More than 800,000 private tenants owe their landlords rent - what to do if you’re struggling

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 1:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 1:40 pm

More than 800,000 private tenants living in England and Wales could be behind on their rent, after a year of high redundancies, pay cuts and gaps in support for self employed workers throughout the pandemic.

Young people and the self employed are the groups most likely to be currently struggling with rent payments, as young people in particular have been disproportionately impacted by job losses.

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Lack of support for tenants

Self employed tenants were most likely to be in arrears, at 17 per cent, with 18 to 24 year olds the next worst affected, at 14 per cent.

A survey for the National Residential Landlords Association found that seven per cent of tenants said they’d built up rent arrears due to the pandemic, with some more than £1,000 in debt.

While homeowners, including landlords, were able to apply for mortgage holidays throughout the pandemic, no such support exists across the board for tenants.

Some tenants have been able to negotiate reduced rates and holidays on an individual basis with landlords, but many have not been able to secure such deals and, as a result, have fallen into arrears.

Chief executive of the NRLA, Ben Beadle, 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.”

What support is available for tenants in arrears?

According to Citizen’s Advice, you should try to organise a repayment plan with your landlord, offering to pay a manageable amount each month in order to bring down your arrears.

You should also see if you’re entitled to any benefits. If you’re already in receipt of benefits, you can arrange for part of these to be paid straight toward your arrears. You can contact Citizen’s Advice for further information and support.

Membership of tenants unions has increased all over the UK during the pandemic, with organisations like Acorn and Living Rent in Scotland helping members in disputes with letting agencies and landlords.

A spokesperson for Acorn Tenants Union said, “While any measure that relieves the debt burden for tenants during this difficult time is welcome, what NRLA is saying is that landlords have continued to charge rent to tenants unable to pay due to coronavirus.

“Since the start of the pandemic ACORN has been calling for a rent waiver for any tenants unable to pay rent due to Covid-19 and a guarantee against any related future evictions.

“Anything short of this condemns tenants to debt, eviction and homelessness. We have also been calling for a mortgage and interest payment freeze for mortgage holders.

“If landlords are struggling they should be able to claim benefits like anyone else. ACORN believes that if the government wants to help tenants then it should do so directly and does not support a subsidy to an already exploitative industry."