members.parliament.uk Michael Gove https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

14 Mar 24

A string of debt advice charities want Housing Secretary Michael Gove to go well beyond merely banning Section 21 in a bid to help tenants further.

The charities – StepChange, Money Advice Trust, Citizens Advice, and Christians Against Poverty, alongside the Law Centres Network – have written to Gove urging him to prioritise the Renters Reform Bill in this parliamentary session and calling for stronger measures in the Bill for private renters experiencing financial difficulty.

New polling by YouGov for StepChange claims private renters are twice as likely to be in problem debt as the average person, while more than half (53%) of private renters say they’ve found it difficult to keep up with bills and credit commitments in the past few months.

The charities claim record average private rents are driving “low financial resilience” among private tenants, especially those with vulnerabilities like ill-health but are unable to be placed in the social housing sector. 

The charities are calling for a new Tenancy Support Programme, which would mirror the Pre-Action Protocol that exists for social tenants in rent arrears. This would introduce “reasonable steps private landlords must take to support tenants in financial difficulty to sustain tenancies wherever possible, including referring them to benefits advice and seeking to agree an affordable repayment plan for arrears.”

These steps would be hardened by giving judges discretion to suspend eviction proceedings where these steps have not been taken.

The charities claim strong public support for this approach: they say 72% of UK adults agree that private landlords should be required to offer their tenants an affordable repayment plan before being allowed to pursue eviction.

Richard Lane of StepChange Debt Charity says: “We’re currently experiencing a crisis of housing affordability which is leaving millions of private renters on the cusp of falling into problem debt simply because they do not have the income to cover exorbitant rents alongside rising essential costs.

“While a mortgage holder or social tenant has the security of knowing that their lender or housing provider will follow a process of engagement and support if they fall into a difficult spot with their finances, private renters are not afforded the same protections.

“At StepChange we see far too many financially vulnerable private renters who should be in socially rented homes, with living costs alone forcing them to resort to borrowing. It’s essential that they’re provided with dignity and security to stay in their homes should they be faced with a life shock that impacts their finances.”

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