NEARLY one million people are estimated to have taken out a payday loan in the last year to help cover their rent or mortgage costs, according to research from Shelter.
The housing charity said that one in 50 (2%) people it surveyed said they had done this, which would equate to nearly 885,000 adults if the findings were projected across Britain.
Shelter said it dealt with just under 9,000 calls to its helpline from people struggling to pay their rent or mortgage last year, rocketing by one third (32%) on the total for 2012.
Its findings about the extent to which people are using loans to plug gaps in their finances came from a survey of almost 3,700 people in November who pay rent or a mortgage.
Nearly one fifth (19%) of those surveyed said they had borrowed in some way to cover their rent or mortgage in the last 12 months, including dipping into an unauthorised overdraft, taking out a loan such as a payday loan, ramping up credit card debt or turning to family or friends for cash.
Shelter fears that many people are struggling in silence with the cost of keeping a roof over their head. Two-fifths (40%) of those surveyed said they would not admit to friends or relatives if they were struggling with housing costs and one quarter (25%) would feel too "ashamed" to get help.
Liz Clare, a helpline adviser for Shelter, said: "Anyone at the school gates, in the supermarket or at work could be silently struggling.
"Times are tough, and we often hear from people who've reached crisis point because they haven't felt able to ask for help earlier."
The findings also come after lettings network LSL Property Services reported that a growing troubled minority of households are in severe arrears with their rent. LSL, which owns chains Your Move and Reeds Rains and receivers Templeton LPA, estimated that around 67,000 households across England and Wales in the private rental sector are more than two months behind with their payments.
Shelter quoted mother-of-two Katharine Whittaker who lives near Barnsley in Yorkshire, who often struggles to pay her rent despite working as a call centre manager.
Ms Whittaker said: "I've borrowed money from family and I've had to ask the bank for an overdraft just to keep our heads above water. It's a constant worry thinking about finding extra money."
The whole payday lending industry is currently undergoing a probe by the Competition Commission following deep-rooted problems which have been uncovered in the sector, including lenders appearing to be strongly reliant on borrowers who cannot afford to pay their loans back on time, meaning that the original cost of the loan balloons. The Commission will produce a report later this year.
Earlier this week, consumer group Which? accused payday lenders of "exploiting" customers who default on loans with over-the-top fees that raise the risk of them spiralling further into debt.
Wonga's default fee of £30 was found to be the highest in the Which? research of 17 payday firms. Wonga said the fee is set out clearly and reflects the extra costs it incurs when someone fails to pay their loan back on time.
Payday firms will come under the regulation of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) from April. The FCA has confirmed it is considering default fees as part of work it is carrying out to look at capping the total cost of credit.
The FCA has already outlined plans to crack down on the sector, include limiting the number of times payday lenders are allowed to roll over loans twice, forcing them to put "risk warnings" on their advertising and limiting the number of attempts lenders can make to claw back money if there is insufficient cash in a borrower's bank account to two.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, urged those who are struggling with their rent or mortgage costs to seek help.
He said: "Our message today is don't keep your worries to yourself. Shelter's expert advisers can be the difference between keeping your home and losing it."
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Consumer Finance Association (CFA), which represents major short-term lenders, said: " While it is of some comfort that the figures haven't increased since last year, there are still too many people using short-term loans to manage larger debt problems.
"We advise anyone who is regularly struggling to pay their rent or mortgage not to try and borrow their way out of trouble.
"Responsible lenders will help you with a debt repayment plan and put you in touch with a free debt advisor."
Housing minister Kris Hopkins said: " Shelter's figures are based on a small number of calls to their helpline, while LSL's own figures show that the numbers of people in severe rent arrears are significantly lower than this time last year, and are 1.6% of the 3.8 million households who rent in the private sector.
"The economy is improving and rents are falling in real terms. Repossessions and evictions have been kept down by the Government's long-term economic plan, so landlord possession orders remain lower than under the previous administration.
"Moreover, we have provided £470 million of central government funding to ensure we continue to have a strong safety net against homelessness. I would urge people with money worries to get early help and advice so they have the most options available to them."