Broken benefits system leaves renters footing the bill for coronavirus
Half a million private renter households are losing £53m a month because the benefits system is failing to cover their rent. That is the shocking finding from our latest report on the impact of coronavirus on private renters.
Between February and August the number of private renters claiming benefits increased by 36% - or 507,000 households.
Two in five private renters (42%) – 1.9m households – now rely on Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to pay their rent, but miserly benefit rates mean that 538,000 households can’t cover their rent.
Half of all private renting families now rely on benefits to pay the rent
The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on families living in private rented homes. Over half are now reliant on benefits to pay the rent – including 1.82 million children. That’s an increase of 23% since February.
Yet, one in five families renting from a private landlord currently receive less in benefits than they need to pay their rent, our research has found. This leaves 378,000 families in England with a shortfall. More disturbingly, this figure includes 750,000 children living in households with this shortfall.
It just got easier to tackle criminal landlords in London
- It is estimated that one in seven homes in England is criminally unsafe - but the good news is it just got easier for tenants in London to do something about this. Sadiq Khan has today brought in a tool for renters to check if their home needs a licence.
Local councils are responsible for identifying and putting a stop to criminal landlords. In some cases, tenants can even claim rent back from a landlord who breaks the law.
But councils are not doing much to help renters identify illegal practice and exercise their rights which means that many landlords are getting away with criminal behaviour.
End of furlough puts 341,000 more renters at risk of debt
More than 340,000 private renters in Great Britain work in sectors at risk of lay-offs when the furlough scheme ends. This will add to the numbers of people who cannot cover their rent because housing benefit levels are inadequate, and are at risk of arrears and eviction.
We are calling on the government to raise Local Housing Allowance to cover the median rent so that families do not get into debt and to set up a fund to clear the debts of renters who have already got into serious arrears by compensating landlords up to 80% of the rent owed. We are also calling for fast-track abolition of Section 21 “no fault” evictions to prevent unnecessary hardship now that courts have reopened.
Renting as a family under Section 21 - Laura's Story
It can be difficult to think back on life before the coronavirus lockdown. But even as long ago as the first week in March, we knew we were on the cusp of it. It was during this time, when the lockdown turned from an ‘if’ to a ‘when’, that my family were greeted with a section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice.
Immediately we began searching for a new home, for ourselves and our two children. Unfortunately, it seemed every renter in Solihull had the same idea as us. With each day bringing us closer to a lockdown, the competition to secure a rented property grew fiercer. One day my partner and I walked away from a viewing and past a rival renter, who proceeded to look from the driveway at the outside of the property and say “yeah I’ll take it” before we had even made it to our car.
I can't save as a renter in London - Adam's story
At the end of January 2020, I was made redundant. However, I was given a much appreciated redundancy package with severance pay, and was able to quickly find a new job to move into. That was however before the coronavirus and lockdown was enforced and, at the end of March, I lost this job as well. I was able to temporarily pay my rent and living costs from my original severance pay, but under the unaffordable rent costs in London, these savings soon dwindled away.
In good faith, and in an effort to avoid debt, I contacted my landlord, requesting that, with the allowances property owners had been given by the Government, I could have a rent reduction until I found another job. My request was met with an outright rejection, and I quickly started receiving aggressive letters from my landlord’s solicitors, demanding that I pay the rent in full. This was impossible, and I was forced to terminate my tenancy in London and move away.
Once again, renters are vulnerable to revenge evictions
After six months of no evictions taking place at all, courts have reopened and landlords can resume the legal process of evicting their tenants.
Despite the government's insistence that "the most egregious" cases will be prioritised, tenants can still be booted out without a reason, with no ability to appeal it and only six weeks' grace if they face "extreme hardship".
This is possible because of Section 21, the law that the government promised to abolish last year. Today it is exactly one year since the government closed it's consultation on proposals to change the law, and we are still waiting for it to publish the Renters Reform Bill to make it all happen. Join our campaign to get Section 21 scrapped.
55,000 households left with no protection
The eviction moratorium ends on Sunday, and courts start hearing landlord possession cases again on Monday.
When it extended the ban for one final month, the government also said it would extend the notice period for most evictions from three months to six months (and did the following week). This will help a lot of people, but it doesn't help renters who were served notice up to 29 August and have not already moved out - an estimated 55,000 households.
Struggling renters are running out of options
At the end of August, courts were poised to reopen for eviction cases. Tenants who had been served an eviction notice during lockdown would have been left with no more protection from losing their home.
We continued to push the government to make good on its promise to keep people in their homes. One renter, Nichola, who faces eviction with her two daughters, spoke out and started a petition that got nearly 40,000 signatures. At the eleventh hour, the government announced a one-month extension of the evictions ban until 20th September. It also extended the notice that landlords must now give tenants to six months, as of 29 August.
But the respite will be short-lived. Tenants who have been asked to leave are still facing huge uncertainty. And because so many people have lost income in since the pandemic started, prospects are grim.
Will the Green Homes Grant leave renters out in the cold?
Earlier this month, the Chancellor announced £2bn of funding through a Green Homes Grant to insulate homes. Poor insulation is a huge issue for private renters: one in 10 of us live in a home that is unacceptably cold - that's twice the rate among home owners and social tenants.
But it's not easy to get landlords to make these improvements - landlords have no incentive to reduce energy bills that someone else pays, and tenants have no idea how long they'll live somewhere to benefit from better insulation.
Generation Rent appoints new Director
Generation Rent has appointed Alicia Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy, as its new Director. Alicia joins Generation Rent at a time when coronavirus has pushed renting even further up the political agenda: more than half of renters have lost income, and while evictions are suspended until August, state support is not enough to cover rent in many cases, leaving renters reliant on the goodwill of their landlords to avoid suffocating debt.