Do You Need Emergency Rental Assistance? Here’s How to Get Help
Mandy and her partner had just started to settle in after making a big move across the country. Then an unforeseen expense made a huge dent in their budget and left them in urgent need of help with paying their rent.
“My car failed its inspection, and to pass I needed a £1,000 repair,” Mandy recalls. “I had 10 days to get it fixed and our rent was due the next week.”
Mandy and her partner were already finding it difficult to make ends meet. They both had low-paid jobs. Mandy’s wages depended on how many shifts she could pick up at the shop where she worked. It was a case of either paying their £850 rent or fixing her car.
Reluctantly, Mandy asked her mother for help.
“We didn’t know what else to do,” Mandy says. “If I couldn’t drive my car, I couldn’t get to work.”
Mandy isn’t the only person in this kind of situation. Many people are only one emergency bill away from not being able to cover their household expenses. A recent study by the United Way Alice Project found that a whopping 43% of households can’t pay their monthly expenses (including housing, food, transport, childcare, health care and a monthly mobile phone bill). The biggest of these expenses is usually rent.
Why people need help with rent
According to guidelines, any family that spends more than 30% of their income on rent are “cost burdened”. This means they may have trouble affording other necessities.
“That’s hard in a lot of rental markets for people,” says Laura Scherler, senior director of economic mobility and corporate solutions at United Way. She adds that there are people who spend more than 40% or 50% of their income on rent. “It leaves them vulnerable if their car breaks down or if their kids get sick. Anything unexpected will throw them off. It doesn’t give them any wiggle room to manage those crises”.
That was the case for Mandy. She and her partner had already used up all of their savings on their move when they had to get her car fixed. Mandy estimates that they were paying about 50% of their joint income on rent.
“We didn’t have any savings to fall back on,” Mandy says, adding that saving even £20 of her wages (as Scherler recommends) was incredibly difficult for the couple at the time.
Financial challenges are widespread
Only 39% of people can pay for a £1,000 financial emergency out of their savings, according to a recent survey from Bankrate.
The same Bankrate survey found that when people cannot afford to pay for a £1,000 financial emergency out of savings, their solution is to:
- Get a credit card (19%)
- Reduce their spending on other things (13%)
- Borrow money from family or friends (12%)
- Take out a personal loan (5%)
There are lots of different reasons why someone might be in need of a temporary helping hand and need help with paying their rent. While the problem may be on the rise, there are ways to raise money to help meet rent payments.
How to get help with your rent
Read your tenancy agreement
Find out what your rights are as a tenant. Find out what happens if you make a late payment or if you miss a month and when eviction proceedings can begin.
Tenancy agreements set out the rights and responsibilities of you and your landlord. Ensure that you find out what your rights are as a tenant, such as what happens if you make a late payment or miss a month and when eviction proceedings can begin.
Talk to your landlord
If you are a good tenant and have a good relationship with your landlord, they may be willing to work with you. Ask if they will accept a late payment or if you can pay your rent in instalments.
Non-profit organisations can step in to help when the government can’t. Shelter provides advice, support and free legal services to those facing housing issues. They also run a national helpline which is open 365 days a year and offer face-to-face services. Citizens Advice and GOV.UK both offer information and advice on housing and renting. You may be able to get help with paying your rent by applying for housing benefit from the government, which can support those who are unemployed, receive a low income or claiming benefits. Local welfare schemes, such as community foodbanks, can provide help with food, heating and clothing, thus relieving some financial strain.
Explore other income sources
Ask your friends and family members for a loan or see if you can get an advance on your wages from your employer. Some companies may also have a hardship fund for employees.
Crowdfunding is a great solution. A good way to alert friends and family to your situation is by starting a fundraiser on GoFundMe. They provide free fundraising so that you get to keep more of the money that you raise.
Rent payment help for veterans
UK veterans can receive advice and support from the Ministry of Defence’s housing advice service – the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) – before leaving the forces. This specialist service provides civilian housing options and information for service personnel. Shelter also offers help to veterans struggling with housing and has links to a number of military charities and organisations. Those at risk of homelessness can find support with accommodation from Veterans Air and the Royal British Legion. Specialist housing organisation, Haig Housing, provides longer-term housing solutions to veterans and their families.
Unfortunately, the UK government offers limited support with help paying rent. However, there are some options available, including housing benefit and discretionary housing payments.
Housing Benefit can help those who are unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits and struggling to cover rent costs. Claiming this extra support can be tough, as those wanting to make a new claim must fulfil the criteria.
The government also offers guidance on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), which are provided by local councils. This scheme allows councils to offer extra help to those struggling to meet housing costs, when Housing Benefit is not enough. The council considers your circumstances and eligibility before deciding whether to give you DHP and how much you will receive.
A rent crisis can be a sign of a bigger problem
By taking a look at the bigger picture when faced with a one-off, emergency expense, people can avoid years of financial struggle.
For Mandy, her struggle to pay the rent was a sign that she and her partner needed more help than they were prepared to admit to get by. They had been considering applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as SNAP), but their financial crisis caused them to seek immediate help.
“We felt terrible,” Mandy says. “We wanted so badly to be self-sufficient, but we just couldn’t make it work.”
There are a number of free resources available to you if you ever find yourself in a situation like Mandy’s and many programmes continue to provide help after the crisis has passed.
Follow the following advice if you need help with paying your rent:
- Take an active role in formulating an action plan to end your crisis situation with short-term and long-term solutions.
- Try not to ignore the problem until the last minute.
- Don’t panic or make hasty decisions, as there are community resources and support in place to help you through this situation.
- Consider taking free household budgeting classes to determine how to pay your rent or if you need to find a cheaper place to live.
“If you have this sneaking suspicion that next month you might not make the rent, you need to start looking right now,” Taylor says. “It’s important to be proactive and really get out there.”
There’s no shame in asking for help
Whether you ask for help through a non-profit organisation, friends, family or crowdfunding: don’t feel embarrassed.
“Everyone falls on tough times,” Mandy says. “It happens to more of us than people realize.”
So if you’re struggling and need to raise money to pay your rent, take a deep breath. Contact your landlord, a charity or non-profit organisation, your friends and family or start a crowdfunding fundraiser. Above all, remember that you are not alone. Sometimes we all need a helping hand.