned – until 2020 – more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes.
Anne Baxendale, director of campaigns and policy at Shelter, said: “We are deeply concerned that the current freeze on housing benefit is piling a huge amount of pressure on to thousands of private renters who are already teetering on the brink of homelessness.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “This government is determined to make rental housing more affordable and secure for working people. We are investing a record £7.1bn to boost affordable housing, and our housing white paper sets out how we plan to help private sector tenants, including building more homes for rent and banning letting agent fees.
“We continue to spend around £24bn a year to support the most vulnerable through housing benefit and we are providing 30% of the savings from the local housing allowance freeze to those areas with high rents.
“We have also changed the law to stop revenge evictions [when a landlord evicts in response to a complaint], given councils £12m to tackle rogue landlords and will give councils stronger powers to ban and convict the worst offenders.”