Almost two million private renters fear they will be unable to find another property if they lose their home after the eviction ban is lifted, ministers are being warned.
With the ban coming to an end this week, the government is facing demands for emergency legislation to increase the permanent protection for those struggling to pay their rent as a result of the Covid pandemic. Councils are also warning of a “cliff edge” of homelessness in the months ahead unless action is taken, with a potential £2.2bn bill for the state.
Private renters are those most at risk at the end of the ban, which has been repeatedly extended amid concerns about the build-up of rent arrears during the crisis. Among private renters in England who are worried about losing their home and who are already cutting back on heating and food to pay rent, 72% are worried they will be unable to find another home in the future. The finding, from a study by homelessness charity Shelter, equates to about 1.9 million privately renting adults.
It also found that, among the group, 47% had made unacceptable compromises to fund their rent, such as living far away from family support or accepting poor conditions and overcrowding. Of all private renters in England, 20% have had to cut back on food or heating, compared with 8% of homeowners.
Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, said Covid had exposed a “broken” private rented sector. “The end of the evictions ban is a day many terrified renters are dreading,” she said. “The next few months present a scary time for the hundreds of thousands of renters who are in debt and already cutting back on just about everything, including food, to pay their rent. They know they are hanging on to their homes by a thread. The clock is now ticking for the government to stem the tide of evictions or face an even bigger homelessness crisis.”
Last year, council figures suggested almost half a million households were at high risk of becoming homeless as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. During the pandemic, 37,000 rough sleepers and homeless people were helped into accommodation. The Local Government Association (LGA), charities and Labour are uniting to call on ministers to fulfil a manifesto commitment to end “no-fault evictions”, which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason.
The LGA also wants permanent increases in universal credit and housing benefit, an immediate review of the benefit cap’s impact during the pandemic and more funds to help councils deal with homelessness. David Renard, the Tory leader of Swindon council and the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “The government was right to introduce the ban on evictions, and eviction enforcement, from the start of the pandemic. It gave vital reassurance to families who were at risk of losing their homes. We also understand that the ban cannot last indefinitely. However, lifting the ban will leave some households at the cliff edge of becoming homeless. This is why it is essential we ensure there is a safety net of support in place.”
Lucy Powell, the shadow housing secretary, said the rise in evictions when the ban is lifted could cost the taxpayer £2.2bn if those at risk were homeless for a year. She is demanding emergency legislation to give renters greater protection. “The government is wilfully walking into an evictions crisis,” she said. “The housing secretary promised that no one would lose their home as a result of the crisis, and he must make good on that pledge.”
A government spokesperson said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken unprecedented action to support renters and help keep them in their homes including introducing a comprehensive £352 billion support package, which has prevented widespread build-up of rent arrears.
“Thanks to the success of the vaccine programme, national restrictions are gradually being eased and it’s now the right time to start to lift the emergency measures we put in place.
“Tenants will continue to be supported with longer notice periods and financial help is still available such as the furlough scheme, which has been extended until the end of September. Evictions will not be carried out if a member of the home has Covid-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.”