Coronavirus pushes 450,000 families into housing debt

Close to half a million people have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments as a result of coronavirus, according to a study published on Tuesday, which urged ministers to intervene to prevent the debt crisis from worsening.

As many as 450,000 out of an estimated 750,000 people in arrears on housing payments, have fallen into debt as a direct result of the pandemic, the study by the Resolution Foundation think-tank found. 

The estimates, based on a survey of more than 6,000 working-age adults in the UK, provide the starkest evidence to date of a ballooning rent and mortgage debt crisis which has been fanned by the pandemic. 

Lindsay Judge, research director at the Resolution Foundation and the author of the report, warned that the UK was facing “a mounting arrears crisis,” adding that it would worsen without “significant government intervention”.

Things are particularly dire for renters, with just over a fifth (22 per cent) having gone into the pandemic without any savings. The figure is half that for homeowners with mortgages, according to the report. Renters have also been more likely to be affected by falling incomes as a result of the pandemic, according to the study. 

Almost a tenth of those in the social rented sector were behind on payments last month, the report found, compared to 6 per cent of those in the private rented sector and just 2 per cent of mortgaged homeowners. 

The authors use the term “family” instead of people, which they define as a single adult or a couple, with or without dependent children.

In total, the Resolution Foundation estimates that three-quarters of a million “families” in the UK are in arrears, 300,000 of them with dependent children.

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The report said that support measures such as discretionary housing payments — a local authority contribution towards housing costs — were not reaching in-need families, and that just 3 per cent of private renters had received a rent discount from landlords in the past 10 months.

The report called on ministers to boost discretionary housing payments for tenants in England. It also urged them to follow the example of the Scottish and Welsh governments by introducing a loan scheme to help those who have built up housing debt during the pandemic. This would “ease the pressure on tenants, landlords and the courts.”

At the weekend, the government extended a ban in England on landlords evicting tenants who have built up arrears during the pandemic, protecting most renters until the end of March. However, the ban does not cover tenants who have built up more than six months of rent in arrears.

According to an analysis of government data by Generation Rent, a campaign group, more than a thousand renters were evicted between October and December after being served Section 21 notices by landlords, which do not require a reason for eviction.

“We need a Covid rent debt fund to clear the debts of renters whose incomes have been hit by the lockdown, but the government must also suspend ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions so blameless renters don’t lose their homes as a result of the pandemic,” said Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent.

The current nationwide lockdown rules in England

  • The main restriction is a firm stay-at-home message

  • People are only allowed to leave their home to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to shop for essential food, medicines and other necessities and to exercise with their household or one other person — once a day and locally

  • The most clinically vulnerable have been asked to shield

  • All colleges and primary and secondary schools are closed until a review at half-term in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers are still able to attend while nursery provision is available

  • University students have to study from home until at least mid-February

  • Hospitality and non-essential retail are closed. Takeaway services are available but not for the sale of alcohol

  • Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos are closed. Playgrounds are open

  • Places of worship are open but one may attend only with one’s household

  • Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and riding arenas, are closed. Elite sport, including the English Premier League, continues

  • Overseas travel is allowed for “essential” business only 

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Full details are available on the government’s official website.


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