More than 13m people have been unable to pay, or expect to be unable to pay, at least one bill due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to research from Citizens Advice.
According to the charity almost 11m people have missed, or expect to miss a bill that could lead to consequences such as eviction or enforcement by bailiffs, once the financial protections brought in to help consumers during the coronavirus crisis end.
The research showed 2.6m private renters were at risk of eviction and possible homelessness when the government’s stay on evictions of residential tenants is expected to end on June 25.
The organisation highlighted those who were more likely to have fallen behind on a bill included those who come under the government’s definitions of being at ‘increased risk’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’ to the coronavirus, agency or zero-hours contract workers, and those under the age of 40.
The research was conducted in April on 2,000 nationally representative UK adults by Opinium.
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "The government's comprehensive measures have, for now, eased the financial burden for lots of households across the country. But millions still have reason to fear the looming financial cliff edge when these protections end.
"No one should lose their home, or have bailiffs chasing council tax payments, because of debts built up during the pandemic.
"Just as the lockdown restrictions will need to be eased gradually to prevent a second wave of the virus, we also need a transition out of the financial protections to avoid a new wave of hardship.
"The government must take strong action to prevent millions going over the financial cliff edge, ensure people are helped out of debt and so support the economic recovery."
The charity is calling on the government to take measures, including fast-tracking the abolition of section 21 evictions that enable private landlords to evict renters with an assured shorthold tenancy.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: "The government has put in place an unprecedented package of measures to protect renters during the pandemic. These include emergency laws so that no one can be forced out of their homes and a £500m hardship fund to reduce the council tax bills of some of the most vulnerable households.
“To support those who are facing financial hardship we have increased Universal Credit payments, introduced the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employment income support scheme and mortgage holidays for landlords.
“Our focus is on making sure that people have the support they need to get through the pandemic and we will keep these measures under review.”
Lucretia Thomas, a project advisor at Citizens Advice Enfield, said the organisation had seen landlords “insisting that arrears are cleared quickly and threatening tenants with eviction.”
She added: “People are concerned about how they will reduce their arrears to prevent eviction after this crisis has passed.