Covid-19 Eviction Crisis: 500,000 Tenants in Rent Arrears

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Government extends the eviction ban on private tenants for another six weeks. Increased unemployment during the pandemic puts an estimated 500,000 people in rent arrears, as charities say a ban isn’t enough to avoid an eviction crisis.

The ban has already been extended from 11 January, as coronavirus restrictions continue across the country. Thousands of private tenants face eviction due to rising unemployment and increased economic stress.

Loopholes within the system expose potentially vulnerable tenants to evictions, court summons and bailiffs.

Half a million people are in rent arrears. [Image: Acabashi, Wikimedia]

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick assured that the measures ‘strike the right balance between protecting tenants and enabling landlords to exercise their right to justice.’

However, critics say the current ban isn’t as protective as promised, as various loopholes within the system expose potentially vulnerable tenants to evictions, court summons, and bailiffs.

Loopholes Expose Vulnerable Tenants

Though the so-called protective ban has been extended for another month, loopholes for landlords will stay in place. This points to the freedom of landlords to expose potentially vulnerable tenants, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, to court possession hearings and even homelessness.

By November 2020, the jobless rate rose to just over 5% of the population…a four year high

Previous versions of the eviction ban allowed for the eviction of tenants who had not paid rent for nine months but excluded evictions for those who had built up debt because of the pandemic. Under exemptions introduced at the beginning of 2021, landlords are now able to evict tenants who accrue more than six months of rent arrears, even if the arrears have built up during the pandemic.

This will affect people who have come into financial trouble at the peak of the virus. By the end of November, the jobless rate rose by 1.7million people, just over 5% of the population. The Office for National Statistics released the figures, which show unemployment reached a four-year high because of Covid-19.   

This loophole within the system seems to go against the promise of protection. Ministers previously announced they would ensure nobody was left homeless due to the government’s decision to enforce lockdown, but many are facing severe financial difficulty due to the restrictions.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said the government’s apparent ‘half-measures’ are putting people at risk. He said, ‘Ministers promised nobody would lose their home because of coronavirus, but the current ban isn’t working. The government should give people security in their homes, by strengthening and extending the ban for the period restrictions are in place.’

polly neate warns of eviction crisis and homelessness
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of charity Shelter have warned piecemeal measures, such as eviction bans being extended, won’t prevent homelessness [Image: The Guardian]

Thousands at Risk of Homelessness

Research conducted by Shelter, who campaign to end homelessness, shows 445,000 renters in England have been served with an eviction notice in the past month, due to falling behind on rent.

The government needs to get a grip and do something about the debt crisis renters and landlords are now facing

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, says the government must give renters a reasonable helpline out of debt and guidance to help pay off ‘Covid-arrears’. She said: ‘Thousands of renters who have been living in fear of the bailiffs’ knock at the door, have today been given a few more weeks in their home.

‘This short extension to the bailiff ban may keep people safe for now, but it’s not an answer to the eviction crisis.’

With an estimated half a million people facing rent arrears of £730 on average, the bailiff extension has received a large amount of criticism due to the lack of support for landlords.

Debt Fueling Eviction Crisis

As the pandemic continues, the chances of tenants falling into rent arrears increases. Landlords are therefore also suffering from a loss of income. The National Residential Landlords Association has warned that debts may never be paid off.

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the association said that ‘The government needs to get a grip and do something about the debt crisis renters and landlords are now facing.

‘To expect landlords and tenants to muddle through without further support is a strategy that has passed its sell-by date.’

[Header Image: Homeless Link]