Rent shock threatens tenants’ ability to repay loans

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Tenants’ household budgets are under strain following a 10.5% rise in rents in just 12 months.

Following 18 months of double-digit rental inflation average rents have now reached £1,163 a month, according to our September Rental Market Report.

Compounding the problem is the slower rate at which earnings are rising. Our market analysis has revealed that rent as a percentage of earnings has climbed to 28.4%, its highest level in more than a decade.

And there’s no sign, as yet, of the pace of growth letting up but next year, rent inflation is expected to fall back to between 5% and 6%.

For firms operating in the unsecured lending space, it’s a potentially worrying time.

The first time a lender may become aware that their borrower is in financial difficulty, is when they miss a payment on their loan.

Rather than wait for this unfortunate circumstance to happen, instead lenders can take a proactive customer-centric approach using property data.

By harnessing the power of property listings data, lenders can create an early warning system to alert them that tenants’ affordability could be at risk giving them the opportunity to reach out to customers and talk through their circumstances.

Property listings data is the complete set of property data, current and historic, as displayed on a portal such as Zoopla that can be used to help firms make strategic decisions.

Tenants hold “sizeable” amount of unsecured debt

Although renters do not have the burden of mortgage debt weighing down on their household finances, they do have personal loans, credit cards and other forms of unsecured debt.

According to the Bank of England, renters hold “sizeable” amounts of unsecured debt, including around 30% of persistent credit card debt. Furthermore, they have less of a savings buffer to fall back on should they suffer a sharp rise in costs or a sudden reduction in income.

As the cost of living crisis rumbles on, and rents continue to rise, unsecured lenders have started to take action to support borrowers who could be facing a rent shock.

Impact of rent shock on debt repayments

Tenants who have lived at the same property for a number of years are likely to have been shielded from the worst of the rent increases.

The 10.5% rise in rents recorded by our Rental Index reflects the cost of new tenancies agreed, not a rise in the rents of existing lets. Landlords tend not to hike rents at the same pace for tenants in situ for fear of driving them out.

So when tenants decide to move home to another rented property they are likely to be facing a significant rent shock as their monthly housing costs shoot up.

Given that a quarter of renters reported having no savings at all during the first half of this year, according to the Bank of England, a home move could impact borrowers’ ability to repay their unsecured debt and it’s a change of circumstance that lenders will want to know about.

Building a data-led early warning system

By using UPRN-matched property listings data in conjunction with their back book data, lenders can create an alert that flags when an address associated with one of their borrowers is listed on the market to let.

Once notified, unsecured lenders can contact borrowers through their customer outreach teams to chat through their upcoming change of circumstances and how their new monthly rent payment could impact their ability to maintain debt repayments.

A data-led early warning system helps both lenders and their customers.

By using UK property data, lenders can help their customers to avoid unnecessarily getting into financial difficulty and damaging their credit history. Lenders, meanwhile, can keep the volume of loans in default to a minimum.

As rents rise and high inflation persists, proactivity is key to delivering the best customer outcomes.

Samantha Partington 21 September 2023
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