According to the latest data released by Citizens Advice, half a million private renters in the UK are behind on their rent, with protections against eviction due to expire this weekend.
As the country enters another period of national lockdown, further economic hardship is predicted to hit millions of renters across the UK, having already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic and one in three losing income.
For the majority struggling with their rent, this is a new challenge – Citizens Advice say that 58% of those behind on rent had no rent arrears in February 2020. For people already struggling with rent before the pandemic hit, their arrears have got worse for 40% of them. On average, people who have fallen behind on rent now owe £730, which would mean around £360 million is owed across the country. Mortgage payers have been able to benefit from formal payment holidays, but renters have been forced to fall back on negotiating month-by-month with their landlords.
Citizens Advice is warning that, without further help for renters, an avalanche of evictions could take place in the spring.
A quarter of those the charity surveyed who have rent arrears have already been threatened with eviction, termination of their rental contract, or handed an eviction notice despite the current rules.
Citizens Advice is calling for a legal ban on bailiff action and pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January and targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. The charity suggests that the government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans – comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales – to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes.
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.”