The moratorium on evictions in England and Wales, which was introduced in March, is set to end this coming Sunday, prompting senior health officials and housing charities to voice their concerns regarding a potential spike in COVID-19 as a result of increasing homelessness.
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The ban, which was initially meant to lapse in June, was extended until August to provide relief to the hundreds of thousands of tenants who have fallen behind in rent payments as a result of COVID-19 related job loss or furloughs. Citizen's Advice reports that one in nine people have reported falling behind on household bills during the pandemic.
Housing charity Shelter estimates that about 227,000 renters, representing 3% of all private renters, have fallen into arrears since the beginning of the pandemic. Ending the ban would put all of these individuals at the risk of losing their homes in a time when staying home and self-isolation is critical to avoiding getting infected.
Apart from the trouble the end of the ban spells for tenants, arrears on rent could also affect landlords who are reliant on rental income to pay their own bills and housing costs, leading to a vicious cycle of homelessness.
A group of leading health bodies and housing charities, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Faculty of Public Health have written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, urging him to consider further extending the scheme, warning that evicting people under the current circumstances could lead to an unprecedented public health risk.
Scotland and Ireland have already announced plans to extend similar eviction bans until March, putting additional pressure on the government of England to take action to prevent an impending crisis of homelessness.
County courts in England are already facing a huge backlog of around 40,000 eviction cases thanks to their reduced operating capacity as a result of social distancing measures. The end of the eviction ban, combined with the end of the government furlough scheme in October is likely to drive a significant increase in the number of homelessness applications, which could threaten to completely overwhelm housing departments.
What’s more, an acute shortage of temporary emergency housing means that the authorities would need to find alternative means of rehoming individuals who have been evicted – possibly putting them up in budget hotels, at a significant expense to government coffers. The District Councils Network (DCN) estimates that as many as 500,000 people could face the risk of eviction, since more than half their personal income is spent on rent.
Landlords' associations have attempted to assuage tenant fears, stating that despite the ban ending, it is unlikely that people facing COVID-19 related financial issues will be immediately evicted. Policy Director for the National Residential Landlords Association, Chris Norris has said: "Our research clearly shows that the vast majority of landlords and tenants are working together constructively to sustain tenancies wherever possible.”
In the meanwhile, Citizens’ Advice has advised tenants to gather evidence for rent paid and any communication with their landlords, as well as to stay in the loop regarding the notice period for possible eviction.