A charity warns today that 150,000 private renters are at risk of eviction when restrictions are lifted because of mounting Covid-related rent debts.
Step Change wants a package of emergency financial support to help renters keep their homes as finances recover, in order to prevent what it describes as “widespread homelessness, housing insecurity and long-term problem debt.”
It claims a poll shows half of private renters have experienced a drop in income since March 2020, while the number who've fallen behind on rent since the start of the pandemic stands at 460,000.
It also claims that 150,000 “expect to be evicted in the next 12 months because they can’t afford their rent.”
In total, Step Change’s research reveal £25 billion of arrears and borrowing directly attributable to Covid has been built up since the start of the pandemic, with some 38 per cent of British adults having faced a loss of income in this period.
Those in severe problem debt have risen to 1.8m now from 1.4m in September.
These figures are based on a survey of 3,458 adults conducted back in January.
Step Change is also calling for yet another extension of the eviction ban period to give renters more chance to get back on their feet, but it says this alone would not be enough “to hold back the rising tide of debt many private renters are battling – one in five expects it to take at least six months until they can even afford all their household bills again.”
The charity says its research highlights the wider disproportionate effects of the pandemic on renters.
Since March 2020, one in five private renters have had to go without meals or suitable clothes, while three in 10 say money worries have contributed to anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.
Meanwhile 12 per cent say money worries have damaged their ability to find work or complete education since March.
It wants government to provide an emergency support package of grants and no-interest loans for private renters to deal with arrears currently estimated at £370m.
“Governments in Wales and Scotland have already made a start on tenancy saver schemes for renters – now the UK government must roll out an improved version of support in England and provide devolved administrations with the resources needed to fully support renters” the charity demands.
As well as helping renters to keep their homes, financial support to sustain tenancies will help to reduce the long-term cost to public services like housing, health and mental health that would otherwise be inevitable - offsetting some of the annual £8.3 billion cost of problem debt to the economy.
“The pandemic has taken an enormous financial toll on many households, but renters have been particularly badly hit: they are more likely to work in sectors affected by Covid, more likely to have lost income and more likely to have suffered mental ill-health” says Step Change chief executive Phil Andrew.
“The government’s continued suspension of rental evictions until the end of May is a positive step, but this alone will only serve as a stay of execution for those with unmanageable rent arrears.
“The government’s own research shows that private renters have been hardest hit by the pandemic yet there was no reference to renters in the recent Budget while mortgage support was extended for home-owners – a real missed opportunity to do whatever it takes to help a group so disproportionately disadvantaged.”
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