Charity Warns of Potential Homelessness Crisis as Eviction Ban Deadline Looms

Potential Homelessness

Thousands of private tenants across the UK have fallen into arrears due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people now face the risk of homelessness when the ban on evictions comes to an end.

New figures published by Citizens Advice indicate that in January, at least 500,000 private tenants fell behind on their rent payments, with the average debt level per household having reached £730. For almost 60% of these tenants, this was the first time they had ever fallen into arrears and had done so through no direct fault of their own.

According to the debt charity StepChange, there could be up to 150,000 private tenants across the country who now face the prospect of eviction. Their research suggests that up to £370 million in rent arrears have amassed during the COVID-19 crisis, resulting in insurmountable debt for many of those affected.

Zero-hours contracts, job losses, and general financial turbulence have resulted in thousands being unable to pay their rent, having never before missed a single payment.

Evictions ban coming to an end

While the government’s prohibition of private tenant evictions has so far been extended a number of times, the current deadline of May 31 has not yet been altered. This means that any landlords who choose to evict their tenants for failure to pay their rent (even due to COVID-19-related financial issues) will once again be able to do so legally by the end of the month.

Speaking on behalf of StepChange, Richard Lane warned of a potential eviction and homelessness crisis on the immediate horizon.

“Last year, the housing secretary said no one should lose their home because of the pandemic, but this is a real prospect for hundreds of thousands of people, more than half of whom were never in arrears before,” he said.

“With the expiry of the eviction suspension just weeks away, now is the time to find decisive solutions or face a crisis of housing insecurity, problem debt, homelessness, and eviction.”

Critics continue to accuse the government of failing to take sufficient action to avoid a crisis that has been looming for some time.

“If the government doesn’t act, the system will collapse under the weight of a growing eviction crisis after the final bailiff ban lifts,” warned Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter.

“The government’s ambition to end homelessness will be totally undermined if more people lose their homes in the year ahead. It must step in to help renters clear their COVID-19 rent debts before it’s too late.”

Meanwhile, a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government claimed that more than £140 million has been allocated to local councils to help tackle the issue.

“We’ve put people at the heart of our decision-making, with an unprecedented £352 billion package keeping millions in work and temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net for those most in need,” said the representative.

“Robust protections are still in place for renters, including longer notice periods and banning bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases until May 31. Councils can also provide support through the discretionary housing scheme.”

“We are considering the best way to move on from these emergency measures and will set out further details in due course.”