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ARCH/NFA Welfare Reform Survey 2021 30/06/2021 Labelled as Finance, Legislation, Tenants

This year's ARCH/ NFA Welfare Reform Survey "Heads Above Water"published on 30 June 2021finds little increase in council housing debt but detects symptoms of a ,so far, less obvious and worrying pandemic impact that may soon drive up rent arrears across the social housing sector.


Income officers from councils and Almos, asked how Covid-19 had affected their tenants' finances, have reported increased use of foodbanks, increased fuel poverty, increased demand for money/debt advice services and increased demand for hardship funds and other surveys in the private rented sector suggest that a significant spike in homelessness may be around the corner if rising rent arrears in the private rented sector spark evictions once government support ends.


The Government has put in huge levels of support through the Furlough Scheme and other routes, including the temporary £20 uplift in Universal Credit payments, but despite the short-term support available the need for extra help is alarming.


The pandemic has clearly had a severe impact on tenants. In our survey, 80% of income officers reported higher rent arrears, 77% had seen increased demand for support services and 77% reported increased use of food banks and increased fuel poverty. 74% of income officers had also seen increased demand for hardship funds.


However, our survey also shows the massive levels of support that local authorities and ALMOs have provided to tenants, particularly intensively during the first few months of COVID-19, to make sure that they are able to continue to access the services and help they need to keep a roof over their heads. Despite the pandemic, local authorities and ALMOs have maintained the services that they already had in place to support those going onto Universal Credit, modified them to work during lockdowns, and upscaled them to respond to the need.


Looking to the future, the fear is that local authorities and their housing companies have little capacity, either in cash or housing stock, to cope with increased homeless at a time when local authority housing stock and lettings are decreasing and significant numbers of homeless households are already in temporary accommodation and facing a long wait for a permanent place to live.


Recent cuts in central government funding for local authority hardship funds are also expected to hit struggling renters hard.


Our report sets out 5 main asks of government:  

  1. Remove the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment.
  2. Retain the £20 uplift to Universal Credit
  3. Remove the benefit cap and under-occupancy penalty
  4. Support social housing landlords in their role of providing employment and training services.
  5. Build at least 90,000 - 100,000 new socially rented homes a year to widen access to genuinely affordable rented accommodation.


ARCH Chief Executive John Bibby comments:


"We would like to thank all ARCH member councils who contributed to this year's survey. The findings of our latest survey highlight the credit that must go to the staff of local authorities and Almos who, throughout the pandemic, have worked tirelessly to offer support to themany council tenants that have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic and, through their efforts have managed to contain rental debt in the council housing sector broadly in line with pre-pandemic figures.


"In contrast, looking to the future, the situation in the private rented sector gives cause for concern and many tenants in the private sector are clearly struggling to meet their rent and keep a roof over their head  - particularly those that have lost their jobs or seen their income significantly reduced as a result of the pandemic and have been unable to meet rents which are generally much higher than those in the public sector".


"According to government figures, at 31 December 2020, there were already over 95,000 homeless households living in temporary accommodation and, with the end of the furlough scheme and the lifting of the eviction ban, there is concern that over the coming months local authorities will see a significant further increase in homelessness and the associated impact on mental and physical health of those made homeless or threatened with homelessness"


"Now is the time for the government to address the broken housing market and, alongside measures to help those who can afford to buy, to build back better by investing in a new generation of council housing that we can all be proud of and ensure that those households on lower incomes and/or in insecure employment can access decent secure housing at affordable rents".


Chloe Fletcher Policy Director at the NFA comments:


"If the upheaval of the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that a healthy housing market needs a good supply of all kinds of tenure. That means not only more accessible homeownership, but also sufficient quality social housing to offer secure and genuinely affordable homes for the lowest paid and most vulnerable.


"This survey demonstrates the fantastic job councils and local authority owned housing companies have done for their residents during this crisis, and how crucial their extra support has been to them. And, of course, that this support needs to continue".


Click here to read the full report "Heads Above Water" - the 2021 ARCH/ NFA Welfare Reform Survey.


Copies of the report have been sent to Ministers and senior officials at the Department of Work & Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and we look forward to continued dialogue with government on the issues raised in the report.


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