The charity says that in December it helped someone with an issue with their privately rented housing every two minutes; and that half a million private renters in the UK are behind on their rent.
Protection against eviction is due to expire this weekend, coinciding with the third national lockdown and associated economic hardship.
Renters have already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic with one in three private renters losing income.
According to Citizens Advice, rent arrears is a new scenario for many tenants with 58 per cent of those currently behind on their rent having no rent arrears in February 2020 before the pandemic began. For people already struggling with rent before the pandemic hit, their arrears have got worse for 40 per cent of them.
On average, people who have fallen behind on rent now owe £730, which would mean about £360m is owed across the country, the charity added.
Negotiating with landlords
Citizens Advice points out that mortgage payers have been able to benefit from payment holidays, but renters have been forced to fall back on negotiating month-by-month with their landlords.
The temporary ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 ends on 11 January and Citizens Advice is warning that, without further help for renters, an avalanche of evictions could take place in the spring.
A quarter of those the charity surveyed who have rent arrears have already been threatened with eviction, termination of their rental contract, or handed an eviction notice despite the current rules.
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “As coronavirus restrictions once again tighten for everyone, the government must not forget the struggles of private renters.
“They currently face the prospect of losing their home once the eviction ban ends next week and the debt they have built up is likely to cast a long shadow over their future.
He noted that half a million private renters remain behind on their rent, with the majority falling behind during the pandemic restrictions and highlighted they had no structured way to defer payments.
“Even though many landlords are trying their best to support their tenants, thousands of renters could face eviction in the coming months without further help,” he said.
“The government must act decisively to prevent evictions in areas subject to the highest coronavirus restrictions. And they should provide targeted support to help people escape the trap of rent arrears in the New Year.”
Extend ban on repossession action
Citizens Advice is calling for a legal ban on bailiff action and a pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January.
It’s also demanding targeted financial support for people in England who have built up rent arrears.
It says the government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans – comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales – to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes.
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has also called for a financial package to help struggling renters to pay off arrears built since lockdown measures began.