Covid-19 restrictions are easing, so now is the time to take decisive action to support landlords and tenants. NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle shares his thoughts on the country’s rent debt crisis and what the Government can do to tackle it.

After months of emergency restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, measures are now being lifted.

It has been a tough 18 months for the sector – and while we are pleased change is coming, following extensive talks between the NRLA, ministers and civil servants, more is needed.

Latest figures show that a debt crisis is on the horizon.

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New research carried out on behalf of the NRLA shows more than 800,000 of those living in the private rented sector in England and Wales have built arrears since lockdown measures started last year.

This is despite 82% of those owing no rent debt prior to lockdown.

We need the Government to step up to help these tenants and the landlords who house them.

Campaigning

We have been campaigning for a comprehensive package of financial support for the sector for some time now and we continue to lobby the Government to commit resources to this to help maintain tenancies and ease the pressure on the already overburdened legal system.

Those landlords who have no option but to repossess will also need support.

Recent figures show average waiting times from claim to possession were more than a year (57 weeks) in the first quarter of 2021 and action must be taken now to reduce that backlog.

Possession claims fell considerably during the pandemic, with the courts closed and landlords doing all they could to keep tenancies going.

If we want the courts to be able to tackle the backlog, then we need to keep those tenants who are in arrears as a result of the pandemic in their homes. We need to tackle the issue of arrears head on.

The NRLA’s proposal, for ringfenced Government support, includes interest free loans to allow tenants to pay off Covid-related arrears and stem the number of cases going to court, as well as grants for those claiming benefits.

Court figures

Latest figures show almost 23,000 possession claims have been made since the courts closed in March 2020. However, the same time frame only 8,600 possession orders have been issued.

This leaves a substantial proportion of claims – more than 60% – still unheard.

There are also enforcement issues.

Bailiff enforcements were permitted as of June 1 in England. At this point there were around 11,000 warrants, 70% of which are estimated to have pre-dated the pandemic – and the figures are only going to go one way as news claims are submitted.

However, there are changes that can be made by Government to streamline the process and help tackle this backlog.

These include:

  • Getting rid of the additional ‘review’ hearings. These were introduced during the pandemic as a means of prioritising cases, but are now contributing to the delays
  • Making greater use of digital remote hearings over the phone or online for simple cases
  • Increasing the use of High Court Enforcement Officers to tackle the backlog of enforcement

There are also a number of technical administrative changes which could also make a difference when it comes to wait times.

The NRLA has produced an in-depth report on the challenges, and potential solutions, which can be read here.

Resolution outside the courtroom

Landlords too can play their part and we would encourage them, where possible, to look outside the courtroom for solutions should they have issues with their tenancy.

Mediation and conciliation – while not guaranteed to work in every case – can be highly successful. If your tenant has fallen into arrears working with them or via a mediation service to find a suitable payment plan can help you avoid court or, at worst, show you have made every effort to avoid it.

NRLA members can access a free mediation service provided by TDS  to this end.

We are on the road to recovery and, although we are not there yet, we at the NRLA will rise to the challenge and continue to campaign at the very highest level for positive change to sustain the sector.

For more information about the NRLA campaign lobbying for Government support for the sector click here.

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