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England gets rent arrears support package

England has at last followed Scotland and Wales by belatedly announcing a support package for tenants struggling to pay their rent as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Announced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the £65m support package will go to councils in England to support low-income earners in rent arrears.

Help was promised ‘through the winter months’. Households at risk of eviction or homelessness should contact their local council if they require support, said Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Eddie Hughes.

‘This new funding will support families that are struggling and help to get them back on their feet as we begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘The government has already provided £310m to councils this year through the Homeless Prevention Grant and this funding will increase that grant by a further £65m this year. £140 million is also available through Discretionary Housing Payments, which can also be used to prevent evictions and help people find a new home’.

Hughes said it will be for councils to determine the best way to support each household ‘on a case-by-case basis’. Any payment is likely to be paid directly to the existing landlord, or a new landlord if the money is being used to support a household to find a new home.

‘The government is grateful to landlords for their support and the funding will mean more of them will be able to reach agreements with existing tenants’, he said.

The National Residential Landlords Association immediately claimed credit for its campaigning for support to cover rent arrears.

‘While it is great news that Ministers have listened to us and agree funding is needed to help keep tenants in their homes, £65m  does not fully reflect the scale of the problem’, said NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle.

‘Government data suggests that 7 per cent of private sector tenants in England were in arrears in April-May 2021 and NRLA analysis has put the total figure of Covid rent debts at over £300m.

‘With the Bank of England warning rent debts could pose a significant risk to the economic recovery, the Chancellor must go further’.

The NRLA is advising landlords low-income tenants with rent arrears to make them aware that there is support available and to encourage them to contact their local authority.