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27 November 2023

The stark reality of the cost of living crisis on social housing tenants two years in

The stark reality of the cost of living crisis on social housing tenants two years in

As living costs have continued to soar over the past two years most people have felt the strain But things have been particularly difficult and pronounced for people on lower incomes, many of whom live in housing association homes across Wales.

Even before the cost of living crisis, housing association tenants were reporting that non-housing costs were unaffordable on Universal Credit, and that they were finding it difficult to pay for things including food, travel and energy bills. Since then soaring energy costs combined with inflation has seen many people having to make a daily choice between basic essentials.

In a bid to try and keep their heads above water many tenants have been pushed further and further into debt, and are now struggling to repay it. After months and months of unprecedented financial strain, they have reached breaking point and now need urgent support.

According to our latest cost of living research report, Ends Won’t Meet, more than 14,000 people living in housing association homes in Wales turned to their landlord for urgent financial support between January and June 2023 alone.

Housing associations are doing all they can to work with the people who live in their homes. They provide important services that ensure tenants receive holistic support that both alleviates immediate financial hardship and tackles underlying causes to help people build financial resilience. But as not-for-profit services their resources are finite, and they too have felt the impact of rising costs on their services.

One Hafod housing association income advisor said: “The cost of living crisis and financial hardship is dominating my workload at present. When I’m focusing on hardship I am mindful that I may be missing early interventions with my rent accounts.

“I’m very proud of the work we do and the difference we make to people’s lives. More and more residents are turning to us as they don’t know where else to turn, but my concern is how long can we sustain this for.”

Energy concerns
Our research shows that energy was the most common reason why tenants requested financial support from their landlord, followed by food and debts.

Energy bills are now close to double pre-crisis levels, and people on lower incomes are still finding it hard to afford to heat their homes. While national schemes such as the winter fuel support scheme and the energy bills discount scheme helped, these programmes have now ended with no support currently in place for the coming winter.

Ofgem’s recently announced energy price cap increase will also see people paying around £94 more on average every year from January 2024.

It is now crucial that UK Government works to introduce an energy social tariff to ensure people are simply able to live in warm homes.

As well as looking at personal finances, some housing associations have developed dedicated services to help people in their communities to review their own energy costs.

Adra and Grwp Cynefin, for example, have partnered with Anglesey County Council to fund specially trained energy wardens, who visit people in different areas to make sure they have the right advice on how to save money on heating bills.

One woman was helped to save £478 on her bills, after the team researched available options and advised her to change her electricity provider.

Elin Williams, Adra’s Communities and Partnerships Manager, said: “Our Energy Wardens do great work, their support and expertise can make a real difference.” 

Find out more about our Ends Won't Meet report here:

Food insecurity

By October 2023, food costs were 30% higher than during the same month two years earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics. The continued rise in prices saw The Trussell Trust hand out almost 90,000 emergency food parcels at its food banks in Wales between April and September 2023. Meanwhile, 40% of Welsh housing associations told us that they supported people with food in the first six months of this year.

While the Chancellor has announced that benefits will increase next year in line with September’s 6.7% inflation rate, we are still calling on Welsh Government to fund vital initiatives that target fuel and food poverty. We are also supporting calls made by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and The Trussell Trust for an Essentials Guarantee, which would ensure that the basic Universal Credit rate covers life’s essentials, such as food and bills.

One housing association which is continuing its invaluable food support work is Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association.

The housing associationsupports local people who may be struggling to afford healthy food through its Tŷ Pantri initiative. This offers door-to-door food delivery that provides affordable access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and dry and tinned goods.

It was launched after the team realised people in the community, including their tenants, were struggling to afford the £30 minimum order for food deliveries from bigger supermarkets.

One customer said: “The service that you are providing is helping us significantly as a family. Even though I am not your tenant, you treat me as I am and help me so much with this.

“As a house, we have never been in this position before, where we are both now out of work, and how this has hit our family finances. This pantry is a godsend to us. Through you and Hope, we can afford to eat and have a balanced diet with it.”

Another added: “I wouldn’t know what I would do without this, it’s a huge help to me. And you’re the only person I see on a Thursday. Thank you.”

Wellbeing support

While the majority of support given by housing associations has focused on money issues, their specialist teams also play an important role in ensuring that they receive the health and wellbeing support they need too.

Tai Calon Community Housing is just one landlord who has provided life-changing support to people in need.

Following the tragic loss of their grown-up child and two grandchildren in an accident a local person found himself living with a friend. They were given just two weeks to find other accommodation, and had no bank account or identification with which to open one. They only had the clothes they were wearing that day.

Tai Calon’s Lifft support workers stepped in to help. They applied for a birth certificate and secured a flat in one of Tai Calon’s sheltered schemes. They also registered the now-tenant with a bank and GP practice and accessed the Tai Calon hardship fund for bedding, crockery, pots and pans, and food.

They also applied for housing/council tax benefits and Personal Independence Payment on the person’s behalf, both of which were awarded. As a result, the tenant had an additional £1,252 per month (annual £15,024) and a one-off payment of £2,742. They were grateful for the support he received, saying,

The tenant said: “No one has ever helped me before or ever done anything like this for me. Thank you so much I love my home, I just can’t believe it is mine."

Calling for change

As our housing association members continue to provide this vital support and more to the people in their communities, we are urging the UK and Welsh governments to take action immediately, and give crucial help to those most in need with the impact of high costs.

UK Government should:

  • Confirm that benefits will be increased in line with inflation from April.

  • Prioritise the creation of an energy social tariff and provide affordable repayment options for those in energy debt, taking forward calls made by National Energy Action (NEA) Cymru, and endorsed by many other charities and consumer organisations.

  • Ensure that the forced installation of prepayment meters does not resume for financially vulnerable households.

  • Commit to review and increase Universal Credit to ensure that the minimum level of support guarantees that people can pay for essentials, implementing calls made by JRF and Trussell Trust for an Essentials Guarantee.

Welsh Government:

  • Protect existing emergency funds and ensure that routes to support are accessible and targeted to those who most need it.

  • Continue to fund vital initiatives that target fuel and food poverty, and that support higher rates of benefit take up.

Meanwhile, housing associations will:

  • Continue to support tenants with financial support and advocacy, and monitor the impact of this work.

  • Continue to work with WLGA and Welsh Government to deliver an awareness campaign which encourages social housing tenants to turn to their landlord for help.

  • Continue to explore community partnerships to enable tenants to access short term relief, including partnerships with food banks and local credit unions.

  • Ensure that rents are affordable for tenants, by engaging with tenants and using tools to understand affordability.