Coronavirus: ‘Onslaught’ of tenants will be unable to afford rent as research shows 1.7m believe they could lose jobs

Shelter urges emergency action to prevent spiralling debt and evictions in private rental sector

Ashley Cowburn
Poltical Correspondent
Thursday 16 April 2020 09:34
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New analysis suggests Tenant Fee Act could save renters £192 million each year
New analysis suggests Tenant Fee Act could save renters £192 million each year

A prominent housing charity has warned of an “onslaught” of people unable to afford their rent, suggesting 1.7 million believe they will lose their jobs in the next three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Highlighting risks of spiralling debt and “needless evictions” in the summer months, new research from Shelter claims nearly one in four renters (24 per cent) in England have already seen their incomes fall or lost their jobs.

According to polling carried out by YouGov for the charity – after the government unveiled the coronavirus job retention scheme – 23 per cent also said losing their job will leave them unable to pay their rent immediately.

Shelter added that 19 per cent of the 498 renters who responded said they believed it was either very or fairly likely they will become unemployed in the next three months. Using data from the Office for National Statistics, the charity estimated this would amount to 1,696,000 million private renters in England.

The organisation said that a growing number of people will be forced to rely on welfare payments for the first time due to covid-19, and urged the government to increase housing benefit so that it covers the average costs of local rents.

Last month, the chancellor Rishi Sunak said landlords would now have to give all renters three months’ notice if they intend to end a tenancy – a policy that will remain in force until at least September 2020.

Unlike those who have purchased property and can request a “mortgage holiday” from banks, however, millions of renters facing financial difficulty will have to seek help from landlords on an individual basis. Renters’ unions and opposition parities have previously called on the government to suspend rents throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate praised the decision to temporarily suspend evictions during the pandemic, but added: “Millions of renters will be in dire straits further down the line without more government support.

“As renters lose their jobs and see their incomes hit, many will have to rely on the welfare safety net for the first time. Our services are already hearing from families in homes they could comfortably afford under normal circumstances, who are now in serious financial difficulty.

“We are facing an onslaught of people suddenly unable to afford their rent, at a time when people need to stay put and cannot safely move to a cheaper home. To avoid spiralling debt and needless evictions once the ban lifts, the government must increase the housing element of universal credit so that it covers the average cost of local rents.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government has put in place unprecedented measures to support tenants from getting into financial hardship or rent arrears, including protecting millions of jobs up and down the country and increasing universal credit and housing allowances.

“Emergency legislation is now in place so no social or private renter can be forced out of their home – with landlords unable to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least the next three months. We have the power to extend this if necessary."

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