Coronavirus: Call to lift benefits to help renters

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A top benefit advice charity has called for action to protect people who rent their homes.

Turn2Us said universal credit should be increased to help renters who are affected by the coronavirus.

The charity also wants tenants to be shielded from having to return advance benefit payments.

It said while homeowners were being protected from the financial impact of the virus, there had not been much support for low income renters.

Turn2Us is recommended on government websites to people who want to calculate how much benefit they might be due.

It urged landlords to give rent breaks to help tenants who have lost work because of the coronavirus or who are having to self-isolate.

But the charity said the government had a crucial part to play by improving universal credit, which includes a raft of payments including jobseekers allowance and housing benefit.

“We urge the government to eliminate the five week wait for universal credit, increase the value of benefits across the board and change eviction rules,” said Sara Willcocks of Turn2Us.

At the moment, claimants can request an advance universal credit payment, which they could be given a few days after applying. But the money has to be paid back later.

‘Little support for low income renters’

The prime minister has confirmed he will be bringing forward legislation to protect private renters from eviction, while housing associations have said none of their six million tenants will be evicted because of the coronavirus.

However, there have been complaints renters have not been given the same support as homeowners, who are to be offered three month holidays from paying their mortgages.

“We have heard a lot about how businesses and homeowners are being protected from the financial fall out around Covid-19, but we are yet to see much support for low income renters,” said Sara Willcocks.

The government has made it easier for self-employed people to claim universal credit and is also getting rid of the seven-day wait to get the employment and support allowance, which is for people who are sick or have a disability.

But the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, is also calling for more to be done to help renters.

It said the local housing allowance, which is used to set the housing element of universal credit, had been held back because of the benefits freeze. This has opened up a gap with private rents and causing real hardship.

‘Financial difficulty’

Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, welcomed the block on evictions but said the government’s measures had to urgently address “the growing shortfall between housing benefit and private sector rents”.

Renters in financial difficulty might be able to apply for help from a £500m fund which is being handed to councils by the Treasury to deal with hardship cases.

“Councils are leading local efforts to support communities as they try and cope with the coronavirus,” said Councillor Watts.

“They will be working with tenants who are experiencing financial challenges as a result of coronavirus.”

The money is likely to be doled out in the form of council tax discounts.

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