As many as 100,000 renting households will be at risk of eviction when the government slashes the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift next week, housing charity Crisis has cautioned.
The proportion of private renters reliant on benefits in England has surged to roughly one in three since the onset of the pandemic, leaving thousands at risk of homelessness when the temporary uplift is cut.
“For many struggling renters this cut could be the final blow that forces them from their homes,” Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, told the Guardian.
“The UK government must change course and keep the £20 uplift so that people don’t needlessly lose their homes this winter and we have a fighting chance at recovery. The UK government assured people they would not lose their home because of the crisis; we must not fail them now.”
The government has been accused of an “11th hour attempt to save face” by announcing a £500 million fund for vulnerable families as it pushes ahead with the widely-opposed cut to Universal Credit payments.
Charities said the targeted Household Support Fund, announced by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday, is “a fraction of what’s needed” and what is being cut.
It will be made available to councils in England in October to assist the community through small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities.
The funding is intended to help families meet “essential costs as we push through the last stages of our recovery from the pandemic”, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said.
The £20-a-week uplift, introduced to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, is being phased out from the end of September.
The move is opposed by six former work and pensions secretaries, charities, think tanks, teachers and MPs across the political spectrum.
‘Knows the damage’
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation called the announcement of new funds an “11th hour attempt to save face as the Government presses ahead with an unprecedented overnight cut”, urging the PM and Chancellor to reverse the plans.
Deputy director Helen Barnard said: “The support available through this fund is provided on a discretionary basis to families facing emergency situations.
“It does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge facing millions families on low incomes as a cost-of-living crisis looms and our social security system is cut down to inadequate levels.
“By admitting today that families will need to apply for emergency grants to meet the cost of basics like food and heating through winter, it’s clear the Chancellor knows the damage the cut to Universal Credit will cause.”
And Crisis believes the high number of evictions will leave households reliant on local councils with emergency housing – costing the public purse more in the long run.
The number of private renters on Universal Credit or housing benefit for rent surged to nearly two million in May 2021, with 560,000 renters joining benefits queues since February 2020, according to Shelter.