An estimated 840,000 private tenants have arrears over the past year since the first eviction ban was announced, according to a trade body.
And the scale of debt in many cases is such that individuals can have no realistic hope of repaying, putting them at risk of eviction when the current ban - likely to be the final one - ends in the early summer.
The National Residential Landlords Association says that in addition to increasing the threat of eviction, such arrears will have damaged many renters’ credit scores, making future mortgages or other loans much harder to secure.
The association says that although most landlords have been working with struggling tenants to help keep them in their homes as far as possible, 60 per cent of member landlords have lost rental income as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 39 per cent said the losses were continuing to increase.
The situation for landlords is being made worse by the strains that the courts are now under in hearing the relatively few cases that are being allowed to go ahead. And this is worsened, says the NRLA, by the courts backlog.
This means that arrears build up still further during the average period of one year that it takes from a private landlord making a claim in court to repossess a property to it being enforced.
The association says this is despite cases currently being considered by the courts being the most serious including those related to tenant anti-social behaviour and other criminal activity and where rent arrears were building before lockdown measures started last year.
The NRLA is renewing its call for an urgent financial package to pay off rent debts built as a result of the pandemic.
Government guaranteed, interest free hardship loans should be available for the majority of tenants now in arrears but who do not qualify for benefit support, the NRLA urges; it also wants grants to be made available for those in receipt of benefits.
The association additionally wants courts to make much better use of technology to ensure that legitimate possession cases can be heard more swiftly.
This would make it easier for tenants to attend hearings by video - which currently very few do in person.