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Current campaigns and research
The housing crisis in Wiltshire
By autumn 2022 Housing had become our second largest enquiry area, accounting for around 1 in every 7 issues we helped people with - double what it was before the pandemic.
Those living in the private rented sector, in particular, or trying to find a home there, are finding it a really difficult time. Problems with Access to and provision of accommodation (1,297 issues), and Private rented sector property (1,470 issues) accounted for almost half of all our housing enquiries in 2022/23. Private renters have the least security of tenure, are the least protected but face some of the highest housing costs.
Such was the demand for advice about problems with housing, we committed to understanding more about the challenges people in our local community were facing. We later published our research as a report – Spotlight on our housing data.
The report shows it’s a really difficult time to be a private renter. Rents are going up, the quality of properties is going down, and more and more people are being evicted without cause.
Cost of living pressures are hitting renters hard
We found that private renters are the group most likely to be in a “negative budget” at the end of every month - meaning they don’t have enough money coming in each month to cover their essential costs. For those with a negative budget, debt can quickly build up over a short space of time putting them at risk of eviction and debt enforcement practices.
Rents are continuing to rise
Private renters are facing further increases to their housing costs, with rental price growth in 2022 at its highest rate in the UK since records began in 2016. Private renters already spend more of their income on housing costs than other groups.
Support isn’t keeping pace with housing costs, or inflation
The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which helps people on low incomes meet the cost of renting in the private sector is becoming less effective because the level of support is out of step with the housing market. In April 2020, in response to the pandemic, the government restored LHA to cover the bottom 30% of rents. However, it was immediately refrozen and in the 2 years following government statistics show the bottom 30% of rents rose by around 5%, creating a shortfall between the bottom 30% of rents and LHA rates. With the announcement in the 2022 autumn statement that it’s frozen for a third year running, thousands more households face being unable to afford their rent. Struggling renters are at risk of eviction.
High rents don’t mean high quality homes
Renters may be paying more than ever for their homes, but the quality of those properties hasn’t improved. We helped a record number of people with disrepair issues in the private rented sector. In particular, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people accessing advice on damp in their homes.
At a time when renters are struggling to keep their heads above water, with record rises in energy bills and rent, the average tenant is facing annual energy bills that are more expensive due to poor insulation. Cold homes are causing widespread issues with damp and mould, and put the health of renters at risk.
Those who have complained about their housing conditions often tell us they've waited more than a year for their landlord to fix the issue. Others say they didn’t complain because they feared being evicted. This is not uncommon and is often cited by private renters as a reason for not enforcing their rights.
More people are facing evictions through no fault of their own
Renters also have to contend with the fact that their landlord can evict them for no reason at all.
Increasing numbers of people are coming to us because they’re facing eviction, are threatened with homelessness, or are actually homeless. In particular we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people coming to us for help with a section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice. This trend began at the start of the pandemic and has continued to build during the cost-of-living crisis. For some renters this can put them at a higher risk of homelessness.
The government has announced plans to ban section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions but until the Renters’ Reform Bill is legislated, tenants are still at risk of being evicted. The constant threat of evictions is one of the main reasons tenants often struggle to feel safe and secure in their properties.
More private renters are seeking advice on homelessness
From April 2020 our data shows a significant shift from social tenants seeking advice on homelessness to more private tenants. The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have exposed the extent to which private renters are at the mercy of a fluctuating market and the whims of individual landlords.
In response to the pandemic, the government recognised the need for additional protections for tenants in the private rented sector by temporarily banning evictions. But this support hasn’t been offered during the cost-of-living crisis. Our data shows that problems for tenants have only grown as they’re forced to pay more for damp and mouldy homes while still at risk from section 21 evictions.
Good quality, warm and affordable housing is crucial
Renters need to feel safe and secure, in a place they can call home for as long as they need. But private renters face the burden of ever-increasing rents, and have little control in the market. To help private renters, the government must bring forward existing reform plans as soon as possible and consider other interventions as renters’ costs rise.
We are calling on the government to:
- Unfreeze the Local Housing Allowance and restore the link to local rents, returning it to the 30th percentile.
- Strengthen Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in legislation, so all private rented properties reach EPC C by 2025, and existing tenancies by 2028.
- Extend Awaab’s law to the private rented sector to place strict timelines on landlords to deal with serious issues such as damp and mould.
- Bring forward the Renters’ Reform Bill to, amongst other things, abolish section 21 evictions, give tenants stronger powers to challenge poor practice and extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector.
- Ensure that Local Authorities have well-resourced teams to enforce quality standards set out in the Bill and that these teams are accessible to tenants.
If you're worried about rising energy costs, struggling to pay your bills, or would like information about support schemes to help lower your energy costs please contact us.