19 Mar 2024

Debt Awareness Week 2024

This year’s Debt Awareness Week theme is about the barriers to accessing debt advice. We know there are many obstacles for people seeking help with debt, in particular stigma and shame, but it is important that people don’t feel ashamed in reaching out for financial support. Many people in the current climate are struggling; you can find more information on the different impacts across the UK in our cost of living series. We need to understand these challenges and how we can help address them.

In the social housing sector, we are seeing acute pressures on those living in our homes. Recent reporting has shown an 8.4 per cent rise in rent arrears, demonstrating that more people are finding it difficult to pay their rent. This is on top of other constraints such as increased food prices and high energy debt levels , with an estimated 6.4 million UK adults behind on their energy bills despite the fall in the price cap. These combined factors have led to many having to choose between heating, eating, or renting costs.

As a result of these ongoing pressures, there have been rising levels of homelessness, with a 27 per cent increase in rough sleeping. There are a shocking 109,000 households living in temporary accommodation, including 142,490 children. Each of these statistics is a person struggling and this has only been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.

It could be easy to see these issues as too difficult to tackle, but housing is a fundamental right and we need to be ready to support the most vulnerable in our society. In the social housing sector, we know our members support tenants in a variety of ways. One example is Riverside’s Housing First pilot to proactively prevent homelessness by providing personalised support for families with a history of failed tenancies. This shows how we can focus on the individual and create life-changing opportunities for families to have a safe and stable home, unlocking potential in other areas of their lives.

It is also important to find creative and empathetic ways to engage with tenants, particularly for those who find it difficult to reach out for support. This can be done through creating community initiatives, as seen in a case study by Abri. By refocusing community investment and understanding local people, Abri has delivered programmes to support tenants throughout the cost of living crisis, as well as referring over 8,200 tenants in 2022-23 to their Tenancy Support Service to receive further support and advice on welfare benefits, budgeting and more. These are just some examples of how housing providers are able to make change for their local communities and support those who are struggling by understanding their tenants and their needs.

From a wider perspective, we recognise that there are changes needed to ensure our systems work best for those who need help. We were pleased to see an extension of the Household Support Fund in the Spring Budget (albeit temporary), which we called for in a joint sector letter led by Barnardo’s. However, we know support needs to go further, and social security needs to provide a meaningful safety net. CIH have called for a long-term plan for housing in our housing strategy, which will mean more homes and support to meet growing needs. We also continue to support calls led by Money Advice Trust for a ‘Help to Repay’ energy debt support scheme to help those struggling with energy bills. Our partnerships with the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and End Child Poverty Coalition aim to influence action and create change to end poverty in the UK.

These are just a few of the ways that we can help address the barriers for people to access the support they need, which is more crucial now than ever.

Written by Megan Hinch

Megan is a CIH policy and practice officer who leads our work on housing supply and finance.