How serious is the rent arrears crisis after three months of lockdown?

Figures published in today’s Daily Telegraph claiming there are nearly 2,500 evictions involving non-payment of rent stuck in the system totalling £3 million are a significant under estimation of the problem, LandlordZONE can reveal.

The Telegraph figures, sourced from The Letting Industry Council’s (TLIC) member agents, only show a slice of the market but our own research shows that there are nearer 6,000 cases in the system owing rent worth £7.5 million. TLIC has since updated us on the Telegraph figures, and says its agent members have 2,915 cases going through the system worth £4.6 million.

“The trouble is that as the evictions ban carries on and more and more landlords encounter difficulties with rent arrears, this problem is going to get bigger and bigger,” says Tim Frome, Legal Director of Landlord Action.

Theresa Wallace, chair of the TLIC, tells LandlordZONE that she is fully supportive of tenants who have fallen on hard times due to Covid and who require support, but that “we also have landlords out there who were due to have their day in court before Covid and they are really suffering now and their hands are tied,” she says.

National crisis?

But not everyone agrees there is a national crisis in rent arrears, as Shelter and Generation Rent has recently claimed, and the court figures highlight.

One of the UK’s largest estate agency firms, The Property Franchise Group (TPFG) this morning said it had seen ‘no noticeable problems’ with rent arrears among its 58,000 tenanted properties.

TPFG operates six estate agency brands across the UK including its biggest, Martin & Co, via 380 branches.

Generation Rent, which has been campaigning hard during the lockdown to highlight how renters ‘have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis’, says: “Every day, we’re hearing from people who have lost their job and can’t afford rent, have landlords and housemates compromising their safety or are dealing with landlords who have applied for mortgage holidays but are still refusing to pause rent payments,” its spokesperson says.

Mike Morgan, who heads up the PRS’s mediation service for landlords and tenants in dispute over rent arrears, says part of his work is to deal with tenants who believe the Coronavirus is a ‘get out jail free card’.

“We work with both sides to create mediation agreements some of which is all about repayment of arrears and what a landlord will accept, but sometimes the agreements are also about the tenant moving on after agreeing to clear the rent arrears in return for a reduction and ending the tenancy.”

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