Citizens Advice briefing: a new debt crisis and ‘housing emergency’
Speaking at the this month’s Citizens Advice cost-of-living briefing, Matt Downie, CEO of Crisis, a national homelessness charity, said the country was facing a ‘housing emergency of staggering scale’.
Citizens Advice national CEO Dame Clare Moriarty, introducing the event, wondered if reduced media prominence was making people think the cost-of-living crisis had gone away. Quite the reverse, she said, with new data showing it was turning into a cost-of-living and debt crisis. Fast-rising rent arrears were an important cause.
Matt Downie was responding to the latest Citizens Advice dashboard showing national and regional data about clients’ problems. He said the CA housing picture was “absolutely resonating” with Crisis. There had been a big rise in homelessness of some form*. According to Heriot Watt University the problem was now affecting 300,000 households, an increase of 32% since 2020.
Private renting – real concern
Private renting is causing real concern to both charities. Insecurity, fear of eviction, damp conditions, higher risk of a negative household budget** – the dashboard shows all these putting private renters at a disadvantage. But the housing costs of Citizens Advice debt clients in different tenures reveal the unfairness at its most stark (chart below).
This powerful evidence and the Crisis testimony underline the call for an urgent change in policy. This month CA Epsom & Ewell called for an end to the freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) which had spectacularly failed to keep up with rocketing local rents.
The LHA determines the support available to low-income households eligible for housing benefit and universal credit. Raising it is essential to help prevent a full-blown new debt crisis. Citizens Advice is making the case for unfreezing at national level. It is also asking for stronger Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards and abolition of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions.
* Homelessness experienced as: rough sleeping, night shelters, public transport, ‘beds in sheds’, temporary accommodation (often unsuitable), ‘sofa surfing’ (reliance on multiple friends/family members).
** Negative household budget: when there’s nothing left after payment of essential household costs..