How to protect renters affected by coronavirus

Mar 17, 2020 4:42 PM

The Government must act now.

The pandemic affects us all - but private renters face particular problems. As the situation has escalated, renters have got in touch with us to express concern over self isolating safely in a shared house, and how they will pay their rent if they are forced to stay home, or lose their job. It's not just those who fall ill with coronavirus who are affected - many renters who are self-employed or on zero-hours contracts have already lost work, and many more are nervous about redundancy, unpaid leave or losing hours. Renters spend over 40% of their earnings on rent, and as a result, two thirds of renters have no savings.

So far, the Government has not set out how it plans to help renters. While the expansion of Statutory Sick Pay and Universal Credit in the Budget last week were welcome, more needs to be done to protect renters who are unable to pay the rent on their home. We've seen national and local government take bold action abroad: New York City and Miami have banned evictions, with France making funds available to postpone rent payments altogether.

Currently, renters' situations are largely dictated by the personal goodwill and financial situation of their landlord. The five-week wait for housing benefit as part of Universal Credit leaves many renters vulnerable to rent arrears. If you are unable to pay your rent, we recommend you speak to your landlord as soon as possible. It is usually beneficial for landlords to work with you and arrange to pay back arrears at a later date.  Some mortgage providers are able to offer payment holidays, and your landlord may be able to freeze your rent for a few weeks. Some landlords may also be able to offer repayment plans, too.

However, in a national public health crisis, renters need the certainty of a safe and secure place to live. Renters' security should not be left to the whim of individuals, and the Government needs to step in now.

We're calling for:

  • An immediate end to Section 8 evictions for rent arrears and Section 21 'no fault' evictions. The end of a private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness in England, and no one should be left without a safe, secure home as a result of prioritising their health over their ability to pay rent. Unwanted moves will also increase the risk of the virus spreading. The Courts should not issue a possession order for evictions under Section 21 and Section 8 for rent arrears until the threat from pandemic becomes less acute. The government must also press ahead with the Renters' Reform Bill to scrap Section 21 altogether.
  • A benefits system that protects renters from debt and homelessness. The five-week wait for Housing Benefit must be scrapped, and Housing Benefit must actually pay the rent, so the government should raise it from the levels frozen since 2016 to the median local rent. This would prevent increasing numbers of renters claiming Housing Benefit from falling into arrears, or choosing between rent and other essential bills or food, protecting their health in a crucial period.
  • A freeze on rent hikes. Renters already hand over almost half of their income to their landlords. Unaffordable rent hikes force tenants to move, often losing their community and support networks in the process. Freezing rent increases would protect renters whilst ensuring landlords can't exploit a new, higher housing benefit rate. 

Together, we're forcing the Government to listen. Overnight, almost 2,000 renters have written to their MP calling on them to protect renters. We've been in touch with policymakers across the political spectrum to make the case for an end to evictions, a freeze on rent rises and a benefits system that is fit for purpose, and we'll continue to fight for the right to a safe and secure home for all during the pandemic.

If you're worried about how the pandemic will affect you, we have gathered advice here.

Will you join our campaign? Sign up here.