The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said it is “deeply worrying” and half the affected households are families with children, after it commissioned a survey of over 10,000 renters.
The survey, conducted by YouGov, also found around 400,000 renters have either been served an eviction notice or been told they may be evicted.
There are 1.7 million households who are worried about paying their rent over the next three months and 450,000 are currently in arrears, JRF added, while Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) households, families with children and those on lower incomes are more likely to be worried about eviction.
The charity, which is based in York, said the survey “reveals clear warning signs that point to a spike in evictions and homelessness” and it is now calling on the Government to provide more support for tenants in arrears through its Discretionary Housing Payment scheme.
Rachelle Earwaker, Economist at JRF, said: “High levels of arrears are restricting families’ ability to pay the bills and forcing many to rely on hidden borrowing.
“This is not only deeply unjust, it is also economically naïve, and risks hampering our economic recovery, which is reliant on household spending increasing as society continues to reopen.
“The Government’s decision to provide a generous tax break to wealthier homeowners through the stamp duty holiday while failing to protect renters points to a worrying two-tier recovery in which those who were prospering prior to the pandemic will continue to do so, while those who have been hit hard will sink even further behind.
“The cost of boosting support to tackle rent arrears is a fraction of the cost of the stamp duty holiday.
She added: “If we are to experience an economic recovery which benefits everyone across the country, the Government must urgently take action on rent arrears.”
In March 2020, the Government introduced legislation which stated bailiffs could only evict tenants if more than six months’ rent was owed, or a landlord was dealing with an illegal occupation, ongoing anti-social behaviour or a tenant who provided a false statement.
That ban, which was extended several times, ends today and bailiffs are able to carry out evictions and complete mortgage repossessions from June 1.
The Government states that in “most cases” landlords will have to provide tenants with at least four months notice before they can be evicted, but in August that will drop to two months.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “The lifting of the eviction ban signals the beginning of the end for many renters facing homelessness. Thousands of people will wake up on June 1 knowing they’ll soon be kicked out of their home, with nowhere to go.
“The ban has been a lifeline for private renters who have weathered job losses, falling incomes and rising debts in this pandemic. But what happens now? Longer notice periods, while they last, will give some worried renters valuable time.
"But come September, anyone facing eviction will have just weeks to find somewhere else to live.”