In December, Citizens Advice helped someone every two minutes with an issue to do with their privately rented housing
Average amount owed on rent is over £700, with an estimated £360 million owed across the UK.
One in four private renters in arrears have been threatened with eviction or cancellation of contract by their landlord
Half a million private renters in the UK are behind on their rent, with protections against eviction due to expire this weekend, according to Citizens Advice.
This comes as the country enters another period of national lockdown, causing further economic hardship. Renters have already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic with one in three private renters losing income.
For the majority struggling with their rent, this is a new challenge - 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.
The temporary ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 ends on Monday (11 January) and 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
targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. 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.
Jacob* is a student who works as a cleaner to make ends meet. Due to a flare up of a health condition which was worsened by lockdown, he had to stop working. He’s since been living off Universal Credit (UC) and his student loan. The UC includes the maximum housing allowance but this doesn’t cover his rent.
His student loan complicated his UC entitlement, so for a few months during lockdown the loan was his only form of income. This wasn’t enough to cover his rent and other basic living costs, and he had to reduce his rent payments.
He contacted his letting agent to try and negotiate a temporary reduction. However, the agent didn’t reply to his email or any other contact for over three months during lockdown. When they did finally get back to him, they declined his request and notified him that he was in arrears. Jacob is now worried that he could be evicted.
“I've no idea what might happen, and that's the scary thing. Every day I'm waiting for a letter to say that he wants to sell the place, or change the tenancy or something like that. It’s always in the back of my mind that you're going to get home and there's a letter to say ‘Section 21’.”
“The only thing I can remember the government making clear was the ban on evictions - that was the thing they were pushing. How is that going to help anybody when the ban is lifted? You can still be evicted because you've got arrears. That has just added to the pressure.”
Citizens Advice Coventry case worker, Lauren Brown, said:
"We're seeing an increasing number of people come to us for help with rent arrears. This includes people who only six months ago had a well-paid job but were made redundant due to the pandemic and are finding it very difficult to find a job on a similar level.
“In some cases, they have built up arrears despite having sought and followed advice to claim the correct benefits and reduce expenses. When this hasn’t been enough they have then had to go on to sell their phone and other belongings - or even gone without food - in an attempt to keep up payments on their rent and other bills.
"If the eviction ban ends, for some families this will mean going from having a home, to living out of a bag. They'll have to start their lives all over again - all due to an unprecedented situation that was totally out of their control."
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.”