Many renters have struggled to keep a roof over their heads during the coronavirus pandemic, with a new survey revealing most Australians hit by job cuts have not been offered rental relief.
A recent national poll, commissioned by tenancy advocate, Better Renting, showed just 9% of renters who lost income received a satisfactory reduction in their rent during COVID-19.
The survey of nearly 1000 people showed that almost two thirds of tenants lost some or all household income due to the coronavirus crisis, but only half actually requested a rent reduction.
In addition, it showed tenants faced extreme financial pressures during the economic crisis with 16% of respondents reporting that they had to skip meals to save money and 44% saying they “struggled to make ends meet with rent and bills”.
“Coronavirus has made inequality in our housing market worse”
Better Renting executive director, Joel Dignam, said the survey had unearthed concerning details about the welfare and financial hardship faced by renters.
“This new data shows that although more than three in five renters have lost income since the coronavirus crisis began, the vast majority have not received any rental relief,” Mr Dignam said.
“Coronavirus has made inequality in our housing market worse, and high rents are pushing more people into poverty.
“It’s a terribly stressful situation for renters. For most renters, having an eviction notice land in the letterbox is their worst fear. Many tenants who are out of work and out-of-pocket due to the coronavirus crisis face dire circumstances if eviction moratoriums are lifted in September and October.
“Australia was in the grip of a housing affordability crisis before the pandemic hit. Rental costs have been rising faster than wages for decades, now many renters find themselves spending more than 50% of their income on rent.”
Mr Dignam said the federal government pandemic payments had helped renters meet their financial obligations and called for the supplements to be retained at the same rate.
“Because JobSeeker and JobKeeper have made such a positive difference to these renters, helping them to keep covering their costs, it’s alarming to think what could happen if it is cut,” he said.
“It will put renters’ budgets under a lot of stress. It will push a lot of people to seek a rent reduction who have not yet tried, and it may require landlords to come forward and play their part.
“A much better outcome would be for the federal government to extend that income support.
“The survey shows renters are worried about what happens next if JobSeeker is cut in September or if bans on evictions are lifted. We call on the federal government to keep the current rate of JobSeeker so renters aren’t pushed into poverty.”
JobSeeker cuts could send 370,000 more Australians into poverty
The report comes after modelling by the national think tank, the Australia Institute, found that cutting the JobSeeker supplement by $150 a week could plunge 370,000 more Australians into poverty.
The study shows Victoria would be the hardest hit with an additional 123,000 people in poverty as the state continues to fight the second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Under changes announced by the federal government in July, JobSeeker will be extended from 25 September until 31 December with a possible further extension into 2021, but the payment amount will be cut from $550 to $250 a fortnight.
The JobKeeper wage subsidy will continue until March next year, but payments will fall from $1,500 to $1,200 a fortnight after September. People working fewer than 20 hours a week will receive $750.
The payments will fall again to $1,000 a fortnight, and $650 a fortnight for people working fewer than 20 hours, for the first three months of 2021.