Since the nation went into lockdown in March, many of the complaints Resolver has seen have been about what you might imagine – refunds, deliveries and travel issues.
As yet, we’re not seeing a huge rise in complaints relating to personal finance. But when you look below the surface and see refund requests spiking across most sectors, and more people turning to Section 75 to access money they feel they’re owed, there’s evidence of people tightening their belt to prepare for potentially tougher times ahead.
This week it’s been reported that one in three businesses could be making redundancies. At the start of the month, businesses had to start paying a share of furlough wages and that scheme runs out in October. At the same time people who took out mortgage or credit holiday periods will find their three months running out soon, if not already. While it’s not too late to claim one if you’re worried about your outgoings, if you’ve already had one, the evidence suggests further extensions may be trickier and could impact your credit rating.
But what concerns me the most is the current ban on evictions in England and Wales which is due to expire on 23rd August 2020. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate exemptions introduced back in April but at six months and a year respectively, these too won’t last for much longer.
With around 4.5 million people renting in the private sector, this means many could find themselves losing their homes if they lose (or have already lost) the means to pay their bills. This in turn is likely to have a negative impact on struggling buy-to-let landlords where tenants have not been able to or have refused to pay rent. Though the repossession ban runs until 31 October 2020, the wide-ranging effects of householders struggling to make ends meet is likely to have a much longer tail.
Our proposals to tackle the looming housing crisis
It’s easy to judge from the sidelines how terrible or inevitable all of this is. But there are some relatively simple solutions that don’t involve huge cash bailouts that could be implemented? before the situation gets out of hand, including:
An extension on the ban on evictions and support for buy-to-let landlords into the new year; and
The introduction of a free national landlord/tenant dispute service
An extension on the ban on evictions or support for buy-to-let landlords into the new year
While the ban on evictions was a necessary piece of emergency legislation, the fact remains that it could not be ending at a worse moment.
Extending the ban on evictions into 2021 would bring some much-needed respite through the challenging months ahead. But this needs to be combined with support for landlords whose tenants are not paying, leaving them facing repossession. So a repossession ban extension would also be required, along with support for landlords whose tenant induced rent arrears are not at fault (where insurance doesn’t cover them).
A national landlord/tenant dispute resolution service
Rules around landlord and tenant relations are affected by what country in the UK you live in, how effective your local council mediation services are and whether either party is following the existing law fairly or not. This results in significant variations on how tenants and landlords are treated around. It also affects how seriously councils deal with troublesome tenants or poor landlords.
The simplest solution is a single, standard approach to mediation and dispute resolution for housing that is the same for everyone, no matter where they live. Many laws around renting already exist; they just need consistent enforcement, a free appeals service and no fallback on the courts unless it’s a last resort.
Practical, accessible solutions
There are no easy solutions for the challenges that millions of people will face in the coming months. But we can foresee and plan for many of the problems that will affect people before they have a critical impact on the economy.
Extending the ban on evictions and continuing the support for landlords will provide short term relief for those struggling. In the longer term the process for resolving these, often very stressful, disputes needs to be made quicker, easier and cheaper for all parties with the introduction of a free, national landlord and tenant dispute resolution service.
We believe it’s vital that practical, accessible solutions to major problems such as keeping a roof over your head should be discussed and implemented now. If we fail to do so, the cost to society long-term is potentially much higher.
Alex Neill is the CEO of Resolver and a long-standing consumer rights campaigner