At least 500,000 private tenants fear they might lose their homes as the government’s COVID-19 eviction protection come to an end within a few days.
Landlords have already threatened eviction against one in four buy to let tenants in rent arrears, according to new data published by consumer charity Citizens Advice.
One in three renters in arrears are struggling financially because they have lost income due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, says the charity.
The data shows the charity discussed issues with private rented homes with callers once every two minutes in December and that tenants in rent arrears owe an average £730 each, which adds up to £360 million across the country.
For 58% of tenants, rent debt is a new experience as they had never missed a payment before the start of the pandemic in February 2020.
Call for eviction ban extension
For the 40% already in arrears at the start of the pandemic, finances have worsened.
The temporary respite on bailiffs enforcing possession orders ends on Monday (January 11, 2021) unless the government extends the ban.
Citizens Advice is calling for an extension of the ban on evictions and for the government to offer private tenants grants or state-backed loans for paying off rent arrears.
Financial help is already available to tenants in Scotland and Wales who have rent arrears.
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “As coronavirus restrictions once again tighten for everyone, the government must not forget the struggles of private renters. They currently face the prospect of losing their home once the eviction ban ends next week and the debt, they have built up is likely to cast a long shadow over their future.
“Half a million private renters remain behind on their rent, with the majority falling behind during the pandemic restrictions. Unlike people who own their homes, private tenants have had no structured way to defer payments but instead have had to try to keep up with their rent and bills as best they can in a time of great uncertainty and hardship.
“Even though many landlords are trying their best to support their tenants, thousands of renters could face eviction in the coming months without further help. The government must act decisively to prevent evictions in areas subject to the highest coronavirus restrictions. And they should provide targeted support to help people escape the trap of rent arrears in the New Year.”
Fewer private landlord complaints
Separate data published by Citizens Advice in November shows private home rent arrears attracted 17,452 inquiries – 2,249 (11%) down on a year earlier.
Rent arrear issues with social housing groups and local councils generated 36,152 inquiries.
Meanwhile, Labour has slammed the government for failing to scrap Section 21 no-fault evictions sooner.
Abolishing Section 21 is scheduled as part of the Renter’s Reform Bill, which will go before Parliament when time allows.
Labour plea to help Section 21 abolition ignored
Labour’s shadow secretary for housing Thangam Debbonaire wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on December 22 offering to work with the government to pass the bill quickly but has not received a reply.
“An extension to the protections from eviction for tenants who have lost income as a result of Covid is also vital,” she says in the letter.
“Additionally, the fear of losing £20 per week Universal Credit in spring is causing families concern. The cost of providing emergency and long-term accommodation for those who present as homeless at their councils is considerable. The health risks of some people ending up win the streets are clear.
“Will you act now to ensure that people have the help they need to be protected from eviction from their homes? Will you commit to bringing forward the promised legislation to end Section 21 urgently in the new year?”
Emergency laws banning evictions except in special circumstances was first passed in March and extended in September.
Minister’s pledge to help renters
Jenrick told landlords and tenants in England that he expected them to agree affordable repayment plans to repay any arrears that built up due to the impact of coronavirus.
“The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts,” he said.
“These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. Which is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.
“These changes will protect all renters and private landlords ensuring everyone gets the support they need at this very difficult time.”