Renters who have fallen into arrears since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March should be offered a £270 million package of emergency grants and loans by the government, a coalition of charities and housing organisations has said.
The coalition, which includes Shelter, the National Residential Landlords Association, ARLA Propertymark, Crisis, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent, says the package would help both renters who have lost income during the pandemic and landlords who rely on rental income, while also preventing a possible rise in homelessness.
The call reflects widespread concern as the government’s ban on evictions, first launched in March, is set to end in just three weeks after it was extended by one month to 20 September.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Ever since this pandemic gripped hold of the country, causing chaos for hundreds of thousands of renters, our services have been deluged with calls from worried families and workers plunged unexpectedly into debt. When the ban lifts, their ability to clear COVID-arrears will be critical if they are to stay safe in their homes.
“We simply cannot afford to lurch into another devastating homelessness crisis now that will ruin countless lives and undermine the country’s economic recovery. This one-off opportunity to provide emergency relief to those renters most in need must not be missed.”
While the government has attempted to limit the effects of the pandemic by increasing housing benefit rates, the welfare system is still not providing enough for thousands of renters.
Recent research carried out by Shelter and YouGov found that 322,000 adult private renters – 4% – have fallen behind on their rent because of the pandemic.
The coalition has urged the government to offer ring-fenced grants to renters who already receive benefits or are eligible for them, which can be distributed by local councils.
It added that other tenants who have been furloughed or whose financial situations are set to soon improve should be offered government-backed interest-free loans to help them sustain their tenancies.
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Renters’ incomes have been particularly badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the extension to the pause on evictions, many may still face losing their home because of events they could not possibly have foreseen.
“The government needs to put in place dedicated financial support for tenants to help prevent increases in debt and homelessness. Such measures would also have a ripple effect, bolstering economic confidence.”
A government spokesperson said: “The government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic by banning evictions, preventing people getting into financial hardship and helping businesses to pay salaries.
“Our extension of the ban on evictions for a further four weeks means no renters will have been evicted for six months and we intend to require landlords to give six months’ notice to tenants before seeking repossession, supporting renters over winter.
“For those who need more support we have strengthened the welfare safety-net with a nearly £9.3 billion boost to the welfare system and there is already £180 million in Discretionary Housing Payments for councils to distribute to help renters with housing costs in the private and social rented sectors.”