With just one month to go until the end of the eviction ban (23 August), Citizens Advice is warning it has seen a huge surge in private renters worried about arrears. The charity believes that many renters will need financial support to pay back these debts or risk losing their homes.
New figures from the charity show the level of concern among private renters about rent arrears has rocketed in 2020. Page views of the Citizens Advice web page on ‘Dealing with rent arrears’ increased fourfold year on year. People looking for advice on help they can get with possible homelessness has also increased, despite the temporary ban on repossession action.
The government last week confirmed that the protections against eviction in the private sector will end in August. In contrast, the FCA has already extended the period of eligibility of mortgage holidays, as well as other kinds of consumer credit, until the end of October. Previous research by Citizens Advice has indicated over a third (36%) of private sector renters have seen their income fall by 20% or more – higher than the average of 26% for all tenure types.
The charity is calling for extra funding to be made available to support people to pay back arrears resulting from coronavirus. The National Residential Landlords Association have this week called for extra financial help for renters in debt when the eviction ban ends.
Jessica* has been living with her husband in a rented property for over 11 years. They are both self-employed but Jessica was unable to work for much of last year because of illness. Although she had returned to work, when lockdown struck her work dried up and a job offer for her husband was withdrawn.
Jessica has found it hard to restart her business because she needs to see her clients face to face. The nature of Jessica’s husband’s self-employed work also means that he has struggled to get back to work after lockdown.
While the couple have avoided falling into arrears so far thanks to support from family, this support is no longer available. They’re now in the worrying situation of having no money to pay the rent and are worried about the prospect of eviction.
“It knocked us for six. Luckily we’ve had enough help from family up until now where we have got just enough to pay our rent on time.
“It’s like coronavirus isn’t even happening for my landlord. All they want to know is if they’re getting their rent. We’re at a crossroads – we don’t know what our rights are and what we can do and what we can actually say to them. How can the government lift the protections when people are unable to work?
“What’s made me really angry through all this is that I don’t think the government have a clue about how it’s affecting people. We really are in trouble. They’re giving all this help to people with mortgages, full time jobs and we’re forgotten about. They don’t have any idea of how it impacts mental health. It’s been really scary”.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“The dramatic jump in the need for advice on rent arrears should be a warning sign for the government that many people are deeply worried about the possibility of losing their home.
“Renters have been particularly vulnerable to the economic effects of Covid-19, yet protections for them run out sooner than many of the other measures to help people struggling, including those for mortgage payers.
“Many renters won’t be in a position to repay arrears built up due to coronavirus. Without help, they risk losing the roof over their head through no fault of their own.”
Advice for tenants served with an eviction notice:
- Act straight away. Start gathering evidence such as receipts for rent paid or any communications with your landlord.
- Local Citizens Advice offices and other housing charities can help.
- For most tenancy types at least 3 months notice must be given for notices served after 26 March 2020.
- The Government have introduced new rules for when possession hearings resume, which say that landlords wishing to restart proceedings halted by the possession ban must serve a ‘reactivation notice’ on the tenant and the court”
- The landlord can only apply to court for a possession order after the notice has expired
- If your landlord tries to force you to leave without a court order, this will be a criminal offence (there are exceptions – eg. lodgers).
- Check that the notice is valid and the process has been followed correctly – the landlord must have used the correct forms and may need to have met other obligations during the course of the tenancy in order for the notice to be valid .
- You may be able to challenge the notice if it has been served incorrectly, and this may prevent your eviction or give you more time.
Amy Hughes, Housing Expert at Citizens Advice, said:
“The restarting of eviction proceedings will be very worrying for those tenants still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their finances.
“There may be a number of ways an eviction notice can be challenged, and anybody served such a notice should get advice about whether it is valid and whether they may be able to stop or delay their eviction.”
“Fortunately there are a range of organisations which can help, including Citizens Advice, but also other housing and debt charities.”
* Name changed to protect identity.