Blog: Government can and must do more to support tenants

“Right now, we must protect tenants from crippling debt and from the eviction cliff edge that’s looming for so many.” – Bridget Young

For many of us, it’s difficult to know what day it is, however one date in particular will stand out for renters – Wednesday 24th June. It’s important, because it’s the last day that renters in England are protected from the effects of Covid-19 by the government’s pause on housing possession action through the courts.

This worries me greatly: immediate action is urgently needed.

As a charity, we at the Nationwide Foundation look at how we can work with our partners to change the whole of the housing system. As a programme manager, I could talk all day long about the inequalities of the private rented sector and how it costs more for those who can least afford it and yet gives them less. The whole sector needs reform and once we’re out of this crisis we’ll return to that challenge.

But right now, we must protect tenants from crippling debt and from the eviction cliff edge that’s looming for so many.

In March, when the pandemic was unfolding around us, the government took welcome action, ensuring landlords could not evict their tenants for three months. It also reset Local Housing Allowance to the 30th percentile, giving some additional support to tenants for whom benefits didn’t come close to paying their rents, and discussed a pre-action protocol for landlords to follow before any eviction proceedings can commence. What the government hasn’t done since, however, is give renters much reassurance about what happens next.

The Nationwide Foundation funds organisations that champion and amplify the voices of private sector tenants and, unsurprisingly, tenants and their representatives are worried. We’re hearing from funded projects that tenants are fearful of debts and concerned about being evicted. Understandably, tenants are scared of ending up without a home, or having to rely on the goodwill of their landlords; in reality, something not every tenant can do.

It should come as no surprise to those in power that tenants want to be properly protected from debt and eviction.

We understand the feelings of frustration, fear and injustice that underpin the calls from some organisations for rent to be cancelled.  Our opinion is that rather than cancelling rent, all tenants should have the support they need to keep paying their rent.

The need for action has been reflected by the Labour Party, which has laid out plans for renters, showing that the party is thinking about this issue, even if there have been areas of controversy within those plans.

However, the fact that the government has been comparatively quiet since its March interventions is alarming. With data from the housing charity Shelter suggesting that 1.7m private renters expect to lose their jobs in the next three months, and Citizens Advice highlighting the fact that 2.6m private renters have already missed a rent payment, there is a real risk that government inaction could make a bad situation worse.

That’s why we’re echoing and supporting calls for the government to do more for renters. While some tenants can, if shown compassion and support, pay their rent and work to clear arrears, for too many, the pandemic’s economic impact could plunge them into debt that they’ll struggle to repay. The three-month stay on evictions was welcome but will be quickly forgotten if eviction proceedings start again on June 25th, with no adequate safety net in place.

As well as calling on government for there to be better support to cover the cost of rent for all renters who need it, we believe that the government must also guarantee that no-one will lose their home during or as a result of the pandemic and that there will be a freeze on rent increases too. By doing these things, those in power can prove to tenants that they truly care about protecting them during this national emergency. 

Note : When this blog was originally posted, it suggested that a pre-action protocol had been adopted to protect renters. At the time of publication, whilst discussion has taken place, nothing has been adopted.