Tag Archives: Rent

Half a million renters in arrears as evictions set to resume

  • In December, Citizens Advice helped someone every two minutes with an issue to do with their privately rented housing
  • Average amount owed on rent is over £700, with an estimated £360 million owed across the UK.
  • Since October, Citizens Advice Ipswich have dealt with over 500 issues concerning housing and rent arrears
  • One in four private renters in arrears have been threatened with eviction or cancellation of contract by their landlord

Half a million private renters in the UK are behind on their rent, with protections against eviction due to expire this weekend, according to Citizens Advice.

This comes as the country enters another period of national lockdown, causing further economic hardship. Renters have already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic with one in three private renters losing income.

For the majority struggling with their rent, this is a new challenge – 58% of those behind on rent had no rent arrears in February 2020. For people already struggling with rent before the pandemic hit, their arrears have got worse for 40% of them. On average, people who have fallen behind on rent now owe £730, which would mean around £360 million is owed across the country. Mortgage payers have been able to benefit from formal payment holidays, but renters have been forced to fall back on negotiating month-by-month with their landlords.

The temporary ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 ends on Monday (11 January) and Citizens Advice is warning that, without further help for renters, an avalanche of evictions could take place in the spring.

A quarter of those the charity surveyed who have rent arrears have already been threatened with eviction, termination of their rental contract, or handed an eviction notice despite the current rules.

Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • A legal ban on bailiff action and pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January
  • targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. The government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans – comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales – to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes
  • .

Case Study

Jacob* is a student who works as a cleaner to make ends meet. Due to a flare up of a health condition which was worsened by lockdown, he had to stop working. He’s since been living off Universal Credit (UC) and his student loan. The UC includes the maximum housing allowance but this doesn’t cover his rent.

His student loan complicated his UC entitlement, so for a few months during lockdown the loan was his only form of income. This wasn’t enough to cover his rent and other basic living costs, and he had to reduce his rent payments.

He contacted his letting agent to try and negotiate a temporary reduction. However, the agent didn’t reply to his email or any other contact for over three months during lockdown. When they did finally get back to him, they declined his request and notified him that he was in arrears. Jacob is now worried that he could be evicted.

Jacob says:

“I’ve no idea what might happen, and that’s the scary thing. Every day I’m waiting for a letter to say that he wants to sell the place, or change the tenancy or something like that. It’s always in the back of my mind that you’re going to get home and there’s a letter to say ‘Section 21’.”

“The only thing I can remember the government making clear was the ban on evictions – that was the thing they were pushing. How is that going to help anybody when the ban is lifted? You can still be evicted because you’ve got arrears. That has just added to the pressure.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich Deputy Manager, Nelleke van Helfteren, said:

“We’re seeing an increasing number of people come to us for help with rent arrears. This includes people who only six months ago had a well-paid job but were made redundant due to the pandemic and are finding it very difficult to find a job on a similar level.

“In some cases, they have built up arrears despite having sought and followed advice to claim the correct benefits and reduce expenses. When this hasn’t been enough they have then had to go on to sell their phone and other belongings – or even gone without food – in an attempt to keep up payments on their rent and other bills.

“If the eviction ban ends, for some families this will mean going from having a home, to living out of a bag. They’ll have to start their lives all over again – all due to an unprecedented situation that was totally out of their control.”

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“As coronavirus restrictions once again tighten for everyone, the government must not forget the struggles of private renters. They currently face the prospect of losing their home once the eviction ban ends next week and the debt they have built up is likely to cast a long shadow over their future.

“Half a million private renters remain behind on their rent, with the majority falling behind during the pandemic restrictions. Unlike people who own their homes, private tenants have had no structured way to defer payments but instead have had to try to keep up with their rent and bills as best they can in a time of great uncertainty and hardship.

“Even though many landlords are trying their best to support their tenants, thousands of renters could face eviction in the coming months without further help. The government must act decisively to prevent evictions in areas subject to the highest coronavirus restrictions. And they should provide targeted support to help people escape the trap of rent arrears in the New Year.”

Student accommodation: what are your rights?

Citizens Advice has issued the following advice to students who may want to leave their accommodation before the end of the rental agreement.

If you are a student in halls of residence who wants to move out and end your contract. What are your rights?

Students who want to end their contract with the university and move out of halls of residence are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.

However, in the Spring when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.

It might be possible to put forward a “frustration” argument if a student can’t access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shut down, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel to the accommodation.

This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered. For instance, if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.

However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.

An argument that any contract is ‘frustrated’ (i.e. it is impossible to perform) is certainly less likely to succeed in a case where the accommodation continues to be available, but it is the tenant’s choice not to occupy it.

If you are a student in privately rented accommodation who wants to move out and end your tenancy. What are your rights?

Generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term (and any guarantor may be pursued if you don’t pay).

Some tenancy agreements contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement where the letting is intended to be for an academic year, and the landlord is only likely to be able to re-let it for the following academic year.

If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.

This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants (or their guarantor) for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.

That said, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich says:

“It must be very frustrating for students that the academic year hasn’t started in the way they would have hoped.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example. It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.

“It’s always worth getting in touch with your landlord and trying to negotiate. But realistically, if there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.

“Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.

“However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.”

Ending the benefits freeze won’t stop families facing the choice between heating and eating

MPs voted to end the benefits freeze by agreeing to increase income-related benefits by inflation on Monday.

While a welcome move, new analysis by Citizens Advice shows that almost 4 in 10 households that seek debt advice and receive these frozen benefits would still not have enough money to cover their costs by 2024 – even if these rises were to continue in future years.

Citizens Advice has helped people such as Sheila, 64, who works part time and receives Universal Credit. Her payments can change on a monthly basis, making it hard for her to budget and cover her monthly costs. She is trapped in council tax and rent arrears, and has had to resort to a foodbank.

She said:

“Quite often I don’t have any electric, so I’m very cold. I can’t even make a hot water bottle to keep warm, or make a hot drink. I have to stay under the duvet.

“Even in the months when I am paid my full Universal Credit and wages it’s still really hard to afford everything, including food.

“It’s all swings and roundabouts, I just don’t have enough money coming in to pay the council tax and rent arrears, the actual council tax, buy food and top up my gas and electric.”

The analysis from Citizens Advice found that the number of people who are unable to cover their living costs has increased since the benefits freeze began in 2016. In the first five months of the current financial year, 40% of the people the charity helped with debt who claim income-related benefits didn’t have enough money to cover their living costs – an increase of 25% since the freeze came into effect.

Citizens Advice is continuing to call for the government to help address this problem by increasing income-related benefits by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus 2% for four years, and to recalculate Local Housing Allowance, which determines housing benefit for private tenants. This will help provide families with financial security and protect people from further hardship.

It also argues that changes to benefit levels need to be accompanied by wider reforms to ensure the benefits system as a whole provides people with the right support. This includes ensuring Universal Credit gives people enough to live on by reviewing areas such as the amount of money retained by working claimants, and deductions for those dealing with debts or repaying advance payments.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Our evidence shows that increasing numbers of people simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet. While a step in the right direction, increasing benefits by inflation will not go far enough to help solve this problem.

“The benefits system was created to support people in times of need. The government should show it’s serious about meeting this ambition by properly investing in working-age benefits, and making sure fewer families are left in a downward spiral with no way to pay their bills.”