Coronavirus: Number of renters in arrears doubles, says charity…

Woman unpacking

The number of private tenants in England who have fallen behind on rent has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, new research suggests.

Polling for housing charity Shelter estimated 226,785 are now in arrears despite having been up to date in March, out of a total of 442,403.

It said the figures showed the need for action before a ban on new evictions ends next month.

The government said those hit hardest would get “appropriate protection”.

A ban on new evictions of social or private tenants in England and Wales has been extended for two months and is currently due to end on 23 August.

But the charity Shelter is warning that the winding down of the government’s furlough scheme could leave people even more exposed to eviction if they lose their jobs.

A Shelter poll of 1,058 private renters in England conducted by YouGov estimated 442,403 of the country’s 8.7m renters – roughly 5% – were in arrears in early June.

Of them, 226,785 said they were up to date with payments in March, before the height of the pandemic.

Of those who had contact with their landlord or letting agent since March, around 6% of those surveyed said they had been threatened with eviction.

Around a third of respondents said they feel more depressed and anxious about their housing situation, with 30% also experiencing sleepless nights.

Law change urged

The charity’s chief executive Polly Neate said thousands of renters were at risk of homelessness unless the government changed the law on evictions.

“We know people have been doing whatever they can to pay their rent and keep their home safe,” she said.

“Despite this, the minute the evictions ban lifts, the 230,000 already behind with their rent could be up for automatic eviction if they’ve built up eight weeks-worth of arrears,” she added.

She called on ministers to make “small changes” to eviction law to ensure no renter is automatically evicted, and the impact of Covid-19 is “always considered”.