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Renters Need Their Own Roadmap Out Of Lockdown Or Government Faces Evictions Crisis Post-Pandemic, MPs Warn

MPs are warning unless the government helps tenants pay off their arrears there will be a spate of evictions after the pandemic (Alamy)

3 min read

The government needs to come up with a plan to help renters deal with the backlog of arrears built up during the pandemic or face an evictions crisis once the ban on removing tenants ends, MPs are warning.

A report from the housing select committee said the simplest way to help landlords get the income they have missed out on over the past year is for the government to give financial help to tenants.

They warn this has a potential cost of between £200 and £300 million, but argue it would prevent “significant expenditure on homelessness assistance” in the future as people would be able to stay in their properties.

The report says: “The issue of rent arrears has been a looming cliff edge for the duration of the pandemic.

“Having regularly extended the ban on evictions, often at the very last minute, the government must now set out a proper exit plan for the private rented sector from national and local restrictions.

“It has published its roadmap for how to exit lockdown and it must equally explain how it sees the rental sector returning to business as usual.

“If action isn’t taken the government is in danger of breaking its pledge that no one should lose their home as a result of the pandemic.”

The committee says several options exist for how such a package could operate, including low-interest loans or modified discretionary housing payments, but it says the most important factor is time - calling on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to bring forward a proposal as soon as possible.

Labour MP Clive Betts, who chairs the committee, said: “The ongoing crisis of rent arrears in the private rented sector is deeply concerning.

“The economic consequences of the pandemic could be long-lasting and become even more severe. The ban on evictions has ensured that people remain in their homes for now, but the debt will continue to increase.

“Landlords, many of whom only own one or two properties, will also be struggling with a loss of income.”

He added: “The government will have to find a solution that is workable for tenants and fair for landlords. The gravity of the situation means it should be treated just the same as other sectors of the economy and society that have a clear roadmap out of lockdown.

“Helping tenants pay their rent arrears would come at a cost, but would ultimately prevent significant expenditure on homelessness assistance further down the line.”

Calls for such a scheme were welcomed by the National Residential Landlords Association, with chief exec Ben Beadle saying in a statement: “At the heart of that plan needs to be action to tackle rent debts built as a result of the pandemic. The committee is right to express disappointment at the lack of a clear strategy from the government to deal with this pressing issue.

“We wholeheartedly support the committee’s call for action to support tenants to repay rent arrears to be a top priority, including consideration of making payments direct to landlords.

“As the report notes, this would be the best way to sustain tenancies and help landlords receive income.”

And Polly Neate, chief executive of hissing charity Shelter, said:  “Covid-19 has escalated the housing emergency to new heights. Hundreds of thousands of people have endured the terror of the past year without a safe home.  

“And with an evictions crisis looming, the government must step in to help renters clear Covid-rent debt and bring forward the Renters’ Reform Bill to make renting fairer.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’ve acted to give renters robust protection during the pandemic, with longer notice periods of six months and banning bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases until 31 May.”

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