Breathing space or thin air? Comments on the Debt Respite Scheme

By the Greater Manchester Law Centre (@gmlawcentre)


  • 280,000 are homeless in England
  • 750,000 are behind on their rent
  • 2000 possession orders were made in the run up to Christmas
  • 500 households were evicted by bailiffs despite eviction ban


On 31 March 2021, the current eviction ‘ban’ ends and the extended warning of eviction for tenants of longer notice periods falls away. In place of these safety nets, the government have passed ‘The Debt Respite Scheme’.


There’s a reason why the government have been quiet about this: it’s not a good solution.


The regulations create a moratorium of 60 days – during which time your debts and enforcement action are on hold. The idea is to give you ‘breathing space’ to find a ‘debt solution’. To apply you have to go to the council or find a debt advisor who will agree that you and your debt meet the criteria. Debtors aren’t qualified if they are bankrupt, have an IVA in place or had a moratorium within last 12 months, and the debt advisor must think that the debtor hasn’t got funds to meet the debt and that the moratorium is required.


Rent or mortgage arrears meet the criteria, but you have to be able to continue to pay your rent or mortgage payments as they fall due – there’s no respite from that. If you don’t keep up payments or your landlord/creditor will be ‘unduly prejudiced’ by the delay, then the moratorium can be revoked.


If at the end of the 60 days no magical ‘debt solution’ has appeared, then it’s back to business as usual for your landlord, creditor, the courts and bailiffs and no further moratorium can be applied for within the next 12 months. During this time, you can be taken to court and evicted just like before.


David Smith, partner in the commercial litigation team at JMW Solicitors, has reassured landlords that the Respite Scheme “is not a free ride for defaulting tenants. A section 21 notice can still be served and enforced against a tenant subject to a moratorium and so can a section 8 notice citing grounds other than arrears of rent.” In other words, what protection does it offer tenants really?


It’s possible that before these regulations come into force, loans for tenants (as requested by the landlord lobby) will be brought in to provide the ‘debt solution’ that is so far conspicuously absent from these Regulations. However, loans just push people further into debt. They take the burden off landlords by adding another creditor into tenants’ lives.


Debt isn’t a solution to debt.


What is the solution?


In March 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, said that “no one should lose their home because of the #coronavirus pandemic”.


But over 70,000 have already lost their homes.


Six million people are about to lose thousands in benefits if the uplift to Universal Credit is not extended and the number of people affected by the benefit cap is rocketing from £79,000 in Feb 2020 to 246,000 by the end of March 2021.


If the government wanted to, they could keep their promise. GMLC, Greater Manchester Tenants Union and Garden Court North Chambers have prepared draft legislation that would aim to prevent evictions by abolishing section 21 and removing arrears arising during the pandemic from the definition of arrears for possession proceedings (turning rent arrears into a more standard form of debt rather than a debt which can be used to justify an eviction).


As things stand, this ‘breathing space’ is nothing but thin air. Thousands of people have lost their homes because of Covid-19 and they are about to be joined by thousands more.


And whilst the government say we can’t afford the additional funds to prevent homelessness (e.g. by maintaining the uplift, scrapping the benefit cap, increasing local housing allowance, granting recourse to public funds), can we afford the £20k per year it costs to keep a homeless person on the streets?


24 February 2021