More than 800,000 tenants in England and Wales have built up rent arrears since the first coronavirus lockdown, researchers have found.
A National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) study found that at least 840,000 private renters could have amassed overdue rent payments since March last year.
The NRLA is now calling on the government to develop a financial package to help renters pay off their COVID-related arrears, saying eviction bans do nothing to address the debt problems.
It comes after the government announced that the ban on bailiff-enforced evictions in England will be extended until the end of next month.
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The NRLA study, carried out by market research agency Dynata, which surveyed 2,077 renters between 17 November and 9 December, found that young people are the most likely to have built up arrears.
At least 14% of renters between the ages of 18 and 24 have amassed overdue rent, as have 10% of those aged 25 to 34.
The self-employed were most likely to have overdue rent payments at 17%, as were those who live in the West Midlands at 11%.
Overall, at least 7% of survey participants have built arrears since March, amounting to around 840,000 out of 12 million private renters in England and Wales.
The study also found the median amount of overdue debt per renter is between £251 and £500, while 18% – more than 150,000 people – have built up arrears of more than £1,000.
The NRLA, which has been campaigning for government support for the rental sector, said ministers are not doing enough to help those who have been unable to pay their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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On Saturday, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the eviction ban – introduced at the start of the pandemic last March to protect private renters – will remain in place 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.”
However, NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle said the extension does not help the 800,000 people who have built up rent arrears.
He said the lack of support “means debts will continue to mount to the point where they have no hope of paying them off" and that it "will lead eventually to them having to leave their home and face serious damage to their credit scores".
“The government needs to get a grip and do something about the debt crisis renters and landlords are now facing,” he said.
Beadle called for a financial package of “hardship loans and grants” for renters 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,” he added.
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