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.
In August we asked our supporters how their situation has changed under lockdown.
Of the 636 private renters who responded to Generation Rent’s survey, 45% had lost income and 5% had been asked to move out since March. Two thirds of renters who have lost income (68%) are struggling to pay their rent, and are reducing spending, getting into debt, using up savings or getting into arrears. 14% of private renters who reported losing income are in arrears.
Private renters in financial difficulty are 50% more likely than private renters who have not struggled to be at risk of losing or being priced out of their home. One in five (20%) of those who were struggling have been asked to leave by their landlord, faced a rent increase or been warned that they might have to move out.
In comparison, one in eight private renters who have been able to pay rent with no problems (13%) are at risk of losing their home. While increased rent arrears are likely to fuel evictions, one in 6 respondents who reported facing eviction told us (unprompted) that their landlord was selling the property.
While the government says it wants courts to prioritise evictions involving anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and arrears dating from before coronavirus, they've offered no protection once courts reopen for renters whose notice period has ended. As a result nearly half of tenants who are struggling with rent are already searching for a new home (43%) - but most of them (59%) are unable to find one they can afford or a landlord who will accept them.
For renters who have firmer finances, 31% have been house-hunting and 40% of them report struggling to find a new home.
The number of renters in debt to their landlords is likely to increase when the furlough scheme is wound down and redundancies start, as the welfare system is failing to cover renters’ housing costs. Our survey found that just 18% of people who had applied for benefits since lockdown began had no problems paying rent. This is compared to the 54% of people getting income-related benefits before lockdown who have been able to pay in full.
It is a scandal that the lack of government support is leaving so many renters with no option but to look for a new home - a task made even harder when their income has been cut and letting agents automatically reject anyone receiving benefits. People who can't find a new home can seek help from the council but will usually have to wait for the bailiffs before being rehoused.
The extended notice period is welcome, but thousands of renters who have already had notice or are behind on rent still have months of uncertainty and hardship ahead.
We're calling on the government to pass emergency legislation to restrict 'no fault' evictions, and those for rent arrears, to ensure renters who have been hit by the pandemic do not lose their homes this autumn. Ministers must also ensure that the safety net is fit for purpose and prevents further arrears from building up.