One in 12 London tenants has fallen behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey suggests.
Some 30% of residents in the capital – more than 2 million people – rent their homes.
And 180,000 have built up arrears during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a City Hall poll.
Another 374,000 tenants – one in six – fear they won’t be able to keep up with payments much longer.
This means half a million people – a quarter of all renters in London – could risk losing their homes when the current ban on evictions lifts next week (23 August).
Landlords were banned from evicting tenants during the pandemic because of fears of mass homelessness as illness, lockdown restrictions and economic shock hit the incomes of people across the country.
A third of private renters in London believe the pandemic will have a big impact on their finances, according to the survey.
And with the coronavirus furlough scheme set to end in October, workers who have had cash coming in during lockdown could be made redundant.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the Government “needs to wake up to the terrifying prospect” of mass evictions in the capital.
“Housing charities, rental support groups and I have given the Government ample warning of the cliff edge approaching us on August 23,” he said
“If nothing is done, local authority housing services could be overwhelmed, and we could see a flood of people being forced onto the streets.”
Alicia Kennedy, director of tenants’ campaign group Generation Rent, said private tenants are bearing the brunt of the “economic shock” caused by coronavirus.
“Even if they’ve managed to keep on top of the rent so far, one in four renters is really struggling,” she warned.
“By failing to provide a decent safety net, the Government is leaving renters to burn through their savings or take on stomach-churning debt.”
Roz Spencer, head of service at Safer Renting, said the survey shows how widespread the problem facing renters is.
Her group – part of Southwark-based social justice charity Cambridge House – has seen illegal evictions and harassment of tenants increase compared to last year, she said.
“For some tenants Covid-19 has been the last straw, making a system that is already weighted heavily in favour of landlords, intolerable,” she added.
The Mayor wants ministers to introduce a so-called ‘triple lock’ of protections for renters that would involve:
- Increasing housing benefits to cover any rent tenants can’t pay because of Covid-19 – including arrears;
- Stopping Section 8 eviction notices – used when renters break the term of their contract – where a tenant has built up arrears because of the virus;
- Banning ‘no fault’ evictions, so they can’t be used as an alternative if tenants owe rent because of the pandemic.
Mr Khan also wants mortgage holidays for landlords – pauses to payments during coronavirus – to be passed on to tenants, so they don’t have to pay rent while their landlord isn’t paying their mortgage.
He says councils should get more cash to house those made homeless by the virus, and more action should be taken on illegal evictions.
But the Mayor has only recently called for tenants arrears to be scrapped – his first letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick setting out his ‘triple lock’ in April makes no mention of this.
Green Assembly member Sian Berry has been pushing better protections for renters since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak – and said it was “about time” the Mayor backed her call to cancel arrears.
“You always have to push him on renting,” Ms Berry said. “It’s not his instinct to do what’s right for renters first off, but he’s got there in the end.”
Under the Mayor’s ‘triple lock’ plan, arrears would be covered by an increase to housing benefit.
Ms Berry said she supported the plan because it would stop the cost of the pandemic being passed on to tenants.
But using housing benefit would mean the taxpayer covering owed rent for “a lot for landlords who don’t really need the help,” she explained.
The Green Assembly member said the number of tenants at risk of eviction in London is striking, and warned that many have been “suddenly saddled with debt” they simply can’t afford.
“This is money that even on old income levels [before the pandemic] you’d struggle to pay back,” she said.
“This is not debt that someone who’s a private renter in London can take on and repay in a sensible period.”