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150,000 renters ‘at risk of eviction’ due to Covid debt

Written by: Emma Lunn
StepChange says renters are in urgent need of help to avert a crisis of widespread housing insecurity, homelessness, and long-term problem debt.

The debt charity estimates that about 150,000 private renters are at risk of eviction when lockdown restrictions are lifted as a result of mounting Covid-related rent debts.

The warning comes as the charity launches its Covid Debt Rescue campaign. The campaign is calling for a package of emergency financial support to help renters keep their homes while their finances recover.

StepChange’s research found that half of private renters (3.7 million people) have experienced a drop in income since March 2020, while the number who have fallen behind on their rent since the start of the pandemic stands at 460,000.

The report found that 150,000 tenants expect to be evicted in the next 12 months because they can’t afford their rent.

In total, StepChange’s research reveals that £25bn of arrears and borrowing directly attributable to Covid has been built up since the start of the pandemic.

It says that more than 19 million people (38% of British adults) having faced a loss of income in this period, while the number of people in severe problem debt stands at 1.8 million, up from 1.4 million in September.

StepChange says that for those renters in debt, the further suspension of rental evictions until the end of May is a good start.  But it is also calling for a further extension to give renters more chance to get back on their feet.

However, its research finds this alone would not be enough to hold back the rising tide of debt many private renters are battling – one in five tenants expects it to take at least six months until they can even afford all their household bills again.

StepChange is calling on the government to provide an emergency support package of grants and no-interest loans for private renters to deal with arrears.

Governments in Wales and Scotland already offer financial support for tenants affected by the pandemic. Campaign group Generation Rent is also calling for the government to create a ‘Covid Rent Debt Fund’ to clear rent arrears.

Phil Andrew, CEO of StepChange, said: “The pandemic has taken an enormous financial toll on many households, but renters have been particularly badly hit: they are more likely to work in sectors affected by Covid, more likely to have lost income and more likely to have suffered mental ill-health. At the outset of the pandemic the housing secretary stated that no-one should lose their home because of the pandemic, but a year on this is a very real prospect for hundreds of thousands of people.

“The government’s continued suspension of rental evictions until the end of May is a positive step, but this alone will only serve as a stay of execution for those with unmanageable rent arrears. The government’s own research shows that private renters have been hardest hit by the pandemic yet there was no reference to renters in the recent budget while mortgage support was extended for homeowners – a real missed opportunity to do whatever it takes to help a group so disproportionately disadvantaged.”

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