More than 800,000 private tenants in England and Wales could be behind on their rent, with young people and the self-employed most likely to have missed payments, research for a landlords group has found.
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) warned of a “rent debt crisis” and called for government action to help struggling tenants.
A survey for the NRLA found 7% of renters had built up arrears as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a figure that would equate to 840,000 people across England and Wales.
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While the average arrears were between £251 and £500, some tenants reported that they owed their landlord more than £1,000.
Renters aged between 18 and 24 were twice as likely to have fallen behind as the general population of tenants, and the self-employed were most likely to be struggling, with 17% saying they had built up debts to their landlord.
These groups have been hard hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. Young people have suffered disproportionately from job cuts, while many self-employed people have been unable to access government job support schemes and have seen their incomes fall dramatically as a result.
Homeowners and landlords have been able to ask for payment holidays, but tenants have had to negotiate with property owners on an individual basis. Some landlords have been flexible over payments, and some have reduced rents for struggling tenants, but they have not been obliged to take any action.
Ben Beadle, the chief executive of the NRLA, said: “Our research highlights in stark terms the rent debt crisis now engulfing the rental market. While the vast majority of landlords have done everything possible to support tenants affected due to Covid-19, expecting them to muddle through without further support is hurting tenants as well as landlords.”
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A pause on evictions is in place until mid-January across the UK and landlords now need to give six months’ notice before they can repossess a property from a tenant, although exclusions apply to this rule, including for those who are more than six months in arrears on their rent.
However, Beadle said: “Ministers need to accept that simply banning repossessions does nothing to keep tenants in their homes long-term. In fact, it will achieve the complete opposite as in kicking the can down the road it just means larger debts piling up, creating a bigger problem for tenants and also for landlords.
“To sustain tenancies, the government needs to provide an urgent financial package to get rent debts built due to the pandemic paid off.”