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Citizens Advice has called for a pause on possession proceedings and extension of the current ban on bailiff enforcement throughout renewed Coronavirus restrictions now in force across the country.
It also wants the Government to give targeted financial support for people in England who have built up rent arrears during the crisis. The Government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans, similar to schemes already operating in Scotland and Wales, it said.
Its latest survey figures showed that half a million private renters in the UK are now behind with their rent. This comes as the country enters another period of national lockdown, causing further economic hardship. Renters have already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic with one in three private renters losing income, it said.
The majority of those struggling with their rent have not done so before, it found – six in ten of those behind on rent had no rent arrears in February 2020. And people already struggling with rent before the pandemic have seen their arrears worsen.
On average, people who have fallen behind on rent now owe £730, which would mean around £360m is owed to landlords across the country, Citizens Advice said. ‘Mortgage payers have been able to benefit from formal payment holidays, but renters have been forced to fall back on negotiating month-by-month with their landlords’.
A quarter of those tenants surveyed who had with arrears told the charity they had already been threatened with eviction, termination of their rental contract, or handed an eviction notice despite the current rules. Unless something is done, there will be an ‘avalanche’ of evictions, said the charity.
‘As coronavirus restrictions once again tighten for everyone, the Government must not forget the struggles of private renters, said Citizens Advice acting chief executive Alistair Cromwell.
‘They currently face the prospect of losing their home once the eviction ban ends and the debt they have built up is likely to cast a long shadow over their future.
‘Half a million private renters remain behind on their rent, with the majority falling behind during the pandemic restrictions. Unlike people who own their homes, private tenants have had no structured way to defer payments but instead have had to try to keep up with their rent and bills as best they can in a time of great uncertainty and hardship.
‘Even though many landlords are trying their best to support their tenants, thousands of renters could face eviction in the coming months without further help. The Government must act decisively to prevent evictions in areas subject to the highest coronavirus restrictions. And they should provide targeted support to help people escape the trap of rent arrears’.