Landlords will be legally able to evict renters within days – even as England faces its third Covid lockdown.
Ministers are facing urgent calls to extend the ban on evictions, due to end on Monday. Boris Johnson said it was “under review” as he imposed a new lockdown expected to last some seven weeks – but by the end of Wednesday, with half a million renters at risk of imminent homelessness, no extension had been made.
The Citizens’ Advice Bureau estimates that many have fallen into arrears with their landlord. It fears are growing the government will fail to protect them.
Research by housing charity Shelter, meanwhile, says landlords have already formally or informally threatened 215,000 private renting adults in England with eviction.
Charities also warn people cannot obey the strict “stay at home” guidance if evicted, cautioning the government it is dangerous to public health not to act.
The six-month evictions ban, which expired in September, meant landlords could not start legal proceedings to evict tenants.
At the beginning of the November lockdown, the government again announced protections for renters to stop evictions except in the most serious circumstances.
It said courts would stay open but evictions would not be enforced by bailiffs until January 11 – which is Monday.
The government said the only exceptions would be the “most egregious cases” where tenants have committed anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse in social housing.
Bailiffs must give 14 days’ notice, which means some renters could be forced out of their homes as soon January 25 if this protection is not extended.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said only that it was reviewing current measures and would provide more details shortly, but did not say when.
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned of an avalanche of evictions.
He 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.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, told HuffPost UK a failure to protect renters would mean a risk to public health.
She said: “We are now back in the same, if not worse, situation as last March. It is just too dangerous to start evicting people from their homes with Covid case numbers so high.
“You cannot follow the order to stay at home if you are evicted and facing homelessness. It’s not safe for people to attend court, nor is it safe for bailiffs to enter people’s homes and forcibly remove them. There aren’t enough genuinely
“Simply put, the government needs to stop evictions. We all know the country is facing some of the toughest weeks ahead, the prime minister has said so himself. Now is not the time for people to lose their homes – their only refuge from this raging storm.”
Alicia Kennedy, director of the Generation Rent charity, pointed to the fact joblessness had soared since March, adding: “The rapid escalation of Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the new variant means we must do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus.
“During the first lockdown, renters who had received an eviction notice still felt pressure to move out, which is why we’re calling on the government to do all it can to prevent unnecessary house moves by suspending evictions.
“The government must also stop landlords from issuing eviction notices in the first place.
“Since the first lockdown there are many more people who are out of work so relying on Universal Credit rather than furlough. That means a lot of people are facing a shortfall on their rent – we need the government to prevent them from falling into rent debt.”
Labour MP Clive Betts, who chairs the Commons’ housing and local government committee said there “should be no one lacking a safety net and having to sleep rough”.
He added: “It would be wrong to allow evictions to happen during a national lockdown, except in cases with antisocial behaviour and other existing exemptions.
“It is disappointing the government is again leaving it until the last minute to announce an inevitable extension to the evictions ban. They must also plan for what happens when we begin to fully emerge from the pandemic and move towards some form of normality.
“The consequences of being unable to pay rent could last for a very long time.”