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Patrick Mooney looks at the end of the temporary ban on evictions

Tens of thousands of private sector renters face the prospect of losing their homes in September after the ending of the Government’s temporary ban on evictions for rent arrears.

The evictions moratorium was an unprecedented step taken by Ministers early on in the Coronavirus pandemic. It was initially introduced during the early days of the lockdown in late March, but was then extended in June.

It is due to expire on 23 August after being in place for five months.

Back in June the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We are providing an unprecedented package of support for renters during this pandemic. Eviction hearings will not be heard in the courts until the end of August and no-one will be evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus.”

The Minister’s undertaking is about to be severely tested.

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney News editor of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine

Testing times

With the final weeks of summer still with us, it appears the Minister’s undertaking is about to be severely tested.

Without another extension of the suspension, many thousands of tenants and their families are facing an unpleasant appointment with the bailiffs.

It is unclear how landlords will react but thousands of court cases were put ‘on hold’ back in March.

If landlords apply to use Section 8 to repossess their properties, judges will have no discretion and tenants will be ordered to leave.

During the March to July period it is feared that the number of tenants experiencing financial difficulties and struggling to pay their rent rose significantly, with their debts spiralling out of control.

Housing charity and campaigning group Shelter says that over the summer, the number of private renters in arrears reached 442,000 adults (5% of all private tenants) – double what it was in the same period last year.

This situation is likely to get worse as the furlough income protection scheme draws to a close and millions of workers are put at risk of losing their jobs in the months ahead.

Homelessness concerns 

Shelter has warned that nearly one in five (17%) of private renting parents – equivalent to some 458,000 adults - are now more concerned their family will become homeless as a result of the Covid crisis.

Polling carried out by YouGov for Shelter has revealed that parents living in privately rented homes are almost twice as likely to be worried about homelessness than parents living in secure social homes (9%), let by councils and housing associations.  

As the country moves tentatively out of the lockdown, a lack of social housing has left these families with few options to escape their insecurities.

In fact, a third of parents who rent from a private landlord (926,000 adults) feel more negative about their long-term housing situation.

Government intervention required 

Shelter’s research suggests this negative outlook and fears of homelessness are not unfounded for some private renting parents, with:  

  • 49,000 (2%) having to resort to using food banks since lockdown; 
  • 429,000 (15%) cutting back on food to help pay their rent since lockdown; and 
  • 550,000 (20%) taking on debt (such as overdrafts, credit cards, payday loans or borrowing money from the bank / family & friends) to help pay their rent since lockdown. 

Shelter is now urging the Government to give these families a way out of private renting, and the chance of a stable social home they can afford.

So far, the Government’s ‘housing offer’ to residents has been limited to a stamp duty cut, extending the help to buy scheme and promising £2billion in help to improve the insulation of homes of all tenures.

However, these will be of no help to most renters who are ruled out of homeownership due to a lack of savings. The Government’s own figures show that 73% of private renting families have no savings at all. 

Alternative view

Not surprisingly the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), which represents thousands of private landlords, has a different take on the current situation.

The NRLA commissioned research company Dynata to conduct a survey of 2,027 private rented sector tenants in England and Wales on their behalf and this research found:

  • 90% of tenants have paid their rent as usual since lockdown measures were introduced. Tenants in London are the most adversely affected, but 80% of renters in the capital have continued to pay full rent;
  • 21% have been furloughed and covered by the Government’s income protection scheme;
  • 4% have successfully made a new application for Universal Credit; and
  • 74% received a positive response after approaching their landlord or letting agent for support.

The NRLA say they know that a number of landlords have been unable to regain possession, even in cases of anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse or significant arrears accrued before the coronavirus restrictions.

They want the courts to prioritise evictions where action was started for rent arrears before the moratorium was imposed, or where other factors such as anti-social behaviour complaints exist alongside rent arrears.

No DSS bans are illegal

In a separate development private renters claim that landlords across England are ignoring a ban on the use of 'no DSS' restrictions despite a landmark court ruling that this is illegal discrimination.

A disabled single mother who became homeless after being refused the chance to move into a private rented property claimed this was solely because she was on benefits.

Iffat Saif said landlords and letting agents either turned her down when she mentioned the word ‘DSS’ or told her she needed to provide a guarantor.

It is the first time a court has ruled that the so-called “no DSS” (Department for Social Security) rule operated by some private landlords breached equality laws. Ms Saif was supported in bringing the court case by Shelter.

Ruling welcomed

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, welcomed the court ruling but she said that hundreds of people had contacted the housing charity since the ruling raising concerns about the DSS issue.

Neate said: “Hundreds of people have since contacted our services with similar stories and we are still hearing of letting agents and private landlords ignoring the judgment.”

A possible relief for renters appears to be the news that an increasing number of Airbnb properties are being converted back into private rentals, due to difficulties in getting people to rent these out for city breaks and short term holidays.

At this stage it is uncertain how many tenants this will help avoid the eviction process and ending up as a homeless statistic.

Patrick Mooney is news editor of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine