An influential group of MPs wants an end to repeated last minute extensions to the ban on evictions and instead wants financial support for renters.
The all-party Housing Communities and Local Government Committee, led by Labour MP Clive Betts, says the government must establish a system of financial support for renters who have amassed significant rent arrears, and reveal it as soon as possible.
Helping tenants pay arrears will be the simplest and most straightforward way to avoid evictions and help landlords receive income. The potential cost of £200m to £300m would prevent significant expenditure on homelessness assistance, the MPs say.
The MPs’ latest report, out today, praises government efforts to get the homeless inside over the early months of the pandemic and over the winter, but saves much of its criticism for how the government has handled private tenants.
Clive Betts says: “The ongoing crisis of rent arrears in the private rented sector is deeply concerning. The economic consequences of the pandemic could be long-lasting and become even more severe.
“The ban on evictions has ensured that people remain in their homes for now, but the debt will continue to increase. Landlords, many of whom only own one or two properties, will also be struggling with a loss of income.
“The government will have to find a solution that is workable for tenants and fair for landlords. The gravity of the situation means it should be treated just the same as other sectors of the economy and society that have a clear roadmap out of lockdown.
“Helping tenants pay their rent arrears would come at a cost, but would ultimately prevent significant expenditure on homelessness assistance further down the line.”
The MPs say the problem of arrears has been ”a looming cliff edge” for the duration of the pandemic, and claim several options exist to show how financial help could be given to renters.
These include low-interest loans adopted in Scotland and Wales, and modified discretionary housing payments.
“The critical element will be timeliness and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should bring forward a proposal as soon as possible” the committee states.
“Helping tenants pay their rent arrears is the simplest and most straightforward way to avoid evictions and help landlords receive income. The committee received an estimate that such a rent arrears relief package could potentially cost between £200m and £300m; however given the number of potential evictions it could prevent it would likely save significant expenditure on homelessness assistance.”
The committee also calls for an improvement on housing delivery for properties for social rent, concluding: “The government must invest in a social housebuilding programme that delivers 90,000 social rented homes a year for the next decade.”