More than a million renters could be at risk of losing their homes when the government’s ban on evictions ends, a leading homelessness charity has warned MPs.
Ruth Ehrlich, policy officer at Shelter, made the claim as she gave evidence to a cross-party committee investigating the impact of the lockdown on the rental sector.
Ehrlich said that analysis of surveys carried out not just by her charity but other organisations suggested up to ten percent of all renters could be behind on payments to landlords.
Racking up such debt leaves people at risk of being forced out of their homes once the government’s ban on evictions comes to an end on August 23.
Speaking to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Monday, Ehrlich said of the surveys undertaken by Shelter and other groups: “The results vary to show that between five and 10 percent of renters have accrued arrears.
“Our studies previously suggest that about two percent of private renters tend to be in arrears at any given time, so depending on which data you’re using it’s either 2.5 times and five times more than normal.
“If you’re looking at those upper estimations it’s over a million people who are in arrears and that’s half a million homes at risk.”
Ehrlich also claimed that despite the current ban on evictions, which was introduced at the end of March and then extended on June 25, many thousands of renters had been told to leave properties by landlords.
“It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many people are going to be evicted but we have conducted some polling via YouGov that suggests there has already been significant movement out of the sector since March.
“So 58,000 households have left since March at their landlords’ request and we know that 174,000 renters have been told by their landlords that they are going to be evicted in the coming months.
“There is going to be a lot of movement and what is now urgent is government takes steps to protect renters before that protection comes to an end.”
Ehrlich’s concerns were echoed by Caitlin Wilkinson from Generation Rent, who also argued that the support networks available to those who wished to challenge eviction notices might not be able to cope.
She said: “Solicitors who work in legal aid centres have told us they fear that because of this pressure on the system the legal aid system might be overrun so there’ll be problems that those tenants who might need legal aid, they’ll simply be so much demand that they won’t be able to get it.”
Chris Norris, director of policy at the National Residential Landlords Association, said his organisation had been “reassured” by the cooperation between landlords and tenants, claiming that three quarters of those who had asked for helped had “got what they asked for”.
He added: “We expect there to be something like four or five percent of private rented households where arrears are building.
“Whether they count as significant is somewhat subjective.
“We think that in a typical case where arrears have accrued it’s between two and three months rental arrears.
“It’s enough there to trigger potentially a possession claim in the future in some of those cases but unless it preexisted or predated the Covid crisis its not in the tens of thousands of pounds, or the six to 12 months rent arrears we see in the worst possible cases.”
Ehrlich hit back at Norris’ assessment, saying: “Any arrears are significant when you can be served a Section 21 [eviction] notice at any time.”