UK Homelessness Could Skyrocket Because of the Coronavirus Rent Debt Crisis

Housing campaign group Generation Rent say that over half a million renters have reported being behind on rent payments in England alone, which could send 45,000 households into homelessness.
July 1, 2020, 2:46pm
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Photo: Peter Cripps / Alamy Stock Photo

Homelessness will treble this year if new measures aren't introduced to protect tenants who can’t pay their rent, warn housing campaign group Generation Rent.

Today, the organisation is advising that if the government doesn’t implement measures to protect renters before the 24th of August, when the ban on evictions lifts, it could see many thrown into arrears and homelessness. After that date, there is currently no coronavirus support for renters who may be struggling with their tenancy costs.

This warning has come after a stark rise in the rate of rent arrears during the pandemic. Since coronavirus hit the UK, the rate of rent arrears has risen from 4 percent to 13 percent, which could make 45,000 households homeless as a result. This will also cost councils – already stretched thin by the pandemic – an additional £117 million in temporary accommodation and other spending.

During the pandemic, over half a million (592,000) renters have already reported being behind on rent payments in England alone, according to the campaign. This includes students and non-UK nationals with no recourse to public funds – meaning they cannot apply for benefits.

As a result, the organisation is calling for more support for renters, who have already been in one of the most insecure positions during the pandemic. While landlords with mortgages have been offered mortgage holidays by the government, renters weren’t offered the same support, despite many losing their income.

Generation Rent say that new measures need to be implemented to protect renters from homelessness, such as a new “Coronavirus Home Retention Scheme” worth up to £750 million, which would remove rent arrears that aren’t covered by the welfare system by guaranteeing landlords’ income up to 80 percent of the rent. The campaign also suggested banning evictions for arrears that have occurred due to the pandemic, and well as raising Local Housing Allowance (LHA).

Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, told VICE News, "Holes in the safety net are putting half a million private renters in arrears. As soon as the evictions ban is lifted, we will see a spike in homelessness unless the government acts."

"Ministers have already taken bold action to protect jobs and give homeowners mortgage holidays, but renters are being left behind," continued Kennedy. "We need the government to boost the welfare system, provide real protection from eviction for people hit by the pandemic, and clear rent debt without simply underwriting unaffordable rents."

Housing charity Shelter has also noted the risk that the current pandemic poses to renters. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, told VICE News: "Private renting can be deeply unstable at the best of times, but the Covid-19 crisis has left many people drowning financially. Thousands of renters are already calling our emergency helpline terrified at the prospect of becoming homeless."

“When the evictions ban lifts on the 23rd of August, those who’ve fallen behind on their rent risk automatically losing their homes – and judges would have no way to stop it under the current rules," continued Neate. "But the government could step in and defuse this ticking time bomb of homelessness if it wanted to."