Landlords with tenants in arrears and renters who are unable to pay their rent will be aware that the ban on evictions that has been in place throughout the pandemic, came to an end on Tuesday.
Estimates of how many people find themselves in rental debt differ wildly, depending on whose figures you look at. In April, Government figures showed that 9% of private rented tenants or around 350,000 households were in arrears, with a further 8% expected to fall into arrears within the next three months. That’s a lot of people in debt and a lot of landlords who aren't getting any money.
But speaking in Parliament last month, Lord Greenhalgh described this increase as “not statistically significant”, saying “the vast majority have arrears of no greater than two months …”. He also denied that “there will be some kind of tidal wave of possession cases and evictions in the near future, claiming instead that there has been a “massive drop” in repossession cases - which is unsurprising given that no repossession cases have been heard for months.
In fact the data he was quoting was based on research done in November and December - now more than six months ago. Anyone who was behind on their rent then, is likely to be deeper in debt now. And for most people living in rented accommodation, owing two months’ rent equates to around £2000 – and considerably more in London - which may not be much in the grand scheme of things but is a huge amount of money to many tenants. And hard to find on top of all the other payments people have to make each month.
The Government appears to be shrugging rental debt off as nothing much to worry about. The UKAA, which represents build-to-rent providers, says more than 95% of rent payments have been made in full during the last year but the picture is quite different for small buy-to-let landlords, many of whom rely on rental payments for their income. A survey of 2000 private tenants by the National Residential Landlords Association suggests that 7% have built up arrears since the start of the pandemic 15 months ago which is very bad news indeed for BTL landlords.
So what can be done about it? Tenant campaign organisations think the Government should simply write off rental debt, with the taxpayer footing the bill. The NRLA is more realistic. It is calling on government to develop a financial package to ensure that renters claiming benefits can afford to pay their rent. And for everyone else it wants to see an interest-free, government-guaranteed tenant hardship loan like the ones now available to tenants in Wales and Scotland.
The Government has clearly decided that by introducing the new Breathing Space scheme, they are doing enough. If a hardship loan was seriously being considered, surely it would have made sense to put it in place before lifting the evictions ban. Regardless of 'breathing space', many people will be unable to tackle the debt they’ve fallen into. Instead they will have to fall back on the goodwill (or otherwise) of their landlord to take reduced payments; they will have to approach one of the debt management organisations for help; or they will simply be evicted.
And meanwhile the backlog of repossessions cases continues to grow.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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