Renters’ groups are calling on the Government to implement a rent freeze for a year, after the housing minister confirmed on Friday that rent increases were permitted during coronavirus lockdown.
Christopher Pincher said a ban on rent rises was not being considered by the Government and that the Coronavirus Act 2020 already contained measures to protect private and social tenants.
These include an extension of the time before a landlord is allowed to file an eviction notice against tenants from two months to three, rent holidays and the unfreezing of the Local Housing Allowance. Landlords are also being supported with three-month mortgage holidays available on buy-to-let loans.
However, many renters looking beyond lockdown are concerned about falling into debt to pay back missed rent, while campaign groups predict a spike in homelessness as tenants could be evicted as a result of arrears.
A significant number of private tenants have also fallen through the gaps for both the furlough scheme and Universal Credit, finding themselves with no income and no access to government support.
Caitlin Wilkinson, policy manager at campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Landlords should not be allowed to raise rents in the midst of a pandemic. The Government’s own advice is to stay home and avoid moving house if possible – meaning tenants faced with a rent hike have very little choice but to stay put and accept it.
“The Government should introduce a 12-month freeze on in-tenancy rent increases, to ensure tenants are able to stay in their homes for the duration of this crisis.”
Responding on Friday to a written question from Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, Mr Pincher said: “The Government has no plans to ban rent increases during the Covid-19 outbreak, as we have already announced extensive measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus.
“Through the Coronavirus Act 2020 we have introduced legislation to delay when landlords are able to evict tenants.
“All tenants remain liable for their rent and those who can afford to should continue to pay it.
“At the end of this period, if arrears have built up, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account the tenants’ individual circumstances.”
Mr Pincher also mentioned other measures including the Job Retention Scheme and a £7 billion boost to Universal Credit.
“These significant financial measures will help to support tenants to continue to pay their living costs, including rental payments,” he said.