Tens of thousands of people living in private rented accommodation in Wales are facing “all too predictable” fears of losing their homes as government eviction bans near their end.

Emergency laws brought in to prevent evictions and homelessness during the pandemic are scheduled to expire at the end of the month, and housing charity Shelter Cymru says these “absolutely vital” protections for renters will cause chaos nationwide if they end abruptly.

“If you’ve been told you’ve got two months to move out, finding a home can feel like a hopeless race against time,” said the charity’s chief executive, Ruth Power. “Unemployment is expected to keep growing until 2022, meaning more people will fall into hardship and risk losing their home.”

Shelter Cymru has called on the Welsh Government to extend protections for renters, some of whom will have already navigated being furloughed and potentially falling into rent arrears and are now all too aware of the looming June 30 cut-off date for support.

The charity found one in five renters in Wales (some 78,000 people) were worried they would lose their home or be asked to leave it at short notice, while four in ten (some 143,000 renters) said their experience of finding and trying to keep a home makes them worry about finding another home in the future.

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For much of the pandemic, the government here has prevented renters being issued with a writ or warrant of possession or restitution, or a notice of eviction; and landlords must give their tenants at least six months’ notice that they intend to terminate a contract – except in special cases such as antisocial behaviour or domestic violence, when the process could be shorter.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said ministers had taken “unprecedented action to protect public health and support Welsh tenants” and also provided extra funding for advice and support services “for those struggling to pay their rent and bills”. The legislation was accompanied by more protections for the homeless – deemed as a high-risk group for Covid-19 harm – with councils given emergency funding to get people off the streets.

But as the coronavirus situation has continued to improve over recent months, government in Wales and at UK level has moved to phase out some support services in line with the reopening of the economy.

Power said the eviction ban “saved lives” and, with extended notice periods, “have provided much-needed help for the people living in rented homes, who we know have been most likely to lose their jobs or income due to Covid-19”.

But with both schemes set to be wrapped up in a matter of weeks, Shelter Cymru is worried a wave of evictions will plunge thousands of families into crisis, unable to find another home or employment.

“Homelessness services are meant to be a last resort for people in crisis, but the risk now facing many renters is all too predictable,” Power said. “Action must be taken now by the Welsh Government to prevent many more people in Wales being driven into homelessness, when councils across Wales are already struggling with an unprecedented level of demand.”

The Welsh Government told The National that it is “considering further options to strengthen support for tenants”.

Wales could follow the example of England, where the eviction ban was lifted last week. There, the UK government opted to continue the extended notice period for tenants, in a bid to phase out protections rather than let them all end at once. English landlords will have to give four months’ notice to their tenants – shorter than the six-month rule over the past year, but longer than was mandated under pre-pandemic laws.

But the extension of the notice period in England has done little to stave off fears of eviction, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which found 400,000 households had already been served with an eviction notice or told they may be evicted, and another 450,000 were at-risk because they were in rent arrears.

That research suggests Wales may need to go further to prevent a similar tide of evictions, and at Shelter Cymru, Power said there were two areas in which the government could make instant improvements.

Firstly, ministers need to ensure renters can actually qualify for available support. When the government introduced the Tenancy Saver Loan during the pandemic, “only a handful of tenants have been granted a loan,” she said, adding: “Of the people coming to Shelter Cymru for housing advice almost nobody was eligible for this loan. The Welsh Government urgently needs to offer financial help that more private renters affected by Covid qualify for, before people lose their homes.”

Secondly, from spring 2022 landlords will have to give six months’ notice for evictions – part of new legislation to give tenants more security and stability. But the Shelter Cymru boss is urging the Welsh Government to keep notice periods at six months until the law changes next year, warning that “it is confusing for tenants to allow notice periods to drop back down, only to yo-yo back up again in a few months’ time”.

She added: “Now is not the time to return to short notice periods – we need to give tenants the extra time to get back on their feet financially and, if they risk being homeless, to navigate the nightmarish housing market.”

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