Fears over 'perfect storm' for renters as eviction ban set to end

Protections for tenants living in rented accommodation hit by the spread of coronavirus must not be

Fears for struggling renters are growing as the national eviction ban is set to end - Credit: Archant

Landlords started proceedings to repossess properties from more than 100 Norfolk tenants in the three months to December, figures reveal.

An eviction ban was introduced last March when the pandemic started, stopping in September before being reintroduced in the new year.

But with it now set to end by the beginning of April, Shelter Norfolk has called on the government to give struggling renters in the county a “real way out of debt”.

Across the county, landlords started proceedings against 134 tenants between October and December - up from 47 over the previous three months, though still well below the 685 claims made during the same period in 2019.

Of those actions, the majority were possession claims, with 86 recorded in the last quarter of 2020.

In the same period there were also 22 orders for a tenant to leave their home by a certain date, and 15 warrants to evict people in breach of previous orders.

And 11 homes were repossessed across the county after the government briefly lifted the eviction ban in September, before reinstating it as the country went into lockdown in the new year.

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Currently, bailiffs are not allowed to evict people under the ban except in certain cases, including when tenants have built up significant arrears.

In January, the Government lowered the eviction threshold to six months' rent arrears, and removed a condition that debt built up during the pandemic could not be counted.

Emma Corlett is the Norfolk Labour county councillor for Town Close, and helps run the NR2 foodbank in Norwich.

She said a “perfect storm” was coming with the eviction ban and mortgage holidays both set to end by the summer.

“We’re seeing a lot of housing pressures particularly with private rented accommodation,” she said.

“People who are on furlough or have had a massive cut in their hours make up the majority of the people who use the NR2 foodbank.

Emma Corlett has refused calls for her to stand aside in North Norfolk Pictures: supplied by Emma Co

Emma Corlett has refused calls for her to stand aside in North Norfolk Pictures: supplied by Emma Corlett - Credit: Archant

“Their housing costs are just crippling them every month. We’ve made lots of referrals to the Norfolk Assistance Scheme, which has been providing financial support for housing costs.

“The mortgage holiday is coming to an end too soon, so it really is a bit of a perfect storm.”

Lesley Burdett, hub manager for Shelter Norfolk, said short bans were not the answer to the eviction crisis, and accused the government of kicking the can down the road.

“We know renters in Norfolk continue to be served with eviction notices, and our services are hearing from those terrified of losing their homes,” said Ms Burdett.

“Before the ban is lifted, the government must give renters who have fallen behind a real way out of debt. That means a lifeline of emergency grants to help pay off ‘Covid-arrears’ so people can avoid the risk of eviction and the threat of homelessness.”

Lesley Burdett, hub manager for Shelter Norfolk

Lesley Burdett, hub manager for Shelter Norfolk - Credit: Shelter

Across England, around 8,200 repossession claims were lodged between October and December – up from just 3,800 the previous three months.

There were 520 repossessions, compared to none in the three months to September, although both claims and repossessions were still well below pre-pandemic levels.

Thinktank the Resolution Foundation is urging the government to provide more financial help for people struggling to pay their rent amid a “mounting arrears crisis”.

“Renters have been particularly badly hit. Many have taken huge hits to their earnings and have limited savings to fall back on,” said research director Lindsay Judge.

“To make matters worse, measures that could ease the pressure, such as Discretionary Housing Payments from local authorities and negotiated rent reductions from landlords, are not getting through to those that need them.”

Norwich residents have some of the largest amounts of unsecured personal debt.

Shelter Norfolk say they are supporting tenants who are terrified of losing their homes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The group is calling for ministers to improve access to the DHP scheme and introduce a UK-wide tenant loan system to ease the pressure on renters, landlords and the courts.

A government spokesman said: “Our increases to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit of up to £1,040 for the year are helping to reduce rent arrears.

“Councils can also provide additional support to renters through the £180 million Discretionary Housing Payment scheme.

“This support to prevent rent arrears, our ban on bailiff evictions except for the most serious of cases and our action to extend notice periods has seen the number of repossessions between October and December down 93% from the same quarter in 2019.”