Time for the government to “stand by its promise” to renters

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood, StockSnapPhoto by Suzy Hazelwood from StockSnap

The government has just one month to act before measures protecting private renters from evictions proceedings expire.

Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government previously said that ‘no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home’, before announcing a temporary pause on repossession action. This pause is currently scheduled to end on 25 June.

Citizens Advice is warning this presents a ‘cliff-edge’ that will pitch some renters into long-term debt or homelessness.

The charity says the government must act now to prevent larger-scale problems and save people from losing their homes.

Research by the charity earlier this month suggested that 2.6 million private renters had already missed, or expected to miss, a rent payment because of coronavirus.

In the two months since lockdown began, Citizens Advice has helped over 10,000 people with issues around the private rented sector. Of these, over 1,000 of their issues related to possible eviction, despite the government’s protections.

In Ipswich, we have assisted over 200 people with housing and rent arrears issues since the lockdown.

The charity is calling for additional protections for renters vulnerable to eviction because of coronavirus. These include:

Accelerating the process to end section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions

Putting in place temporary changes allowing the courts more discretion for tenants in arrears because of coronavirus

When these measures are in place, implementing a ‘pre-action protocol’ of steps that landlords must follow before they can bring possession proceedings.

A report out today (22 May 2020) from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has endorsed these recommendations. It’s calling for the abolition of section 21 evictions and greater discretion for judges to prevent possession action where arrears have built up owing to Covid-19. If implemented, these changes should give the pre-action protocol the necessary ‘teeth’.

Case Study

Julie* works in retail and has been furloughed while the business she works for is closed. While she normally takes home about £1,100 a month through her work and overtime, she is currently only receiving £700 a month (a 36% fall in income), causing huge strain to her finances.

Julie says:

“I started worrying as my wages would only cover my rent. Citizens Advice suggested that I ask my letting agency to lower the rent for a few months.”

“The agency came back to me saying that I should pay what I could afford. Then they said that the rent had to be paid at a rate set by them or I would be evicted.

“They started putting a lot of pressure on me and even said I should cancel payments for everything I did not need to ensure I could pay my rent. I suffer from anxiety so this is really stressful as I have loans, bills, food and my council tax to pay.”

“I’ve been able to get a Debt Management Plan for my loans so it’s now a bit more manageable. But even with this plan in place, I’ve had to apply for Universal Credit as I barely have enough to cover my food, let alone my essential bills”.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“There’s just one month to go before the protections that were put in place to protect renters from eviction during the coronavirus outbreak run out.

“In the midst of this pandemic, it’s not right that renters should face the looming threat of eviction. With millions of people out of work and millions more on reduced incomes, it is a real struggle for many people to pay their rent.

“The government said no one should be forced out of their home because of coronavirus. It’s now time to stand by that promise and protect renters from the prospect of long-term debt or homelessness. ”

Citizens Advice Ipswich