Key worker facing homelessness as government ban on evictions set to end

Video report by ITV News correspondent Sejal Karia

A key worker says she and her two teenage daughters face homelessness within the next six weeks as a ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.

Nichola McClean is one of the thousands of private renters set to be impacted as the emergency legislation expires, housing charity Shelter has warned.

After being furloughed, Ms McClean fell behind on her rent - though she's back at work and paying rent plus arrears - she's been served with an eviction notice.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she told ITV News.

"I have to find a home. I cannot afford for us to be put in emergency accommodation. It's devastating".

According to Shelter, up to 230,000 tenants could be at risk of similar evictions at the end of the August once the ban is lifted.

Approximately 3% of private renters, some 227,000 people, have fallen into arrears during the coronavirus pandemic, the charity warned.

Emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation during the coronavirus "national emergency" was introduced in March.

Homelessness charities want to see long-term funding and a commitment to making a difference to people's lives. Credit: PA

But the eviction ban is to end on August 23 putting thousands of tenants who have fallen behind on their rent at risk.

Under current legislation, anyone who accrues rent arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted.

Shelter says that unless the government acts to protect renters thrown into financial difficulty by Covid-19, judges will be powerless to stop them from losing their homes once the ban lifts.  

Shelter's chief executive, Polly Neate said: “The Housing Secretary promised no-one would lose their home because of coronavirus. But the financial chaos of Covid-19 means that many private renters are in danger of being evicted when the current ban lifts.

"Unless he acts now, he will break his promise, and put thousands of renters at risk of homelessness.  

A survey by Shelter found that 174,000 tenants had already been threatened with eviction during the pandemic. Credit: PA

“We know people have been doing whatever they can to pay their rent and keep their home safe. Despite this, the minute the evictions ban lifts, the 230,000 already behind with their rent could be up for automatic eviction if they’ve built up eight weeks-worth of arrears. And judges will be powerless to help them.

"That’s more than the entire population of Portsmouth at risk of losing their homes. And let’s not forget: this pandemic is not over. "

Following a YouGov survey, Shelter claim 174,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent.

Shelter found nearly a third of renters - 2.7 million adults (31%) - feel more depressed and anxious about their housing situation. And the same number say they are having sleepless nights.

Ms Neate added: “The Housing Secretary can still avert this disaster. He can prevent these ‘Covid-evictions’ as the pandemic continues and keep families safe in their homes. All he and the government need to do – in the 10 sitting days before Parliament breaks for the summer - is make some small changes to the law.

"These changes would give judges the power to ensure that no renter is automatically evicted, and the impact of coronavirus is always considered.” 

Chris Norris, Policy Director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said: "Extending the ban on repossessions is not necessary. Changes to court rules will ensure landlords have to account for the impact of COVID on their tenants.

"If this information is not forthcoming or is deemed inadequate judges will have powers to adjourn cases. Such a delay would mean that the landlord may continue to receive no rent from the tenant.

"As we are already seeing in the vast majority of cases, this will encourage landlords to engage with their tenants prior to court action including seeking ways to sustain tenancies using the NRLA's rent arrears management guidance."

He added that courts should be kept clear to deal with cases of tenants committing anti-social behaviour or where there are long-standing rent arrears that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The Government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic, including providing financial support to enable tenants to pay their living expenses and their rent, and this has helped ensure no one was forced from their home.

“New court rules will provide appropriate support to those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus when court proceedings start again, with landlords required to set out information about a tenant’s circumstances, including the effect of the pandemic on a tenant’s vulnerability, when bringing a possession claim.

“We’re committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness and to ending rough sleeping for good. That’s why we changed the law so councils now have a duty to try to stop people from becoming homeless and have provided over half a billion pounds to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in 2020 and 2021.”