The ban on bailiff-enforced evictions in England is to be extended again until the end of March, the government has announced.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the ban – introduced at the start of the pandemic last March to protect private renters – will remain in place for all but the most serious cases for another six weeks.
The latest extension comes after ministers announced last month that it would continue until February 22, having been due to expire on January 11.
Jenrick said: “We have taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic, including introducing a six-month notice period and financial support to help those struggling to pay their rent.
“By extending the ban on the enforcement of evictions by bailiffs, in all but the most serious cases, we are ensuring renters remain protected during this difficult time.
“Our measures strike the right balance between protecting tenants and enabling landlords to exercise their right to justice.”
While the extension has been widely welcomed, campaigners say that much more needs to be done to protect hundreds of thousands of renters who have fallen behind on rent payments and face homelessness.
Shelter said its research shows almost almost 445,000 private renting adults in England have fallen behind on their rent or been served with some kind of eviction notice in the last month.
Chief executive Polly Neate said: “Thousands of renters who’ve been living in fear of the bailiffs’ knock at the door, have today been given a few more weeks in their home.
“This short extension to the bailiff ban may keep people safe for now, but it’s not an answer to the evictions crisis. Renters are still are being served with eviction notices every day, and our helpline is flooded with calls from those desperately worried about paying their rent.
“Before the ban is lifted, the government must give renters a real way out of debt. That means a lifeline of emergency grants to help pay off ‘Covid-arrears’ so people can avoid the terrifying risk of eviction altogether.”
Meanwhile Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, said courts were still “approving eviction claims where the landlord doesn’t need a reason, despite the government’s promise to prioritise only ‘the most egregious cases’”.
She continued: “That means a cliff edge for renters who are facing eviction because their landlord is selling up or whose reduced income doesn’t cover the rent.
“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.”
Tenants who have been affected by coronavirus can apply to delay the eviction, but they cannot have a Section 21 claim thrown out.
Between October and December 2020, courts in England granted 406 possession orders under Section 8 but 1,289 orders under Section 21 – three times as many.
Ministry of Justice figures published on Thursday show that a total of 346 households were physically evicted, 189 under Section 8 and 157 under Section 21.
The chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, Ben Beadle, warned the announcement was storing up future problems, stating that 800,000 private renters had built up arrears since the ban came into force, which they would struggle to ever pay off.
“It will lead eventually to them having to leave their home and face serious damage to their credit scores,” he said.
“The government needs to get a grip and do something about the debt crisis renters and landlords are now facing.
“A package of hardship loans and grants is needed as a matter of urgency. To expect landlords and tenants simply to muddle through without further support is a strategy that has passed its sell-by date.”