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Tenants must not be left at mercy of Covid-19 rent debt, ministers told

The Big Issue is among the campaigners, politicians and housing experts urging the UK Government to protect renters during the latest national lockdown
Credit: iStock / Getty / oversnap

Renters need urgent financial support to avoid being hit by 10 months’ worth of rent debt when the current eviction ban ends on Monday, say campaigners.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that the ‘winter truce’ preventing evictions in England and Wales, due to expire on January 11, is “under review”, just days before bailiff action and court proceedings can restart.

But extending the eviction ban will not help renters whose finances have been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic to deal with 10 months of mounting arrears. This week, Citizens Advice warned that half a million private renters were behind on rent with an estimated £360 million of rent debt collectively owed as a result.

In a joint statement following the reintroduction of a national lockdown, The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance joined forces with Shelter, National Residential Landlords Association, ARLA Propertymark, Nationwide Building Society and debt charity StepChange to call for more financial support for private renters.

The statement read: “Ministers have failed to address the core problem of debts which have built despite the financial package put in place so far. Indeed, the Chancellor confirmed that housing benefit will not be linked to the cost of renting for future years.

“Renters, landlords and letting agents cannot be expected simply to muddle through indefinitely where they face these financial difficulties. The Government needs to develop an urgent package to help renters in paying off arrears built since March last year.

“Without further action, debts will continue to mount, making it far more difficult to sustain tenancies and keep renters in their homes after the pandemic.”

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The urgent call comes as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also demanded action to prevent renters from eviction and homelessness.

The number of Londoners reporting concerns about their landlord or letting agent more than doubled during the pandemic, according to the latest statistics from the Mayor’s ‘Report a Rogue’ tool which was introduced in 2017 to allow renters to voice grievances against rogue landlords.

Those complaints spiked during March and December last year, with more than 1,400 complaints submitted via the tool. One in five complainants is now reporting an unfair eviction despite the original moratorium on evictions running between March and September.

Khan said the figures show a need for the eviction ban to be extended while a support package is put in place to prevent mounting rent debt causing a homelesness crisis when evictions can resume. 

The London Mayor is calling for renters to receive grants to clear arrears, a two-year rent freeze in London and local housing allowance rates to be increased to cover the cost of average market rents.

He also joined other rent campaigners in urging the UK Government to scrap the benefit cap and deliver on the long-held commitment to end the use of Section 21 orders – the so-called ‘no fault’ evictions mean a tenant can be evicted without a reason being given.

Stopping evictions and preventing homelessness during this renewed crisis period is absolutely the right thing to do

Khan said:  “These latest figures show the huge pressure on renters during the pandemic. It is now time for the Government finally to take the needs of private renters seriously and help those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“With the evictions ban ending next week, Ministers need to take urgent action to prevent people being evicted from their homes, putting in place a proper financial support package for those who have fallen into arrears through no fault of their own.”

While the wait goes on in England and Wales, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the current ban on evictions will be extended from January 22 until March 31 covering all areas in Scotland in level 3 and 4 restrictions once the national lockdown ends.

But while the action may prevent renters from losing their home in the first three months of the year, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned that financial support for vulnerable groups is necessary to ensure that remains the case later in the year. 

“Stopping evictions and preventing homelessness during this renewed crisis period is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to keep tenants safe, but also the right thing for public health too,” said CAS social justice spokesperson Nina Ballantyne.

How can I get involved with The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance? 

  • Join the Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance Facebook Group and become part of the conversation
  • Let us know your big ideas on how we can prevent homelessness and protect jobs by emailing rora@bigissue.com
  • Sign up to get updates on the progress of the campaign