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Leading debt advice charities have written to Michael Gove urging him to make amendments to the Renters (Reform) Bill to give more protection to those in financial difficulties.


The letter – jointly sent by StepChange, Money Advice Trust, Citizens Advice, and Christians Against Poverty, alongside the Law Centres Network – calls for the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to “prioritise” reforms of the rental sector in this parliamentary session.

The charities are calling for a new ‘tenancy support programme’, which would mirror the Pre-Action Protocol that exists for social tenants in rent arrears.

This would introduce reasonable steps private landlords must take to support tenants in financial difficulty to sustain tenancies wherever possible, including referring them to benefits advice and seeking to agree an affordable repayment plan for arrears.

These steps would be supported by giving judges discretion to suspend eviction proceedings where these steps have not been taken.

The charities point out that the Renters (Reform) Bill as it stands gives landlords an automatic right to evict private tenants in two months or more of rent arrears, without offering any support or seeking to agree a repayment plan.

The charities point out that according to DLUHC figures rent arrears remain the most common reason tenancies are endedby landlords and estate agents, most often through section 21 notices. The letter points out that rather than offering more protection for those struggling to keep up with their rent, the Renters (Reform) Bill introduces an additional ‘repeat arrears’ ground.

The letter points to new research from StepChange shows private renters are twice as likely to be in problem debt as the average person, with more than half saying they have found it difficult to keep up with bills and credit commitment in recent months.

In addition it says that rising private rents are driving low financial resilience among private tenants, many of whom match the financial profile of social tenants but are unable to get social housing due to the limited supply of these properties.

The charities claim there is strong public support for this approach with 72% of UK adults agreeing private landlords should be required to offer their tenants an affordable repayment plan before being allowed to pursue eviction.

StepChange debt chart chief client officer Richard Lane says: “We’re currently experiencing a crisis of housing affordability which is leaving millions of private renters on the cusp of falling into problem debt simply because they do not have the income to cover exorbitant rents alongside rising essential costs.

“While a mortgage holder or social tenant has the security of knowing that their lender or housing provider will follow a process of engagement and support if they fall into a difficult spot with their finances, private renters are not afforded the same protections.”

Money Advice Trust runs the National Debtline. Its acting deputy chief executive Jane Tully adds: “Reform of the private rental sector is long overdue, and the government’s intention to deliver greater security for tenants is welcome. Proposals as they currently stand, however, do not get close to providing the protections needed for private renters.

“With rents rising and many household budgets at breaking point, it is only right that reasonable steps should be put in place to sustain tenancies.Changes to Ground 8A are needed now to reduce the threat of unnecessary evictions and to bring safeguards in this sector in-line with those granted to mortgage holders and social tenants.”

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