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Pandemic will leave many people insecure about paying their rent, warns expert

Christine Whitehead of the London School of Economics said there would be two or three years of ‘real discomfort’ in the rental sector.

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Christine Whitehead has warned of ‘real discomfort’ in the rental sector, (PA)

Christine Whitehead has warned of ‘real discomfort’ in the rental sector, (PA)

Christine Whitehead has warned of ‘real discomfort’ in the rental sector, (PA)

The impact of the pandemic will leave “very large numbers” of people feeling insecure about being able to pay their rent, a housing conference has been told.

Christine Whitehead, emeritus professor of housing economics at the London School of Economics (LSE), warned there will be a “slow burn” of evictions, with two or three years of “real discomfort” in the rental sector.

She told the housing webinar, organised by housing charity Threshold and the The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), that lots of people will be left feeling even more unsure about rental security.

Asked about scaling back Covid housing support, Ms Whitehead said: “We are leaving very, very large numbers of people feeling even more insecure than they did because they haven’t been able to pay their rent, because they don’t know what their job is going to look like.

“I don’t think the legal system, particularly in England, can cope dealing with actually evicting large numbers of people and I don’t think there will be a large number of landlords who will want to do that.

“It’s going to be a long-slow burner. There’s going to be lots of people who manage to sort themselves out, there will be lots of people who walk away and the landlords will have to deal with that but there are also lots of people who are more insecure than they were.

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“We need to provide some capacity to support people in that way, but I think it will be two or three years of real discomfort.”

The housing expert said that Ireland is among many countries to bring in tighter regulations in the rental sector.

However, she said there is “little evidence” that increasing rent controls has impacted on investors’ willingness to invest.

The human right is the human right, it doesn't provide rules and regulations or the money by which it can become a proper realityChristine Whitehead

“There is not a lot of evidence, particularly in Germany and some in Ireland, that it’s really changed anything very much,” she added.

“It certainly hasn’t changed the impact on investment but that’s partly because the more extreme suggestions, such as return to first generation rent control have not been implemented.

“The discussion now, in the main, taking Berlin as an example, is we do take account of costs and what is happening in the inflationary world.”

Mr Whitehead also said that inserting a right to housing into the Constitution to solve the housing crisis is “an aspiration rather than a reality”.

“It is legislated in a large number of countries and the United Nations has made a very big deal of the emphasis on the human rights of adequate housing.

“The human right is the human right, it doesn’t provide rules and regulations or the money by which it can become a proper reality.

“It’s an aspiration rather than a reality.

“We should be responsible enough to be able to set up a housing system in any country which accepts that everyone has a right to be in a safe and secure accommodation and make that happen rather than tie it to the human right.”


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