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Trapped in rent

Experiences of StepChange’s debt advice clients renting in the private sector

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StepChange clients are more likely to be private renters than any other housing tenure. Increasingly, these clients report an additional vulnerability, such as poor mental or physical health, or a disability. Over half (52%) of clients who are in vulnerable circumstances rent privately.

In late 2022, we surveyed our clients, focusing on those who rent in the private sector, to understand how problem debt has affected their housing situation and vice versa.

Main findings

Unaffordable rents cause financial difficulty and contribute to debt problems while help with housing costs fails to close the gap.

Among survey respondents in the PRS, average monthly rent payments were almost double those in the social sector, and 39% higher than mortgage payments.

Private renters spend a greater proportion of their incomes on rent than any other housing tenure: 37% compared to 29% among social renters and 27% among mortgagors.

PRS landlords are more likely to claw back arrears at an unsustainable rate and less likely to offer tenants support.

Almost half (46%) of PRS tenants in arrears said that repayments of arrears were unaffordable, compared to 32% of social tenants.

Problem debt causes housing insecurity and is a significant barrier to renting or buying a new home.

As a result of their experience of problem debt, 22% of PRS respondents felt pressured to move and 15% were threatened with eviction. 4% were evicted, 6% had moved to temporary accommodation and 6% became homeless.

The PRS can be an unsafe place for people who are struggling with debt.

58% of survey respondents stated that they were experiencing at least one quality issue which affects the extent to which their home meets the Decent Homes Standard.

15% of PRS respondents who experienced quality issues did not report problems with their home for fear of being evicted.

PRS housing problems have impacts on health, wellbeing and work.

75% of PRS survey respondents told us that housing issues had affected their own or their family’s health and wellbeing, including direct impacts on health conditions as well as the impact of housing worries on mental health problems.

18% of PRS respondents told us that housing issues affected their ability to work, including the impact of health problems on time off work and difficulties moving for work due to unaffordable housing.


As part of the rent reform process, the government should ensure financially and otherwise vulnerable PRS tenants get the support they need by:

  • Ending unnecessary evictions by introducing discretion for the court in possession proceedings on the grounds of rent arrears and increase the use of affordable repayment plans by developing a pre-action protocol for possession claims for PRS landlords.
  • Improving affordability for PRS tenants with low incomes by restoring the Local Housing Allowance to cover the real cost of rent and removing or uprating caps that further reduce affordability in areas with the highest costs.
  • Increasing discretionary support to help struggling PRS renters and ensuring that vulnerable tenants can access this support.
  • Ensuring local authorities are adequately resourced to undertake sufficient inspections and hold accountable landlords and letting agents who ignore standards or the law.
  • Reviewing the housing needs of people affected by financial difficulty to ensure that financial exclusion does not spill over into housing exclusion.
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Want more information?

Email us to discuss our 2022 personal debt statistics and other debt research across the UK.