The government has announced a £65 million fund to repay tenants’ rent arrears in England.
Intended to be used to support low-income families, the fund is in addition to a £500m Household Support Fund helping families in need with other costs. In the announcement, the government said the money should go directly to landlords and agents – as has been called for by industry organisations since last year.
But landlords worry the arrears fund may be too small. The National Residential Landlords Association estimates that renters ran up around £300m of arrears during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Landlords could also face a postcode lottery. Local authorities will decide who receives support from the arrears fund, and how much they get.
Meanwhile, councils have come up with their own ways to reduce evictions. New Forest’s ‘Call Before You Serve’ programme aims to mediate landlord-tenant disputes at the earliest opportunity – and also provides tenants with free advice on maximising their incomes. Portsmouth has also started a mediation programme for landlords and tenants, backed by local private landlords. Backing these schemes up with payments to landlords from the arrears fund could help to preserve tenancies, but councils have not yet said how they plan to use the money.
The industry will now have to wait and see how the support package is delivered on the ground – but under-pressure landlords may not be able to wait long. Research by the NRLA has found that a growing number of landlords are dipping into their savings to make up for lost, deferred or forgiven rent.
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