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StepChange calls for emergency support for tenants in rent arrears

StepChange Debt Charity has urged the UK government to introduce financial support for tenants at risk of losing their homes as evictions for rent arrears resume in England.

Evictions because of rent arrears were suspended last year to protect renters during the Covid-19 pandemic and was in place until June 1.

 

However, StepChange has voiced its concerns about the lifting of the suspension as there is no plan in place to help resolve the £360m Covid-19-related rent debt that has built up over the past year.

 

StepChange chief executive, Phil Andrew, said: “The rental eviction suspension was the last lifeline for many renters, who have been among the groups worst hit by the pandemic. The number of private renters in arrears has doubled since the start of the pandemic to 460,000 people. With evictions now resuming, many will be facing an uncertain future without additional financial support.

 

“Support from government, like furlough and benefit uplifts, has been important in helping people through the pandemic, but not sufficient to keep many renters out of arrears. There are clear gaps in support which have seen a £360 million black hole of rent debt build up over the course of the pandemic.”

 

The charity, alongside Generation Rent, Money Advice Trust, National Residential Landlords Association, PropertyMark and Shelter, has set out how a package of grants and no-interest loans could be provided in England to act as a bridge to recovery for tenants and landlords and will deliver the proposals to MPs, the Treasury and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) officials this week.

 

The proposed package includes grants for low-income households who have built up rent arrears during the pandemic and HMRC no-interest loans for anyone, including the self-employed, that has been forced into rent arrears but not eligible for the grant.

 

It also suggests that loan repayments should only start once a person’s annual income reaches £20,000 – the median of the London real living and national real living wage.

 

Andrew added: “[The proposed package] will help keep people in their homes, avert mounting problem debt, housing insecurity and homelessness and will enable people to get back on their feet after a devastating year. What’s more, an extra 30,000 evictions would cost the public purse in the region of £225 million, yet almost all of these costs can be prevented by investing a similar amount now.

 

“The housing secretary said in March 2020 that no-one should lose their home due to the pandemic – it’s time for decisive action to back that up.”

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