The latest social housing resident survey of the Resident Voice Index (RVI) has looked into debt and how it is impacting the lives of people living in social housing amid the cost of living crisis.
The resulting report reveals levels of worrying, all or most of the time, about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses had increased to 78% from 68% in the six months since the first Cost of Living survey (March-May 2022).
The RVI project collects data on the requirements, feelings and perceptions of social housing residents and communicates these to the broader audience who may be able to make a difference.
5,719 UK social housing residents responded to the latest survey, the findings of which have been put together in ‘Cost of Living: Crunch Time’ – the second RVI report to focus on the cost of living crisis and its impact on UK social housing residents. The first was in June 2022.
Debt, and the worry surrounding it, were main factors in the survey’s findings with eight in ten of all respondents having debt. Of those with debt, 28% had four or more sources of debt, while 10% had six or more sources.
The sources of debt identified in the report show credit card debt was by far the most prevalent, with 41% of respondents selecting it. 24% had debt in the form of energy bill arrears, 22% selected debt to friend or family member. Also in the top ten sources of debt were water bill arrears, goods on finance, buy-now-pay-later, council tax arrears, overdraft, rent arrears and bank or building society loan.
The report identifies the quarter (24%) of respondents who were already in energy bill arrears as particularly concerning, as almost all respondents (97%) took the survey before the introduction of the October 2022 energy price cap hikes.
Data from Ofgem gathered in late October 2022 estimated that more than 2 million households were already in debt on electricity bills, representing over 8% of the UK’s households. The much higher rate of social housing residents reporting energy arrears in the survey is flagged as deep cause for concern.
Debt management and worry
The survey also looked at how people believed they were managing debt. One third of respondents (33%) were having difficulty (20.7%) or reported being unable to manage (12.7%) their debt.
Almost half (47%) were labelled as ‘managing’ their debt. However, a majority (36%) of those chose the option: ‘I have debt that I can manage, but it’s getting harder’.
Almost all (95%) of those who weren’t managing their debt reported being worried all or most of the time about meeting monthly living expenses. This compares with a much lower 69% amongst those who were coping with their debt. Both numbers are very high and the overall score for this high-level worry was 78% across all respondents.
Responses to the survey among residents who mentioned disabilities highlighted a recurrent concern that disability benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are failing to cover the rising costs of fuel, food and other goods. When respondents were asked about any contributors to feelings of worry, 3.5% of answers made voluntary reference to disability.
The survey also asked respondents to rate their financial situation compared with six months ago, selecting either: ‘Better’, ‘The same’ or ‘Worse’. 69% indicated that their financial situation was worse and only 7% were able to commit to a better situation.
Gavin Smart, chief executive of Chartered Institute of Housing, said in the report: “This latest report from the Resident Voice Index comes at a critical time for the social housing sector.
“The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone but those on the lowest incomes, many of whom live in social housing, are impacted the most. These research findings shine a light on the devastating impact that cost pressures are having on residents every day across the country and are invaluable for organisations such as ours in raising awareness.
“The social housing sector is well placed to support people but we need to work together to highlight the support available and to call for policy change where it’s needed.”