Last week the Government announced that the ban on evictions in England and Wales would be extended to 21st February. This was a necessary step to ensure that no one loses their home in the midst of a public health crisis.
However, amidst this welcome announcement is hidden the disappointing detail that the Government have removed support for families facing eviction because of rent arrears accrued during lockdown. Landlords will now have grounds to apply to evict tenants who have not been able to pay their rent during the last nine months of lockdown restrictions. Prior to this, rent arrears since 23rd March 2020 were not counted in the total of ‘substantial rent arrears’ which justified bailiff action.
This move threatens families who have been forced into debt because of necessary but unpredictable public health measures in response to Covid-19. For many families already living on tight budgets and relying on unstable work to make ends meet, lockdown restrictions hit especially hard. The disproportionate impact of furlough and job losses on low-income work, and the increase in basic costs such as heating and energy, food and other living costs has meant that those already struggling to stay afloat have been weighed down further by debt. Now, at least 500,000 renters across the UK are currently in arrears, and 2.87 million people are at risk of long term debt problems because of the pandemic.
The government need to recognise the pressure that the return of bailiff action and eviction will place on families living in fear of debt enforcement. Continuous waves of varying restrictions over the last ten months have meant that few families weighed down by debt haven’t had the space and opportunity to get back on their feet. With predictions of mass unemployment and an increasingly challenging jobs market, these prospects are unlikely to change quickly.
Lockdown debt is holding millions of people back from moving forward with their lives. Those people in communities who have been hardest hit by Covid-19 and its financial impacts should be protected, not made more vulnerable at this time. Writing off lockdown debt would offer a fair and comprehensive solution to this growing crisis.
 Citizens Advice: Quoted in: Call to provide shelter for rough sleepers over UK winter lockdown | Society | The Guardian