The government must keep its promise to renters

Westminster’s extension of the eviction ban will keep renters in their homes for now - but without permanent reform, many tenants will be forced out of their homes unfairly this winter


Image: iStock

Alicia Kennedy

Director, Generation Rent

In March, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, pledged that no renter who had lost income due to COVID-19 would be forced out of their home and introduced a ban on evictions. Now, after growing pressure from housing charities, MPs, legal experts and local authorities, the government has extended the ban for a further four weeks.

Sticking plaster

Extending the ban on eviction proceedings will keep renters in their homes for now, but it’s just a sticking plaster. Arrears have doubled since the start of the pandemic, and for some the rent debt will keep racking up. The furlough scheme is coming to an end, unemployment continues to rise, and benefit payments are insufficient to cover average rents. Without extra protections thousands of renters are at serious risk of losing their homes when the ban ends – despite the new extension.

New research from Generation Rent found that just 12% of those who applied for benefits after lockdown have been able to cover the rent – meaning hundreds of thousands of renters have been forced to rely solely on their landlord’s goodwill.

At Generation Rent, we hear daily from renters who are terrified about what will happen in the next few months. Their stories are heartbreaking. Many have lived in their properties for years. They have children at local schools but now find themselves priced out of the area they call home. Some are behind with rent and others haven’t even been given a reason – their landlord has simply issued a ‘no fault’ eviction and asked them to leave.

That’s why Generation Rent is asking the government to give extra protection to renters in England. Why should they be worse off?

Take the experiences of renters like Elizabeth, Tim, Roy, Laura and Chrissie:

“Our three-year contract is due to end in August. We informed our landlady we weren’t able to pay full rent due to cuts in our salaries due to COVID-19. The landlady agreed – then the landlady gave us a Section 21 (eviction) notice.”
- Elizabeth
“COVID-19 has meant that income has dried up. My landlord wouldn’t or hasn’t taken the three-month mortgage payment holiday. I am three-plus months behind with my rent and frightened about receiving a Section 8 (eviction) notice from my landlord.”
- Tim
“My landlord has been texting me once a month since this (pandemic) started telling me I’m going to be ‘out on my ear’ if I don’t pay, trying to increase the rent while my income has halved and my savings are dwindling, I’m terrified for my children’s future.”
- Roy
“I’ve been furloughed and the money hasn’t been coming in until the middle of the month so I’ve been unable to pay the rent on time. I haven’t slept, I’ve been ill; anxiety and depression levels have gone up.”
- Laura
“We explained that we hadn’t been able to work for three months and we’ve rented for just under 30 years. The landlord’s agent said: ‘Well you know what to do, give the keys back if you can’t pay’. We’re not eligible for benefits as we own a retirement property abroad. We are both over 60.”
- Chrissie

Need for protection

To give renters security throughout the pandemic and subsequent recession, we must end Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. As things stand, one of the most common routes to evict a tenant is through a Section 21 notice. Landlords do not have to give a reason to issue a tenant with a Section 21 notice, and if the landlord has completed the process correctly, evictions under Section 21 are automatic and cannot be stopped.

Even before this crisis, Section 21 was a leading cause of homelessness in the UK, which is one of the reasons why the government promised to ban it. But, more than a year later, Section 21 remains in frequent use. To make matters worse, some renters have reported that the government’s Stamp Duty changes have encouraged many landlords to sell up, forcing them to find a new home. Section 21 is already banned in Scotland, where tenants and landlords both report high levels of satisfaction.

Because protections are so minimal, already nearly half of tenants who are struggling with rent are looking to move (more than those who aren’t struggling), and of those, more are struggling to find a suitable home or a landlord who will take them. With a shortage of suitable properties and an inadequate safety net, many will have nowhere to turn.

Emergency legislation

The government must pass emergency legislation to restrict ‘no fault’ evictions, and those for rent arrears, to ensure renters who have been hit by the pandemic do not lose their homes through no fault of their own.

We know that the eviction ban isn’t a long-term solution, which is why the government must deliver on its pledge to end unfair evictions under Section 21 for good, increase benefits to cover average rents, and provide a fund to cover the most financially vulnerable renters.

A safe home provides the infrastructure necessary for people who have been affected by the pandemic to get back on their feet. The government’s action on the eviction ban will keep renters in their home for now, but without permanent reform, renters could still be forced out of their homes this winter.

Help us campaign for permanent reform and become a supporter of Generation Rent here .

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