After the rental evictions ban was lifted, StepChange Debt Charity has warned that without affordable options to address renters’ arrears, a sharp rise in homelessness “is a real possibility”.
StepChange head of policy, research and public affairs Peter Tutton explained that at the time of last month’s eviction ban extension, StepChange urged the government to implement a statutory pre-action protocol. This would give courts discretion in cases where arrears have built up as a result of the pandemic.
His warning came alongside new research from StepChange that shows that up to 206,000 people who’ve been affected by coronavirus are currently behind on their rent.
Just as, after an initial extension, the eviction ban was lifted on Sunday September 20, StepChange also called for an acceleration of plans to end Section 21 no-fault evictions, which it hoped would prevent landlords from being able to “evade protections”.
Tutton said: “The delay in lifting the ban appears to have been no more than a stay of execution. The government must step up to amend the Housing Act to ensure no one in rent arrears and affected by coronavirus is subject to a mandatory eviction order by the courts.
“The government must also implement a National Recovery Fund to provide grants and loans to help those struggling with arrears and debt due to Covid-19 keep their homes.”
In August, a coalition of landlords, letting agents and charities called for an emergency fund to help renters clear Covid-19 debts.
A spokesperson for the High Court Enforcement Officers Association said: “The Ministry of Justice has given the go-ahead for possessions activity to re-start today, but the only cases we will see coming forward in the near future will be those that began before the pandemic started, which were then placed on hold back in the spring.
"We can’t forget that there are some landlords – who might only have one property they rent out – who have not received rental income for many months. If they can’t charge rent then they could end up being tomorrows’ debtors, and that would benefit no-one.
"More broadly, our members and clients will be flexible and sympathetic in the way they approach this issue. We have already unanimously adopted a post-lockdown plan for enforcement activity and will consider the case-by-case circumstances of judgment debtors and ensure they are treated fairly whilst allowing creditors to recover the money they are owed."