Welfare reforms underway since 2010 will reduce social security spending by £27 billion a year by 2021, and reach into most aspects of financial support for working-age adults and children. These deep cuts hit the poorest places hardest, and disproportionately affect lone parents and disabled people. Several key reforms particularly affect the affordability of social rents, despite the fact that the provision of social housing has been described as the most redistributive and poverty-reducing aspect of the welfare state. A tension is therefore created between the ‘social’ purpose of housing people on low incomes and those who are vulnerable, and a more ‘commercial approach’ to rent collection. Sarah Batty reports on the findings of her recent research with those directly affected.