2 million MORE tenants at acute risk of pandemic arrears to eviction to homelessness? Food(bank) for thought!

There are millions of tenants in both the PRS and SRS who are at acute risk of the pandemic-derived arrears leading to eviction and homelessness. A great many more than you would imagine or has been thus far speculated in any report – and here I by necessity speculate further as nobody knows the true figure, and I do so by looking at much more factual evidence that has become available in official data sets.

In the summer of 2020 two major reports projected that half a million existing tenant households were at acute risk of the arrears to eviction to homeless pathway.

In May 2020 the Distict Council Network (DCN) which reprsents 183 local authorities who deal with homelessness projected 174,000 existing housing association households at risk with a further 98,000 existing council tenant households making 272,000 existing SRS tenant households at risk. In July 2020 Shelter, the homeless organisation, projected 228,000 existing PRS tenant households were at acute risk.

Collectively, and coincidentally I think, these two projections come to 500,000 SRS and PRS households at acute risk of arrears to eviction to homelessness. With the average household being 2.3 – 2.4 persons this is 1.15 to 1.2 million men. women and children at acute risk of eviction and a staggering number.

However, in May or even July of 2020 none of these projections will have considered the second wave of Covid-19 or even a third wave or the millions of job losses and what is a recession we have in the UK.

As an important aside the formal definition of ‘recession’ being two economic quarters in a row with falling GDP is being masked by the lockown to easing to lockdown system we have experienced. In lockdown GDP may fall 20% on the previous economic quarter and easing the lockdown may well see a 5% increase in GDP over the previous (lockdown) quarter so technically a ‘recession’ has not happened yet the reality it is has. The formal definition of ‘recession’ is masked and hidden by the stop go economy of lockdown to easing and then back to lockdown. Recession is recession not a semantic issue that benefits politicians in this yoyo pandemic economy the UK has as fact.

To substantiate my view here I have looked at the recently released Universal Credit statistics published this week detailing up to November 2020 and very specifically they reveal the existing SRS and PRS tenant households on the arrears to evictin to homeless pathway are FAR higher than the DCN and Shelter projections.

For example between the February 2020 figures and the November 2020 UC figures we find that:

  1. An additional 221,565 PRS tenants are recorded as being in receipt of UC where the LHA paid does NOT meet the rent level. In Feb 2020 this figure was 493,761 PRS households which increased to 715,326 PRS households whose level of housing benefit payment failed to meet the rent charged.
  2. The UC data does not record where SRS tenants get a level of housing bnefit that does not meet the rent per se, yet does record the number of SRS tenants on Universal Credit who are hit by the bedroom tax cut. In February 2020 the data reveals 164,798 SRS tenant households were hit by the bedroom tax deduction which increased to 238,748 SRS tenants on UC hit by the bedroom tax in November 2020 – an increase of 73,950

Both the above examples give more PRS and SRS tenants wo are on the arrears to evictin to homeless slippery slope due to the pandemic. Almost 300,000 more existing renting households than the 500,000 projected by the DCN and Shelter reports in the Summer of 2020.

Further, I have also looked at the official overall benefit cap data released in November 2020 and covering up to the end of August 2020. This reveals a further 98,000 existing renting households had their housing benefit cut by this policy from February 2020 to August 2020. The latest OBC data was due to be released at the end of February 2021 yet has been put back until the end of March 2021 and it is widely and correctly expected to show a much greater increase due to (a) more job losses and more recession, and (b) by the fact the 9-month grace period the OBC has for previously working households will have expired for those who benefited from it previously.

For many complex reasons to explain lucidly here I suspect stroingly but as a cautious estimate that a further 30,000 existing rented households will add to those benefit capped per month. This means an additional 30,000 renting households in September 20 and each month since and by the end of March 2021 date release will see a further 180,000 rented households hit by the overall benefit cap deduction which targets rent and housing benefit payment as its first call.

A cautious projection of where we are today (March 19, 2021) is double the number of existing rented households than the DCN and Shelter summer 2020 estimates projected is today’s highly likely reality. At least one million existing rented households are at acute risk of pandeic derived arrears leading to eviction and homelessness is a cautious projection of where we are today. One million households is 2.3 to 2.4 million men, women and children who are shortly about to experience homelessness in the UK as a direct result of Covid-19.

Just writing that makes me angry and accuse myself of scaremongering. Yet that is not the case at all and I have taken a great deal of self-caution in just detaiing this scary and offensive as hell number. I have chosen to detail it only due to the bullshit that IS being stated repeatedly by all housing and homeless actors and housing activists who ONLY want to believe that pandemic arrears build is ONLY a PRS issue and does not affect the tenant renting in the social rented sector. Such posits are delusional and absurd.

The very first release of those affected by the overall benefit cap policy back in early 2014 found 46% of households affected were in the SRS and 54% in the PRS – a figure that reflects the 46%:54% share of rented housing in England that exists. The narrative that the benefit cap only affects those in high rent areas and only private tenants in high rent areas has always been wrong and always been a myth that many wanted to believe.

The restating of that myth about the overall benefit cap also underpins the notion and current absurd narrative that the pandeic only affects the PRS household and only PRS tenants will be evicted and become homeless. When I reported on the DCN and Shelter summer 2020 projections which revealed that MORE social tenant than private tenants were at risk of arrears to eviction to homelessness – which is precisely what these projections said – nobody wanted to or was prepared to accept this as – superficially – it read as preposterous due to the errant preceptions that all derive from the private landlord bad and social landlord good starting point which is extremely assumptive and is, as the facts reveal, highly superficial and errant.

Agendas such as Acorn, Generation Rent, Shelter, JRF and many other have are much easier to articulate posits that say the PRS tenant is at higher risk of homelessness. Many accept these very simplistic projections of the proverbially nasty PRS landlord as they can evict without fault as their tenure is AST which allows this … yet nobody bothers to say that housing associations issued AST and its no fault eviction section 21 ending in over 70% of all new HA lettings since 2015 as that is what a “starter” tenancy is. The same HAs can also issued Ground 8 evictions which simply need the tenant to be in 8 weeks or two months of arrears and there is nothign a county court judge can do to prevent these Ground 8 evictions.

A real nuance of the UC statistcis publishing bedroom tax numbers for the first time is that they also reveal the average bedroom tax housing element cut increased by 4.7% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 yet (net) rents only increased by CPI+1% and 2.7%. This means that service charges made by SRS landlords which are not part of the rent increase formula went up dramatically last financial year in the social rented sector. Between 2016 and 2020 SRS rents were purportedly subect to a 1% pa imposed cut yet that only applied to the net rent element whereas the average gross rent level (net rent plus service charges) actually increased. That same 4 year rent cut which wasn’t also saw SRS landlords convert hundreds of thousands of their properties from the social rent level to the (on average 46% higher) misnamed ‘affordable (sic) rent’ level and which put more and more existing SRS tenants at risk of having their housing benefit cut and increase the numbers at homeless risk due to how the overall benefit cap works.

An additional 1.75 million – yes that does say 1,750,000 – households just on Universal Credit of working age (as UC is not paid to pensioners) have claimed housing benefit in the period February to November 2020 increasing from 2.426 million to 4.168 million households and just of working age. Add in the number of pensioners and there is little doubt that these are the highest ever figures on record and the total housing benefit bill (HB / LHA / UC housing element) has rocketed past the £30 billion per year figure cost and moreover half as much again as it was when the major ‘welfare reforms of bedroom tax and benefit cap were introduced to reduce that cost

English Housing Survey figures (from 2018/19) say that 81% of SRS tenants who receive housing benefit do not get full housing benefit so this 1,740,973 new households claiming UC housing element means 19% of them at the lowest count possible do not get enough in housing benefit to pay their rent – a minimum of a new and added 330,785 existing tenant household who are on the slippery slope from pandemic arrears to eviction to homelessness.

In summary and while some of the existing tenants will be double counted (hit by bedroom tax and benefit cap for example) it is still a cautious estimate to say the 500,000 existing rented households predicted in the summer of 2020 will today be 1 million existing SRS and PRS households at risk of Covid-19 / pandemic / recession arrears leading to eviction and homelessness – and that could just as easily be a significant underestimate but not an overestimate.

Food(bank) for thought!

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PS Of course you can choose to believe the absurdly understated figures of CAB (250k more) or Stepchange (150k more), the latter being reported today by that comic called The S*n and excuse for a newspaper. They may well be the number of tenants who have enquired at the CABx or Stepchange organisations but there is no way the facts and data we have today can extrapolate to a national aggregate figure of such low number.