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Privately renting during coronavirus? This is the latest expert advice

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Hollie Richardson
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Private renting during coronavirus.

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. This is the latest on private and social renters’ rights. 

Updated Friday 19 March: 

Government sets out plans for emergency legislation to protect private and social renters from eviction 

The government has now announced that landlords won’t be able to start eviction proceedings for at least the next three months, which will protect private and social tenants. Private landlords can be given a three-month payment holiday on their buy-to-let mortgages if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to coronavirus. The government is introducing emergency legislation for this, but it is not yet clear when it will come into force. 

The latest Money Saving Expert update explains: “Beyond this three-month point, you’ll be expected to work with your landlord to establish an affordable repayment plan which takes your circumstances into account. 

“If you live in Scotland, your landlord will only be able to start proceedings to evict you if you’ve been in arrears for six months in a row (up from three months currently), according to a speech by Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell in the Scottish parliament.”

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“The government has also said that existing protocols for social landlords dealing with rent arrears will be extended to include private landlords too, to ‘support engagement’ between landlords and tenants and help them solve disputes.

“It will ask landlords to be compassionate and allow tenants to stay in their homes wherever possible – while associations representing local government and housing associations have already said that no social renter should be evicted due to coronavirus.”

Updated Wednesday 18 March:

Prime minister promises to protect private and social renters from eviction

The prime minister has announced that the government will bring forward emergency legislation to protect private renters from eviction. He said this while taking Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament, and he is expected to address this properly later during the daily coronavirus press conference. 

Original article: 

Goverment announces mortgage “holidays”, but what about private renters?

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.

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Martin Lewis’s advice for private renters and landlords

In a press conference on Tuesday 17 March, 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.”

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Housing experts share advice with private renters

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.”

Sky news renting interview
How will coronavirus affect private renting? Martin Lewis shared some advice on Money Saving Expert.

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.”

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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.

SpareRoom director Matt Hutchinson has also commented, saying: “We know that the situation is complex. Many landlords are reliant on their income to survive, so simply enforcing a rent holiday could just shift the problem rather than resolve it. But where landlords have buy-to-let mortgages, banks should be able to offer them the same deal as homeowners, to pass on to their tenants. We’re in this for the long haul it seems and our housing market was already overloaded with unaffordability before we went into this, so government should do everything it can to support people with the most basic need of having a home.”

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? 

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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

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…