In the midst of a global pandemic, another dangerous crisis is emerging on British soil. This time, Day Zero will be the 25th of June. Unless action is taken before this point, the UK government’s inability to provide strong safety nets for private renters will end in perhaps the worst housing crisis this country has faced yet.
Private renting has seen a significant increase of 63% in the previous decade, with 4.5million households now living in the private rented sector. With few rights as renters, the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased how fragile this market is, and the danger this poses to millions. Government measures announced in mid-March to protect renters and landlords lack any financial support, rent freeze or subsidies, and instead suggests co-operation between tenants and landlords to avoid devastation. While the effective “eviction freeze” until the end of June has provided short term reassurance, its lifting can only end in mass evictions unless more is done.
This crisis cannot be understated. Unless the Government provides financial support for renters, or a rent freeze, mass evictions will become the norm, as more and more are unable to meet their monthly rent. Research by Citizens Advice this month showed 2.6million tenants have already missed a rent payment, or expect to do so, owing to coronavirus. As an increasing number of workers are furloughed or face job losses, lack of home security will become a serious threat to millions. Private renters especially will struggle to make ends meet as the English Housing Survey of 2017-18 found that 63% of this group reported no savings. A further study, by YouGov and Shelter, found that in 2019, almost three million private renters were a single pay check away from losing their home. Such a dire situation prior to the pandemic can only have been expedited since.
Worryingly, this appears to be affecting our most vulnerable disproportionately; those in the government’s categories of “increased risk” to COVID-19 are three times as likely to have fallen behind on a bill during this time. Families with children are also at an increased risk of losing their homes during this pandemic. In the same YouGov and Shelter study in 2019, it was found that in the case of job loss, 44% of these renting families would not be able to pay their rent or mortgage from savings at all. This means that 550,000 families would be immediately unable to pay their rent in the case of job loss, a prospect increasingly likely in the current climate.
Come June 25th, when the eviction freeze ends and court proceedings begin again, where will these families go? Recent government leaks suggesting the end of the homelessness support scheme enacted in March, will expedite this fear and rightly so. A large portion of our society has been abandoned by their government. To avoid the imminent crisis, the government must do more – as must the opposition in holding them to account. Labour’s recent 5-stage plan response was welcomed but found lacking – it too did not propose the rent freezes or subsidies that would alleviate those in precarious positions.
This pandemic has the potential to be the crescendo of a housing crisis that’s been brewing for years, and unless we see a major re-shaping of legislative support for renters, it will be catastrophic. Going forward, there must be an in-depth assessment of how housing is provided in this country, and for now we must put pressure on elected officials to immediately provide home security for all, through legislation and financial support.
Anyone who is facing homelessness can get free and expert advice from Shelter by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help or by calling their emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444. If you too feel strongly about this, get in contact with your local MP to put pressure on the government.