The coming weeks could bring a “tsunami” of evictions, heading towards a summer spike in homelessness. This is the warning from housing and debt charities, as arrears mount for the hundreds of thousands of tenants struggling to pay their rent as a consequence of Covid.
While many of those with mortgages took advantage of payment holidays offered by banks during the pandemic, only a tiny fraction of renters – three per cent – successfully negotiated a reduction on their rent after Covid struck, research by the Resolution Foundation from earlier this year revealed.
Nearly half a million private renters, a number that has doubled since the start of the pandemic, have fallen behind on their rent, according to debt charity StepChange. They add that a third of private sector tenants having seen their income fall. The charity has also seen a spike in enquiries for money help from people who have never been in problem debt before. Meanwhile there are still millions of workers on furlough.
If you have lost income it is almost impossible to get a new tenancy. Resuming evictions will put these people at risk of homelessnessDan Wilson Craw, Generation Rent
Nevertheless, at the time of going to press, the government confirmed that its temporary ban on bailiff-led evictions is being lifted in England from this week. “The last lifeline” for many renters, who have been among the groups worst hit by the pandemic, says Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange.
Campaign group Generation Rent is calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support households who cannot afford to pay their rent, following the impact of the pandemic.
“By loosening restrictions on evictions without dealing with all this debt, the government is tearing up its pledge that people who lost income in the pandemic would not lose their home,” says Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of Generation Rent. He points out that the courts have been processing evictions since September, which means that thousands of tenants, many of whom have lost businesses or work as a direct result of Covid-19, could become homeless by mid-June.
“If you have lost income it is almost impossible to get a new tenancy. Resuming evictions will put these people at risk of homelessness.
“The government urgently needs a Covid Rent Debt Fund to clear these debts, get tenants back on their feet, and allow landlords to claim up to 80 per cent of the income they’ve lost.”
You can sign Generation Rent’s Covid Rent Debt Fund petition here.
Tutton agrees: “The government can help by creating an emergency package of grants and no-interest loans to help rescue those in rent arrears due to Covid. It will help keep people in their homes, avert mounting problem debt, housing insecurity and homelessness and will enable people to get back on their feet after a devastating year.”
During 2020, bailiff evictions were paused, with the eviction ban end date being extended from March 31 this year. However, the ban is now ending, and from June 1 bailiffs can resume repossession in England, and tier two areas of Scotland, although a bailiff cannot legally evict someone who is self-isolating or who has symptoms of Covid-19.
“If the landlord doesn’t follow the process to the letter tenants may be able to fight an eviction”
Amy Hughes, Citizens Advice
The amount of notice that landlords have to give to tenants before evicting them is also being reduced, from six months to four in England, then just two months from the autumn.
There are exceptions. If you owe more than four months’ rent you need only be given four weeks’ notice before eviction proceedings begin.
Amy Hughes, senior housing expert at Citizens Advice, says only those at the end of a long legal process will face imminent eviction. “Then there is still 14 days’ notice before the final stage, which is the bailiffs attending.
“A landlord who carries out or threatens an eviction without following this process is likely to commit a criminal offence.”
If you receive a notice seeking possession by your landlord, the first thing to do is get advice about whether this notice is valid, and what help is available to you.
“A landlord notice is step one,” she says. “It doesn’t mean an eviction can go ahead. If the landlord doesn’t follow the process to the letter of the law tenants may be able to successfully fight an eviction.
“This stage is also an opportunity for both sides to sort out their differences. If that’s not possible, a court may make an order for possession. Only when the date set for possession by the court has passed can the landlord apply for bailiffs to carry out an eviction.”
If you are behind on your rent, you may qualify for the new Breathing Space scheme (visit stepchange.org for details).
This gives you up to 60 days’ respite from interest, fees and court action. If you qualify, your landlord cannot evict you for rent arrears during this period.
Anyone concerned about how to pay their rent, or worried about running out of money, should claim everything they are entitled to. The charity Turn2Us offers a free online benefit calculation at. It also has a grant search tool in its site, enabling people to apply for financial help that doesn’t need to be paid back.
The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance is fighting to avoid homelessness and create jobs, see bigissue.com/rora