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Renters fear ‘Covid-eviction’ when government ban lifts

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

An estimated 227,000 private tenants have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic, meaning they could lose their homes when the evictions ban ends on 23 August.

Evictions in the private rented sector were banned for three months at the beginning of the pandemic, with the moratorium subsequently extended by two months.

This means eviction hearings can start being held in court again from 23 August.

Under the current court system, anyone who accrues rent arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted from their home.

Housing charity Shelter says that unless the Government acts to protect the renters thrown into financial difficulty by Covid-19, judges will be powerless to stop them from losing their homes once the ban lifts.

A poll carried out by YouGov for Shelter found that 174,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent.

Shelter fears the number of tenants in arrears could get worse as the furlough scheme draws to a close, potentially prompting millions to lose their jobs.

The charity found the looming threat of eviction is making nearly a third of renters –  2.7 million adults –  feel more depressed and anxious about their housing situation.

Since the lockdown began on 23 March, one in four of the calls from private renters to Shelter’s emergency helpline and webchat service have been from renters scared of losing their home.

With only 10 sittings days left until Parliament breaks for recess, and less than two months before the eviction ban lifts, Shelter is urging the government to act now and keep its promise that no-one will lose their home because of Covid-19.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “The Housing Secretary promised no-one would lose their home because of coronavirus. But the financial chaos of Covid-19 means that many private renters are in danger of being evicted when the current ban lifts. Unless he acts now, he will break his promise, and put thousands of renters at risk of homelessness.

“We know people have been doing whatever they can to pay their rent and keep their home safe. Despite this, the minute the evictions ban lifts, the 230,000 already behind with their rent could be up for automatic eviction if they’ve built up eight weeks-worth of arrears. And judges will be powerless to help them.”

Thangam Debbonai, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, says the UK needs emergency legislation to protect renters from evictions.

“But the Government seems to be more interested in protecting landlords’ incomes than preventing families from losing their homes in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Rough sleeping had more than doubled under the Tories before coronavirus. If we go back to business as usual, many thousands of people will find themselves sleeping on the streets this winter.

“This is one of the reasons why we need a Back to Work Budget focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, to prevent people from getting into difficulty with their rent.”