The government has produced figures that counter the long-running claims by rental sector activists that there has been a build up of both arrears and possession cases during the pandemic.
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh – a minister of state at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – was speaking in a House of Lords debate on the sector.
Addressing a suggestion from a member of the Lords that some 353,000 private tenants were in arrears, he said: “Although we have seen an increase, according to the survey, in the number of renters in arrears, the vast majority of them—some two-thirds—have arrears of no greater than two months …
“… My Lords, we are aware of the exhortations from many organisations, but we consider that the increase in rent arrears is not statistically significant between the two surveys. It went from seven per cent to nine per cent. We also recognise that we have provided a substantial package of support for renters during the pandemic, including legislative protections and unprecedented financial support.”
And addressing claims that there will be some kind of tidal wave of possession cases and evictions in the near future – possibly when the bailiff-enforced eviction ban finishes at the end of this month – Lord Greenhalgh adds: “My Lords, I am not aware of a pile-up in the courts. Indeed, we have actually seen a massive drop in the number of repossession cases. It decreased to 262 repossessions in January to March 2021—a reduction of some 96 per cent—and 214 local authorities had no landlord repossessions at all.”
Elsewhere in the Lords debate, the government said it had provided “an unprecedented £352 billion support package, keeping millions in work and temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net by more than £1,000 a year for families most in need.”
Financial support from private rented sector tenants remained in place with the job retention furlough scheme and Universal Credit uplift are available until the end of September, while for renters who required additional support, £140 million of discretionary housing payments were available.
Lord Greenhalgh also batted away calls – from the National Residential Landlords Association amongst others – that there should be an English equivalent to the system of Covid-arrears loans currently available to private tenants in Scotland and Wales.
Lord Greenhalgh told peers: “My officials carefully studied the Scottish and Welsh schemes to support tenants with rent arrears. I understand that a relatively small number of loans have been made by these schemes. Indeed, the government continue to believe that it is right to provide non-repayable financial support rather than encouraging further debt.”