A new report published by the National Residential Landlords Association outlines the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the private rented sector. It warns that without financial support to tackle COVID-related rent arrears, the Chancellor is forcing landlords into a corner, writes Ossie Swaine, Partner and Residential Property Team Leader, at solicitors Bishop & Sewell.
They either have to accept continuing to receive no income or resort to repossessing their property with all the consequences this course of action entails for tenants.
The NRLA is warning that the goodwill of landlords in the face of mounting rent debts cannot continue without support from the Treasury.
Their report highlights the scale of the crisis, as over 800,000 people living in the private rented sector in England and Wales have rent arrears built since lockdown measures began which are still to be paid off. Of this group, the vast majority, 82 per cent, were not in arrears prior to the start of the pandemic.
Moreover, the majority of landlords (60 per cent) feel their lettings business will be negatively affected as a result of the pandemic, with 34 per cent saying their rental income has been impacted by the events of the past year. Despite more than 9 in 10 landlords being individuals, and almost half renting out just one or two properties, among those who had offered at least one tenant a rent-free period or allowed rent to be deferred, 58 per cent had absorbed the losses from their savings.
To help resolve this crisis, the government should introduce new measures to bring housing benefit support back into line with market rents. Government data shows that across the UK, in February 2021, 55 per cent of private rented households in receipt of Universal Credit which included housing cost support had a gap between that and the rents they paid. The average shortfall was £100 a month. Despite this, the Chancellor froze local housing allowance rates in cash terms from April this year, a decision the Institute for Fiscal Studies branded “arbitrary and unfair.”
The NRLA is calling for the Local Housing Allowance to return, at the very least, to covering the bottom 30 per cent of market rents in any given area, and preferably increased so that it covers average rents.
For the majority of tenants now in arrears but ineligible for benefit support, the NRLA is calling for a hardship loan scheme to help tenants pay off rent arrears built since lockdown measures started last March. These should be government guaranteed, interest free and repayable as the tenants’ incomes recover following the pandemic. The measure has the support of organisations such as the debt charities, StepChange and the Money Advice Trust, and Shelter.
Not only would it prevent tenants losing their home, it would stave off the difficulties that would be caused as a result of damaged credit scores. Of those tenants with COVID-related rent arrears, 26 per cent said that their landlord had attempted to reclaim these through a court order. Such steps serve to damage a tenant’s credit score making it difficult for them to access new housing in the future.
Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said:
“The Chancellor has clearly decided on a strategy of making landlords the scapegoats for a crisis of his own making. For less than the cost of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out Scheme’ he could provide landlords and tenants with the financial support they need to keep tenants in their homes and prevent damage to credit scores.
“Landlords want to sustain tenancies wherever possible, but without the support so many desperately need, the Chancellor will need to accept the tragic costs of his failure to act.”
The NRLA’s report, “Covid-19 and the Private Rented Sector – State of the Sector Report”, can be accessed online.
Ossie Swaine deals with all aspects of residential conveyancing, including sales, purchases and re-mortgages of freehold and leasehold property. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please do get in contact on Tel: +44 (0)20 707 9242 or Email: [email protected]
About Bishop & Sewell LLP
Bishop & Sewell is a long-established, full service Central London law firm – with an international reach – specialising in Personal, Property and Commercial legal matters. To learn more, visit www.bishopandsewell.co.uk