March 14, 2024 12:30 pm

Insert Lead Generation
Nikka Sulton

Several debt advice charities, including StepChange, Money Advice Trust, Citizens Advice, Christians Against Poverty, and the Law Centres Network, are urging Housing Secretary Michael Gove to take more comprehensive action in supporting tenants. Beyond simply banning Section 21 notices, these organizations are advocating for a prioritization of the Renters Reform Bill in the current parliamentary session. They emphasize the need for stronger measures within the bill to assist private renters who are experiencing financial difficulties.

In a joint letter to Gove, the charities stress the importance of addressing the challenges faced by tenants struggling with rent arrears and financial instability. They argue that a more proactive approach is necessary to ensure the welfare of renters, suggesting that the Renters Reform Bill should incorporate robust provisions tailored to support individuals navigating economic hardships in the private rental sector.

Recent polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of StepChange has shed light on the concerning financial situation faced by private renters, revealing stark statistics. According to the survey findings, individuals residing in private rental accommodations are grappling with debt at a rate double that of the general population. Moreover, a significant majority, comprising over half of private renters (53%), have encountered difficulties in meeting their financial obligations, encompassing utility bills and credit commitments, over the past few months.

These distressing figures underscore the deep-rooted challenges within the private rental sector, where soaring average rental costs are exacerbating financial pressures for tenants. The charities involved in the research have sounded the alarm on the implications of record-high rental prices, particularly for vulnerable segments of the population. Among these groups are individuals facing health-related issues, who often find themselves caught in a precarious situation due to the unavailability of affordable housing options in the social housing sector.

The charities are advocating for the establishment of a comprehensive Tenancy Support Programme, drawing inspiration from the existing Pre-Action Protocol tailored for social tenants encountering challenges with rent arrears. This proposed programme is envisioned to encompass a series of practical steps that private landlords would be obliged to undertake, aimed at providing meaningful support to tenants navigating financial difficulties. Central to this initiative is the emphasis on fostering collaboration between landlords and tenants to explore viable solutions that enable the continuation of tenancies, even amidst economic strains.

Among the proposed measures within the Tenancy Support Programme are provisions requiring landlords to proactively guide tenants towards accessing relevant benefits advice and resources. Additionally, landlords would be encouraged to engage in constructive dialogue with tenants to establish mutually acceptable repayment arrangements for any outstanding rent arrears. By prioritising communication and cooperation, the programme seeks to mitigate the risk of eviction and foster greater stability within the private rental sector.

Furthermore, to bolster the efficacy of these supportive measures, the proposal suggests empowering judges with discretionary authority to intervene in eviction proceedings. This discretionary power would enable judges to evaluate cases on an individual basis and, where warranted, suspend eviction proceedings in instances where landlords have failed to fulfil their obligations under the Tenancy Support Programme. Such judicial oversight aims to incentivise compliance among landlords while affording tenants facing financial hardship greater protection and avenues for resolution.

The charities assert that there is significant public backing for this strategy, citing that 72% of adults in the UK believe it should be mandatory for private landlords to propose an affordable repayment scheme to tenants before pursuing eviction.

Richard Lane, representing StepChange Debt Charity, remarks, “The current housing affordability crisis has placed countless private renters on the brink of slipping into financial turmoil due to the inability to meet steep rents alongside escalating living expenses. Unlike mortgage holders or social tenants who benefit from structured support in times of financial distress, private renters lack similar safeguards.”

He adds, “StepChange frequently encounters financially vulnerable private renters who, despite their precarious situation, are compelled to resort to borrowing simply to meet basic living costs. It’s imperative that they receive adequate support and assurance to retain their residences in the event of financial upheaval.”


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