Hundreds of thousands of families and other households are being forced into terrible choices because their benefits don't pay enough to cover their rent.
New figures from Generation Rent, shared exclusively with Mirror Online, show there are 538,000 households where there is a shortfall every month - with the average gap between benefits and bills coming in at £155.
That's because private renters are only offered payments that are enough to to cover the rent on the cheapest 30% of homes in a local area.
But the number of people on benefits renting from private landlords has surged since coronavirus struck the UK - rising by 507,000 between February and August.
That means 42% of private renters now rely on Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to pay their rent - meaning even if they all live in the cheapest privately rented places possible, almost one in three of them will be paid too little.
Worse, the areas with the biggest rise in private renters relying on benefits are also some of the places where there's the biggest gap between housing payments and private rents.
The gap between the Local Housing Allowance limit on a two-bedroom property and median local rent in the 10 areas that saw the biggest increases in claimants was £277, close to double the national average of £155.
Generation Rent director Alicia Kennedy said: “The benefits system is not designed to cope with so many people relying on it for support, and is creating the most hardship in the areas hardest hit by the recession."
Those faced with a shortfall have just four choices:
To try and head off a surge in homelessness as a result of the pandemic, Generation Rent called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak increase the local housing allowance as well as make grant funding available for people who've built up unmanageable debt over the first wave of the pandemic.
It also recommended the Government scraps the household benefit cap and restrictions on eligibility for Universal Credit.
Kennedy said: “As long as we have an inadequate safety net, and the rent is due, the Government will be driving more than half a million households into debt and destitution.
"The Spending Review is a precious opportunity to get those people back on their feet.”