Rent arrears near £440 million as illegal evictions rise

There has been a ban on evictions since March but Esperanza Pavas is in the process of being evicted. Her landlord has issued a Section 21 notice, asking her and her twelve-year-old son to leave the home they have lived in for the last two years by September 19. No reason for the eviction has been given.Esperanza was recently made redundant by Pret a Manger, but she insists she has always paid the rent on time. She now faces the prospect of looking for a new job and a new home.“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she told ITV News. “[The landlord] just doesn’t care. This is all about business, all about money”.

A Section 21 notice allows a landlord to take back their property from a tenant without giving any reason and without any burden of proof. As long as the three-page form is completed correctly the court is obliged to grant the landlord a possession order.

  • Esperanza explains that her situation has left her feeling helpless

There haven’t been any court hearings since March, as a result of the moratorium announced by the government, but that hasn’t stopped landlords issuing Section 21 orders.The government made a manifesto promise to abolish 'no fault' evictions but hasn’t done so yet. No one seems to have any idea how many Section 21 notices have been issued since lockdown began. Courts in England and Wales will begin hearing eviction cases again on September 21. The National Residential Landlords Association estimates that nearly one in four of their members is owed money by their tenants, while one in five claim to have lost up to half of their usual rental income as a result of the impact of coronavirus. Arrears in England are estimated to have reached between £328 million and £437 million as tenants, through no fault of their own, have fallen behind with the rent.

The government has increased protection for tenants. Notice periods have been temporarily extended to six months, evictions will not be enforced in local lockdown areas and there will be a “truce” on enforcement action over Christmas.

But some landlords are taking the law into their own hands. Safer Renting, a charity which operates in North London, says harassment and illegal evictions have almost tripled since lockdown began in March.

  • Roz Spencer from Safer Renting says illegal evictions have become more common

“We’ve seen a worrying increase in criminal landlords forcing tenants, who have either lost their jobs or some of their earnings, out of their homes,” says Roz Spencer, the director of Safer Renting.

“Illegal eviction is now a daily occurrence in our experience. Criminal landlords know the system better than the system knows itself, the penalties for breaching the regulations are nowhere near strong enough. Landlords see it as a cost of doing business”. Bethany Joy (BJ) Croarkin and a friend spent ten nights sleeping rough under a flyover, after being evicted during lockdown. They’d both lost their jobs and were three days late paying the rent. 

  • BJ describes the ordeal that left them sleeping rough

“Members of the landlord’s family came to physically remove us. They were violent with me and my friend who ended up being pushed down a flight of stairs and repeatedly kicked and punched,” BJ says. “I don’t think the law means anything in a situation like that. They wanted us out or they wanted the money. The whole system is toxic.

"We need to transition to a more compassionate, just and sustainable plant-based food system to prevent future crises."

The ban on evictions has delayed legal action by landlords but hasn’t solved the problem of unpaid rent.The Scottish and Welsh governments are offering interest-free loans to help settle arrears. There’s pressure on the government to do the same in England, where conflict between tenants and landlords is inevitable.

As it stands, evictions are set to rise.