Posted 06 Jul 2020
230,000 renters at risk of ‘Covid-eviction’ when government ban lifts
An estimated 227,000 adult private renters (3%) have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic, meaning they could lose their homes when the evictions ban ends on 23 August, new Shelter research shows.
Under the current court system, anyone who accrues rent arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted, in addition to the risk of being subjected to a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction. The housing charity is warning that unless the government acts to protect the renters thrown into financial difficulty by Covid-19, judges will be powerless to stop them from losing their homes once the ban lifts.
What is worse, the polling, which was carried out by YouGov for Shelter, reveals that 174,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent (accounting for 6% who’ve had some contact or 2% of private tenants overall).
The total number of private renters in arrears reached 442,000 adults (5%) – double what it was in the same period last year. This demonstrates the terrifying impact of the pandemic on private renter’s finances. This is only likely to get worse for many renters as the furlough scheme draws to a close, and millions could lose their jobs.
The charity’s findings further illustrate the toll this pandemic and looming threat of eviction is taking on the mental health of private renters, who live in the country’s least secure homes. 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.
This reflects what Shelter’s frontline services are seeing too. Since the lockdown began on 23 March, one in four of the calls from private renters to the charity’s emergency helpline and webchat service have been from renters scared of losing their home.
With only 10 sittings days left until Parliament breaks for recess, and less than two months before the eviction ban lifts, Shelter is urging the government to act now and keep its promise that no-one will lose their home because of Covid-19. By making small changes to the law, the government can give judges the powers they need to halt automatic evictions - giving people the best chance possible of staying safe in their homes.
Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, 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.
“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.
“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.”
Case study: Jeanny, 48, lives in Bournemouth with her three children.
She was furloughed from her retail job at the start of the pandemic and is still unable to return. Jeanny asked her landlord for some flexibility on paying her rent, but her landlord refused and has asked the family to leave the home they have rented for four years by 4 October.
Jeanny, said: “It was a complete shock. I thought my landlord would at least say ‘let’s talk’ about the rent before threatening me with eviction, when I told her I couldn’t quite pay my full rent after my pay was cut. Before the pandemic, I’d always paid my rent on time every month for the four years we’ve lived here.
“Being under all this pressure is having a massive impact on everyone in the family. It affects my sleep, it’s on my mind all the time. I talk about it with my older children, and we try and work out where we can get the money from to top up the rent. I’m already buying cheaper food and looking for other ways to cut back. It’s incredibly stressful. I don’t want it to come to an eviction through the courts. I don’t want my children to go through that.”
For further information about Shelter’s campaign to protect renters before the eviction ban lifts, please visit: https://campaigns.shelter.org.uk/housing-minister-must-protect-renters-during-COVID-19.
Anyone facing homelessness can get free, expert advice from Shelter by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help or by calling our emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444.
Notes to editors
- All survey results are based on a YouGov survey of 1,058 private renters in England, online, 16+, weighted to be presentative of England’s private renters using official statistics, fieldwork 4th June to 11th June 2020.
- The 230,000 in the headline is a rounding up of the 226,785 we estimate are in arrears now but weren’t in March 2020 – see line 2 in the first table below.
- The 3% in arrears now, but not in March 2020, shown in the second row of the first table below is calculated by combining the responses to two separate questions, one asking whether they were behind/ in arrears as at March 2020, and a further question asking if they are behind/ in arrears now
- Estimated equivalent numbers of people are calculated by Shelter using the survey results in conjunction with statistics from the English Housing Survey, MHCLG, 2018/19, the Census and ONS population estimates by single year. We estimate there to be 8.675 million adult private renters in England. This is a different figure to the number of homes, which will be smaller.
- The tables below show the results used in this press release:
Private renters, England, weighted
% in rent arrears
Estimated number of people in rent arrears
I am behind with rent payments/ in rent arrears [As at June 4th-11th 2020]
I am behind with rent payments/ in rent arrears [As at June 4th-11th 2020, but was up to date with rent as at March 1st]
I/We are falling behind [As at Aug-Sept 2019]
Source: YouGov survey of 1,058 private renters in England, online, 16+, weighted to be presentative of England’s private renters using official statistics, fieldwork 4th June to 11th June 2020. Estimated equivalent number of people is calculated by Shelter. Aug-Sept 2019 figure is from a YouGov survey of 3,995 private renters in England, online, weighted, 18+, fieldwork Aug-Sept 2019. Question asked was: Some people can easily afford to pay their main outgoings, others find it more difficult to pay. Thinking about your situation, how easy or difficult is it for you to pay your rent?
Thinking about the below statement, to what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following about the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak? (Please select an option on each row) The Coronavirus outbreak, and the impact I think it will have/ it has had on the country and me personally has...
…given me sleepless nights
Estimated number of people
...made me feel more anxious or depressed about my housing situation than I was before
Estimated number of people
Base: All renters surveyed
Tend to agree
Neither agree nor disagree
Tend to disagree
Don't know/ prefer not to say
Source: YouGov survey of 1,058 private renters in England, online, 16+, weighted to be presentative of England’s private renters using official statistics, fieldwork 4th June to 11th June 2020. Estimated equivalent number of people is calculated by Shelter
For which, if any, of the following reasons has your landlord/ agent been in touch with you since the middle of March 2020? (Please select all that apply)
All private renters
Private renters who have had contact with landlord/ agent since March 2020
Estimated number of people
They have issued me with a formal eviction notice, for example a Section 21 or Section 8 notice (i.e. a notice which a landlord must give to their tenant/s to leave the let property)
To mention that I might have to leave/ threatened me with eviction
To offer me general reassurance about my accommodation, but nothing specific
To assure me that I can stay/ won't have to leave
Don't know/ can't recall
Not applicable - my landlord/ agent has not been in touch with me since mid-March
Source: YouGov survey of 1,058 private renters in England, online, 16+, weighted to be presentative of England’s private renters using official statistics, fieldwork 4th June to 11th June 2020. Estimated equivalent number of people is calculated by Shelter.
- Since the start of lockdown on 23 March until 23 June, one in four (25%) inquiries from private renters to Shelter’s emergency helpline and web chat service have been from people worried about keeping their current home.
- Shelter’s Home Truths report: To find out how the Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on the nation’s renters, please read our Home Truths report, where over 1,900 renters told us how they have been affected by this health crisis.