Housing Minister Lord Greenhalgh has roundly dismissed fears about rising rent debt, homelessness and an overwhelmed court system.
During a debate on rent arrears, Lord Carrington asked him to consider an affordable short-term credit scheme to support tenants in arrears who weren’t claiming benefits, and pointed to the recent housing resilience survey which suggested that the proportion of private renters in arrears had risen from 3% in 2019 to 9% in 2020.
However, Greenhalgh told peers: “We are aware of the exhortations from many organisations, but we consider that the increase in rent arrears is not statistically significant between the two surveys. It went from 7% to 9%.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (pictured) asked: “Is it not time for the government to accept the need for a Covid rent debt fund to clear Covid arrears for the most financially destitute renters, who are at severe risk of homelessness?”
Lord Greenhalgh said two-thirds of the tenants in the survey had two months or less of rent arrears.
“My officials carefully studied the Scottish and Welsh schemes to support tenants with rent arrears.
“I understand that a relatively small number of loans have been made by these schemes. Indeed, the government continue to believe that it is right to provide non-repayable financial support rather than encouraging further debt.”
He said that there had not been the massive spike in homelessness that has been alluded to.
“I am not aware of a pile-up in the courts. Indeed, we have seen a massive drop in the number of repossession cases. It decreased to 262 repossessions in January to March 2021 – a reduction of some 96% – and 214 local authorities had no landlord repossessions at all.”
Lord Greenhalgh added that to support landlords, mortgage lenders had agreed to offer payment holidays of up to six months, with since April, “forbearance options tailored to the individual landlord”.