Britain is on the cusp of a crisis “worse than anything we’ve ever seen before in this country” with thousands of people in rent arrears amid the COVID-19 lockdown, according to grass-roots tenancy organisations.
The UK faces a major “crisis” in rent arrears and possible mass evictions as the government’s temporary evictions freeze is due to end on 25 June, according to the London Renters Union. One survey cited by the organisation shows that only 48 percent of rents have been collected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for The London Renters Union, which represents thousands of renters across London, explained to Sputnik why they think there is a disaster waiting to happen for thousands of renters and what can be done to stop it.
Sputnik: London Renters Union has warned of an upcoming “disaster of a rent debt and evictions crisis, worse than anything we’ve ever seen before in this country”. What exactly do you mean by this?
London Renters Union: If the government allows its ban on evictions to expire and the housing courts reopen, then the enormous number of renters who have not been able to pay their rent before or during lockdown will be threatened with homelessness. We know that many renters have already been served with eviction notices – again, before or during lockdown – and they are in danger of being kicked out of their homes as soon as the ban is lifted.
Sputnik: You have said that the British government’s call for landlords to “act with compassion” hasn’t prevented “many illegal evictions”. What evidence is there that there are “many illegal evictions” occurring during the pandemic?
London Renters Union: The LRU and other tenants unions have been contacted many times by renters who have been illegally evicted from their homes.
Additionally, research by Opinium has found that of renters whose work has been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, a quarter (25%) have either had to voluntarily leave their home, move in with friends or parents, or request for their tenancy to end earlier than planned to avoid paying rent.
Sputnik: The government has said it was preparing to force landlords to negotiate before using section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 to evict people, but not section 21. Explain the difference between landlords seeking eviction under Section 8 and Section 21 and why the difference matters.
London Renters Union: Landlords can use Section 8 to try to evict when a household is in rent arrears, but landlords can use Section 21 “no fault” notices to evict without any reason. Both make renters vulnerable because they make tenancies precarious. The government promised to scrap Section 21 evictions, but hasn’t yet done so.
Sputnik: Surely, there will be many landlords who depend on the rent they receive to pay their own rent and pay for necessities. How is it fair to landlords if people renting their property don’t pay what they owe?
London Renters Union: Landlords are very wealthy – they own valuable property – and have already received support during the pandemic in the form of a mortgage holiday. But two thirds of renters have no savings at all, so it’s renters who should be the government’s priority. Fundamentally, renters shouldn’t have to face rent arrears or even homelessness because of the pandemic.
Sputnik: What can renters do to enforce their rights during this time?
London Renters Union: If you can, join a tenants union today. You can also go on londonrentersunion.org for information on your rights, how to tell your landlord that you can’t pay all you rent, and how to resist eviction.
Sputnik: What, if anything, can be done to ensure an eviction and debt crisis are averted in a manner that is fair for everyone involved?
London Renters Union: People who’ve signed up to our campaign at www.cantpaywontpay.uk are sharing skills in how to tell their landlords that they can’t and won’t pay rent – and in how to resist eviction if it comes to that. To avoid an evictions crisis, the government must suspend rent payments, cancel rent debt and put a permanent ban on evictions – and ultimately we need an end to racist policies that deny migrants benefits, we need rent controls and we need more social housing.