With more lifting of lockdown restrictions this week, prospects seem more hopeful now that we can enjoy our evenings in the pub and now the top nine at risk groups have had their first dose of the vaccine. As we look to 21st June and the freedoms it will bring, there is a worrying prospect of what this means for those who have accumulated rent arrears over the pandemic.
Back in March 2020, the government introduced an eviction ban to help protect renters during the lockdown, but this protection is planned to be taken away this Spring. Currently, the government seems to be underestimating the problem and has no policy proposed on how to respond when the eviction ban ends. Additionally, as part of the legislation for this eviction ban, renters could be evicted in the case of “substantial rent arrears” defined as at least nine months rent but excluded all arrears accumulated after the March 2020 lockdown began. However, the new regulation for 2021 has redefined “substantial rent arrears” to be just having arrears equivalent to six months rent. Removing the clause which ignored all rent arrears accumulated in lockdown puts many who have been unable to pay their rent during lockdown at risk immediately.
The Resolution Foundation estimates that in January of this year, 750,000 families were behind with their rental payments and of those 300,000 were families with dependent children. With the future entailing both the end of furlough and benefit cuts, it is expected that many people’s incomes will fall further and increase rent arrears. Moreover, the report also found that 24% of private renters have seen their income fall over the pandemic due to things like furlough or job loss. Becoming behind on rent payments is causing renters to make drastic cuts to have sufficient finances to avoid homelessness; 70% cut back on food and 49% cut back on heating and electricity. Sadly, for those who are evicted many will be unable in the future to rent because the eviction will impact their credit score through the court system so new landlords will be unlikely to accept them.
Academics at the LSE modelled what the scale of eviction notices might mean in terms of how many people could become homeless. Their model would imply:
“45,000 households potentially accepted as homeless – almost a 200% increase – with as many as 1 in 3 of these households being in London. At an average cost per household of £15,000 per annum per household, and assuming an average six-month stay in temporary accommodation, the cost to the Exchequer would be some £225m.”
As it stands, the scale of those who could become homeless and the cost to the taxpayer are far too high for the government to continue to ignore the issue.
The pandemic has not created the issues in the rental market but has exposed many of the existing problems. For many, rent makes up a substantial proportion of their income; in London a one bedroom flat cost is equivalent to 46% of the median pay in London. This means that frequently people’s disposable incomes are too restricted to be able to pay an unexpected cost, or to build up savings, leaving people vulnerable if they lose their employment.
How can you help?
There are two ways we can all try to help, trying to reduce the number of people at risk of becoming homeless from rent arrears and helping those who sadly do become homeless.
For the first, you can help by writing to your MP on this issue and asking the government to set out clear policy steps on how it will protect all those who have accumulated rent arrears over the pandemic. The government produces a guide which gives you all the information you need on who your MP is and how you can write to them.
Another way is supporting charities who provide valuable help for those who become homeless. Next week in our blog our new blogger Katie will be talking about how homelessness can happen to anyone, as this issue of rent arrears highlights so clearly. At Clothing Collective we work to provide vouchers for those in need to purchase their own clothes in charity shops. You can support us either by donating here or by sharing our blogs and following us on social media.
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