COMMENT:

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One of the most important financial challenges is keeping a roof over your head. That's why it's worrying that many renters have been doing it so tough.

Renters United surveyed its members about the experience of renting during lockdown, and the results were not great.

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Two out of every three renters had seen their income drop by more than a third.

More than half of renters were financially worse off, even after government help.

Half of renters said they were worried about their financial situation, and one in 10 went as far as saying they were scared.

Half said their mental wellbeing was worse, citing increased anxiety, stress, and depression.

One of the problems is that there's less help specifically targeted towards renters. While owners have the reassurance of applying for a mortgage holiday, renters can sometimes feel as though they're on their own, and dependent on a gracious landlord.

But Renters United spokesman Robert Whitaker wants people to remember they do have options and places to find help.

"People who have lost their jobs or had their income reduced can go to MSD [Ministry of Social Development] and apply for various kinds of support.

"There is the accommodation supplement, which is like a grant on top of other benefits.

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"You can also get that if you're a low income worker, so if your income has dropped but you're still working you can still get that accommodation supplement. It's actually available to mortgage holders as well.

"The only problem with that is it's capped. So there can still be quite a big gap between whatever income you've got plus that accommodation supplement, to get up to the rent you're paying."

So while there is less specifically targeted at helping renters, there's help available that's targeted at people whose income has dropped.

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Whitaker said there were lots of small grants available through MSD that applied to quite specific circumstances. He recommended visiting MSD to ask what was available, or getting in touch with Renters United or the Citizens Advice Bureau if you wanted to have an advocate help you through the system.

Meanwhile, an organisation like Community Law could help you draft a letter to your landlord if you thought they were breaching your rights as a tenant.

"Even if you're not unemployed, or even if you don't think you need a benefit right now, there is some money available," Whitaker said.

He said the emergency tenancy law changes passed by the Government made a difference in giving people more stability. But there were still other changes he wanted to be brought in.

"The Government ultimately needs to decide whether they're going to let renters get into debt, or become homeless.

"Neither of those are very good outcomes, especially if they want people to have money in their pockets at the end of this to spend out of the recession," he said.

"We would like to see some sort of subsidy brought in for renters, similar to the wage subsidy."

Listen to the full interview on the Cooking the Books podcast. You can find new episodes on Herald Premium, or subscribe on iHeartRadio, Apple podcasts app, or Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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