NRLA policy and campaigns director Chris Norris gave evidence at the Housing Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee this week.
The committee met virtually to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the private rented sector and homelessness.
The evidence session began by committee chair Clive Betts MP asking witnesses a question on what is likely to happen when the eviction ban comes to an end-having recently been extended until 23rd August.
Responding to the question, Chris Norris said “We expect there to be a backlog of cases built up but not necessarily a spike in evictions”.
Indeed, the NRLA recently called for cases of anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse to be prioritized when the courts can begin to hear repossession cases again, as well as cases involving rent arrears built up well before coronavirus, currently still waiting to be heard.
Chair Clive Betts MP then asked the witnesses whether the eviction ban should be extended further than 23 August.
In response, Chris Norris said the NRLA does not believe the eviction ban should be extended further, adding that the blanket ban means there are cases in the system that have been there well before the lockdown, and have nothing to do with coronavirus-that are unable to progress.
Most tenants able to pay rent-and most landlords being supportive
Brendan Clarke Smith MP (Bassetlaw) then asked a question about what proportion of tenants are likely to have built up rent arrears during the pandemic, and what evidence there is of landlords helping to support tenants pay their rent.
Responding, Chris Norris highlighted the findings of a recent independent poll of more than 2000 tenants.
In the survey, the vast majority of tenants (90%) reported that they have been able to pay their rent just the same as before the pandemic began. The same survey found that 17% of households did ask for support-and in three out of four cases tenants got exactly the support they asked for.
Landlords working with tenants to sustain tenancies
On landlords supporting tenants, Chris said “we have been reassured to see is a lot of cooperation and negotiation between landlords and tenants”.
Indeed-over the last few months, the NRLA has been contacted by many of its members who have shared how they are supporting their tenants at this time, such as offering temporary rent reductions- with some reporting they are taking a hit to be able to do this.
Buy-to-let mortgage holidays and rent payments
On a separate question relating to buy-to-let mortgage “holidays”, Chris Norris also made the point to the committee that the ‘holidays’ are actually ‘deferral schemes’, adding “we support where landlords are able to to pay this benefit on now to sustain tenancies, but its not possible in majority of cases to waive rent due because payment on mortgage is still due, just at a point in the future”.
He also reinforced the NRLA’s call that where tenants are receiving support and can afford to pay the rent, then this should be happening.
Support for tenants to be able to pay the rent
Mary Robinson MP (Cheadle) asked witnesses whether there are any gaps in the government’s support for renters.
Responding, Chris Norris highlighted further support the association is calling for, for tenants who’ve built up rent arrears-to enable them to pay their rent.
Some of the NRLA’s key asks include:
- increasing the Local Housing Allowance rate to the 50th percentile
- scrapping the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit, or converting the loans into grants.
Watch: NRLA policy director Chris Norris gives evidence to HCLG committee on impact of Covid-19 on the private rented sector. Watch the session again here.
The future of the repossessions process
Questions from MPs then focused on the future of the repossession process.
On this, Chris Norris told the committee that the Section 8 process doesn’t work well at the moment, and courts “are not adequately resourced”, adding that if Section 21 is abolished it is important things happen in sequence when it comes to developing a new possessions process.
Chris shared it is important for ministers to consider how landlords deal with antisocial behaviour cases.
He said: “One of the reasons section 21 is used is because the section 8 grounds based process doesn’t allow for possession very easily even if there is significant antisocial behaviour going on. It relies on neighbours or housemates to give evidence in court. We need something to be done there”.
Two weeks ago Housing Minister Christopher Pincher confirmed the government will NOT rush through legislation to axe section 21, quoting the work of the NRLA.
Chris Norris was giving evidence alongside Ruth Ehrlich of Shelter and Caitlin Wilkinson of Generation Rent.
- The NRLA has previously warned the extension of the evictions ban will have devastating consequences for some landlords, with some facing financial hardship or unable to take swift action against tenants behaving antisocially. The association has put together five key asks, which you can read about here.
- The NRLA encouraging those affected to write to their MPs to make sure their voices are heard as the new possession process is agreed, and this can be done easily, using our tool.