Baroness Alicia Kennedy has accused the government of hypocrisy over its diverging approach to evictions for commercial and residential tenants.
On Wednesday the First Secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay, announced that commercial landlords will be unable to evict their tenants until March 2022. There will also be emergency legislation this year to make it obligatory for business tenants and landlords in dispute over Covid-related arrears to enter into a binding mediation scheme.
But Baroness Kennedy, the director of the Generation Rent campaign group, says: “The difference in the government’s treatment of businesses and private renters who have been hit by the pandemic could not be starker.
“If your business has fallen behind on rent by more than four months, that debt is ring-fenced, your landlord is encouraged to ‘share the financial impact’ and you are protected from eviction until March next year.
“If, however, you rent your home and are behind by four months, your landlord has been able to seek a possession order since September last year, and as of this month you get just four weeks’ notice before you’re taken to court.
“At the G7, Boris Johnson warned against entrenching inequalities during the recovery, yet at every turn the government has taken decisions that hurt renters, from freezing Local Housing Allowance while rents continue rising, to inflating house prices with the stamp duty holiday.
“Now a business’s pandemic debts are treated as exceptional, yet the same protection is not extended to people’s homes. To help renters bounce back from the pandemic the government must clear their arrears with a Covid Rent Debt Fund.”
Meanwhile tax and advisory consultancy Blick Rothenberg says commercial landlords have been asked to shoulder a burden which no other trade or industry has, in terms of losing income for up to two years.
Heather Powell, a partner at the firm and head of property says: “It is appalling that the government continues to treat the opportunist businesses who are generating profits to ignore their landlords and refuse to pay the rent due”
She adds: “The government’s announcement means that occupiers of commercial premises – offices, factories, restaurants, cafes and leisure venues cannot be evicted for not paying their rent until after March 25 2022.
“The government is asking tenants to pay rent due as soon as restrictions are removed in their sector, if they are not already paying but this pious hope has no teeth.”
“The government needs to remember that landlords provide the infrastructure from which UK PLC trades, and from whom investment is required to help UK PLC achieve Carbon Zero by 2050.”