A COMMUNITY union says it fears a surge in homelessness when the government’s ban on evictions for tenants ends in just under a month.

This comes after new statistics depict an increase in renters facing a precarious future in Swindon even before the coronavirus lockdown started.

Figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show the number of households in need of the council’s help to prevent them becoming homeless more than tripled between 2018 and 2019.

In the period between October and December last year 244 households were assessed for support, up from just 79 in 2018.

In the final quarter of last year 32 households were facing homelessness within two months, placing a duty on the council to work with them to prevent this.

A third of these had their tenancies ended by private who landlords no longer wanted to rent to them. There were none in the same period the year before.

ACORN Swindon has warned the situation could get much worse, with agents and corporate landlords likely to send a flood of section 21 eviction notices next month to anyone unable to pay the rent during the Covid-19 crisis.

Hector Steenbergen from the community union said: “We are calling on the council to formally support our calls to government on section 21 evictions, a leading cause of homelessness, and extend the moratorium on Covid evictions. Otherwise we will see a surge in homelessness in Swindon due to the crisis that the council will have to deal with.”

The organisation, which has branches in 19 cities across the UK staged a small socially-distanced protest in Swindon on Monday to highlight the issue.

“Nobody wants people out on the street because of this pandemic – so we also hope the council will join us in publicly calling on landlords not to evict people during the outbreak,” Hector added.

The charity Shelter echoed ACORN’s concerns. Chief executive Polly Neate said: “Even before the pandemic councils were barely able to help half the homeless people turning to them. The system will buckle if more families become homeless once the evictions ban is lifted in a few short weeks.

“We know private renting is deeply unstable at the best of times. Now we are hearing from renters who are struggling more than ever as jobs are lost and incomes fall because of the crisis. Many people are facing rent arrears and mounting debt.

“If the government lifts the eviction ban without putting in protections for renters, it will unleash a wave of homelessness that will see councils drown and families needlessly suffer. That’s why it’s critical judges are given extra powers to keep people in their homes.”

A borough council spokesman said: “The council’s key focus at all times in responding to the needs of those whose accommodation may be at risk is to prevent homelessness. There are a range of reasons why people come to us for help and support with their housing needs and, in most cases, homelessness can be prevented. The private rented sector in Swindon has grown in recent years accounting for approximately 16-17 per cent of all available accommodation.

“It is unsurprising therefore that the end of private sector tenancies is the biggest cause of people becoming homeless. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have worked proactively with landlords to prevent homelessness and they have responded well to the Government guidelines regarding evictions due to rent arrears.

“Over the coming weeks it will be important to maintain this contact with both landlords and tenants.

Anyone who is concerned about eviction should contact the council immediately so that they can receive appropriate advice and support. In particular anyone struggling to pay rent should contact us as soon as possible on 01793 445503 to receive detailed individual advice and support.”