Private renters want to know where they stand during the coronavirus pandemic

Following the news that mortgage “holidays” will be provided for those in financial difficulty during coronavirus, private renters want to know what the government is doing to help them too.

The housing crisis is so critical that it has defined a generation. With over 4.5 million privately rented households across the UK, the number of people who rent has doubled in size since 2002. And the cost of renting increased by 38% between 2005 and 2016 in London alone. In fact, a recent report found that “generation rent” means 14 million 20- to 35-year-olds will never own a house.

It’s a precarious way of living, which has just been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. People are worrying about their jobs. Earlier this week, Virgin Atlantic asked staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. The 4.93 million self-employed people across the UK are also worrying about their incomes.

So what are private renters supposed to do to feel safe and secure in their home during the coronavirus? Here’s everything we know so far about the developing situation.

In yesterday’s press conference, chancellor Rishi Sunak and prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to do “whatever it takes” to support the UK economy. This included a three-month mortgage “holiday” for people in financial difficulty because of the virus. But there was no mention of financial relief for private renters. 

Although Sunak is expected to address this specific concern later this week, members of the opposition are putting pressure on the government for immediate action.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded by tweeting: “The government has announced a mortgage holiday for homeowners but it must suspend rents too. Millions of people rent in the UK. Suspend rents. Ban evictions. Now.”

MP Jess Phillips added: “Need protection for renters, how will mortgage payment holidays be passed on? Need a break on eviction surely.”

Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy also said: “Where is the protection for renters and the low paid? No more delay: statutory sick pay must be massively increased. Cuts to benefits must be reversed, evictions must be banned, we must use systems we already have to get money to people & give them the security they need – fast.”

Before the chancellor’s statement, Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis talked about the need to landlords and renters to have “forbearance” under current circumstances. MSE has since updated its renting advice on the website.

It reads: “The chancellor has sadly not yet announced direct help for renters, though he’s hinted there may be more to come in the next couple of days – we’ll update this guide with more info when we get it.

“If you rent your home and are struggling to keep up with payments due to coronavirus-related difficulties, you should speak to your landlord as soon as possible to work out a plan.”

It continues: “Two organisations representing landlords have said they are urging landlords to ‘work positively’ with tenants to provide support during this time, and be as flexible as possible to help tenants facing payment difficulties – so you should have good grounds to ask your landlord to work out a realistic repayment plan.

“It’s also worth checking whether you’re receiving all the financial help with housing you’re entitled to, which could be from benefits such as Universal Credit. You can also check whether you could apply for a discretionary housing payment from your local council.”

On 16 March, Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “The situation with coronavirus is serious and developing daily. While the country faces unprecedented times, we’re asking landlords to be sensitive to any tenants affected by coronavirus or self-isolating who could lose out on income and temporarily struggle with their rent.

“If you’re a tenant who is having trouble keeping up with your rent payments because of coronavirus you should speak to your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible, as they may be willing to agree a repayment plan. Some people may also be able to claim benefits like Universal Credit to help with housing costs, so if you’re struggling don’t be afraid to ask for help and find out your options. Paying off rent arrears should be a top priority before any other non-urgent debts.

“Shelter is here so that no-one has to face bad housing or homelessness on their own. Anyone worried about their housing situation can get in touch for free, expert advice by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/gethelp .”

Stylist has contacted Shelter for a response to the chancellor’s latest statement.

Of course, there are a million questions to ask around this. Will the government enforce landlords to ensure rent “holidays” rather than just advise them? Would renters need to pay a larger sum when any proposed rent “holidays” ended? And what if rent payments are the only source of income for a landlord? 

Hopefully we’ll get more clarity over the next few days, which we will share with you here. In the meantime, here are some helpful websites in case you are worried:

Shelter: england.shelter.org.uk/get_help

Turn To Us: turn2us.org.uk

GOV.UK: UK government response

Money Saving Expert: Coronavirus Financial Help & Rights

Images: Getty

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