Around 7.8 million Britons are struggling to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments, showing a sharp increase on a year ago, a charity has warned.

Shelter also estimates that almost one million people took out a payday loan over the last 12 months to help them cover their mortgage or rent.

reposesssions

Millions of people are struggling to keep hold of their homes, Shelter claims

Just over 2% of people it surveyed said they had taken out a high-interest payday loan for this purpose, equating to around 979,000 people if the figures were projected nationally.

The charity said that the number of people constantly struggling to pay their rent or mortgage had increased by 44% over the past year, with a fifth of those surveyed, equating to 7.8m Britons, facing a monthly battle to keep a roof over their heads.

Some 4% of rent or mortgage payers said they had fallen behind with their payments, which would be 1.4m people at a national level.

Around 7% of those surveyed said they used an unauthorised overdraft to help them cover their costs, and one in 10 of these people said they did so every month.

Shelter quoted a mother-of-three named Mandy, from West Sussex, who took out a payday loan after falling behind with her rent.

She said: "I felt I had to take out the loan but found I couldn't pay it back the next month.

"It's just made everything 10 times worse.

"I am at my wits end and it can just feel completely hopeless."

Rents have soared over the last year as tenants have remained trapped in the rental sector, because they have been unable to meet lenders' toughened criteria or raise the typical 20% deposit needed.

More than a million homeowners also saw their mortgage costs increase in recent months after several lenders raised their standard variable rates (SVRs).

payday loans

Payday loans have become increasingly popular as a way of paying debts

Households are set to come under further pressure this winter from soaring energy bills, following a string of price hikes by companies.

Campbell Robb, Shelter's chief executive, said: "It's shocking to think that so many families will be starting the New Year with a huge weight hanging over them, trapped in a daily struggle to keep their home.

"Payday loans may seem like a quick fix, but the huge interest charges mean things can quickly spiral out of control.

"It's vital that anyone who's having difficulty paying their rent or mortgage gets advice now.

"Don't wait until things reach breaking point later in the year - it could leave your family's home at risk."

Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) have shown that despite the difficult economy, home repossessions have been much lower than expected, falling to their lowest level since 2007 in the third quarter of this year.

The CML put the decrease down to good communication and arrears management by borrowers and lenders.

Shelter's research was taken from a survey of 4,000 people across Britain.

Communities minister Don Foster said: "The action we're taking to tackle the record deficit we inherited is helping prevent the need for rapid increases in interest rates that would put pressure on family budgets, and has meant that repossessions are at their lowest level since 2007.

"But we're not complacent, which is why we've extended the mortgage rescue scheme, available through local authorities, which offers a last-resort option for homeowners facing the prospect of losing their home, and provided councils with £19m preventing repossessions funding to offer short-term loans to those in need in their area.

"So my message to anyone facing financial worries would be to seek early help and use the range of options available to ensure repossession is always the last resort."