Renters in England who accrued arrears during the COVID-19 pandemic could now face eviction – despite the government recently extending a ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in England until at least 21 February following the reintroduction of a national lockdown.
It has emerged that, on the very same day the ban extension was enacted, regulations were later published removing a major protection for tenants who fall behind on rent as a result of the crisis – the first time such a regulation has been imposed since the onset of the pandemic.
Legislation published in November stated that eviction notices could be served only for arrears where the amount owed to the landlord totalled the equivalent to nine months’ rent and that any unpaid rent arrears accrued after 23 March 2020 “must be disregarded”.
The updated legislation from Friday, which came into effect on the following Monday, lowers the arrears threshold to six months’ rent and removes any mention of disregarding debt built up during the pandemic.
‘Halt evictions and write off debt’
The London Renters Union (LRU) called the amendment “desperately cruel”.
LRU organiser Alva Gotby said: “There are now more than 800,000 people in rent debt, and the government is putting them all at risk of homelessness.
“The government promised repeatedly that no one would lose their homes because of the pandemic – clearly they lied.
“The government must immediately halt all evictions and write off rent debt that renters have built up during the pandemic.”
Last March, at the very start of the crisis, Housing secretary Robert Jenrick stated: “The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to Coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”
A government spokesperson said: “We’ve provided unprecedented support for renters during the pandemic through the ban on the enforcement of evictions, furlough, and boosting the welfare system by billions – increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 for the year will help reduce rent arrears.
“Most evictions that will be enforced will relate to cases that pre-date the pandemic, and where landlords may have been waiting over a year without rent being paid.
“In order to strike the right balance between supporting both tenants and landlords, arrears equivalent to a full six months’ or more rent will no longer be exempt from eviction enforcement.
“Strong protections remain in place with most renters still subject to six months’ notice periods, and also court rules and arrangements introduced in September to respond to the pandemic.”
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.