With the Coronavirus crisis widely expected to lead to a rise in rent arrears as many tenants face financial hardship, Citizens Advice is calling on the government to do more to help people desperately in need.
Research by housing charity Shelter suggests that one in five renters in England are likely to lose their job within the next three months, while Citizens Advice has estimated that around 2.6 million tenants are expected to fall behind on their rent because of coronavirus.
The government has paused eviction proceedings until 25 June and has also temporarily extended notice periods for some tenancy types to three months. But it is not yet clear what, if any, alternative measures will be put in place post 25 June, and as a consequence, Citizens Advice is telling people who are struggling to pay their rent to get in touch with their landlord and try to negotiate a reduction.
They are also being advised to try and arrange for any arrears to be paid back over a manageable period and keep a note of discussions.
The organisation also suggested exploring options for increasing income, such as making claims for benefits or other financial support introduced by the government to help ease the financial impact of the pandemic.
Citizens Advice’s principal policy manager, Joe Lane, commented: “What we want the government to do is make sure there are protections for people who have fallen into arrears due to coronavirus, and also take steps to make sure landlords have to put in place things like affordable repayment plans and make sure the requirement to work with renters has some teeth.”
But the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) recently criticised Citizens Advice for over-egging rental default levels due to coronavirus.
The landlord association says that Citizens Advice’s claims that 2.6 million renters have missed a rent payment, or expect to do so, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, are a long way wide of the mark and irresponsible.
The association points out that Citizens Advice appears to have extrapolated this figure from just 25 renters who said in a survey that they are behind on their rent because of coronavirus and 74 who say they expect to be behind. This comes from a generalised survey of just 2,016 adults across the whole of the UK.
Chris Norris, policy director for the NRLA, commented: “Clearly there are many tenants facing difficult times as with all sections of the community, including landlords, but speculating about serious issues based on minimal data does nothing to support or help those in need.
“It is a crude simplification and potentially very misleading to extrapolate figures from such a small sample.
“Whilst the overwhelming majority of tenants are continuing to pay their rents in full and on time, we continue to call for greater support for those who are struggling to pay.
“This should include ensuring benefits cover entirely the cost of people’s rents where they need it and scrapping the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit.”