Activists in Generation Rent claim that a fifth of families in the lettings sector suffer a shortfall between benefits and rent.
Using selected data from a range of sources the campaign group - led by Baroness Alicia Kennedy - claims 51 per cent of families in the private rented sector rely on government support to pay their rent.
It calculates this by stating that Local Housing Allowance covers the whole rent for the cheapest 30 per cent of homes in an area - but it says 21 per cent of privately renting families live in more expensive homes.
The group says these tenants are “forced to make devastating choices between putting food on the table and getting into debt.”
It continues: “To make matters worse, many families will not get the full LHA because of the household benefit cap. Many new Universal Credit claimants have been exempt from the benefit cap, but this grace period only lasts for nine months, and people who applied for Universal Credit in March will be nearing the end of it around Christmas.”
And then - in a criticism of landlords and letting agents as well as government - the activists say: “Renters in this position may try to move to a cheaper home, but discrimination against benefit claimants remains widespread, shutting this option off to many.”
Baroness Kennedy says: “Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the finances of families living in private rented homes, with over half now reliant on benefits to pay the rent.
“After the country went into lockdown, 169,000 families claimed Universal Credit for the first time, and found that it doesn't cover the cost of average rents. With thousands more about to be hit by the benefit cap in the run up to Christmas, rent arrears will keep on growing.
“Savings have already been bled dry by the first wave, forcing many tenants to rely on credit. Without further support, families are being forced to go without essentials, take out a loan to pay the rent, or risk eviction.
“With so many private renters now reliant on it, the government must ensure the benefits system covers housing costs. Everyone deserves the security of a home they can afford while we recover from the economic impact of Coronavirus.”