STAFF at Cumbria’s leading legal advice charity have seen a sharp rise in cash-strapped tenants who are facing the threat of eviction. 

Just weeks after the News & Star reported on how the cost-of-living crisis is fuelling a rising tide of county court eviction claims, Cumbria Law Centre has confirmed that its lawyers are helping an ever-increasing number of tenants.

Some of those facing possible homelessness may not be aware they are entitled to legal aid to fight possession claims, said Pete Moran, from the charity’s Carlisle office.

“At the start of the year, we were seeing between two and four possession claims listed in the county court every week, “he said. “But now we’re seeing four times that number, and so might open 12 new cases every week.”

Staff at the charity say social landlords in the county have worked hard to ensure that tenants – particularly those classed as vulnerable – are well supported and do not fall into arrears with their rent.

Those most at risk are those living in private rented accommodation, whose incomes may be variable, said Mr Moran.

“Private tenants are less likely to have been supported by a series of helpful interventions,” said Mr Moran. “The other factor is that during lockdown it wasn’t possible to evict tenants.

“That’s no longer the case. Often, private tenants who have been given notice to seek possession by a landlord don’t attend court. But it’s well worth their while contacting the Law Centre because in some cases we can help.”

Not all tenants – particularly those on benefits or low incomes - are aware that they may be entitled to legal aid to help fund their fight against eviction.

Furthermore, said Mr Moran, those  tenants who do lose their home and are left with arrears running into several thousand pounds may find it harder than ever to secure a tenancy with another landlord.

Mr Moran linked the crisis to the rapid rise in food and fuel prices, which means that the savings people would normally accrue during the low-fuel use summer months are being wiped out.

“It’s extremely worrying,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to see how another hike in price of energy, coupled with the cold winter months, is going to be tolerable. There’ll be the temptation to defer paying rent to pay for something else essential.

“The message is that if you are on benefits, or a low income, and you get a notice seeking possession of your property, contact the Law Centre. We may be able to help, but if we can’t we’ll steer you towards help from elsewhere.”

According to recently released statistics, repossession courts in Cumbria received 84 claims between January and March – up from 59 the previous quarter and a rise from just 35 during the same period last year.

Judges approved 60 outright possession orders during that quarter, granting the landlords or companies the right to apply for a warrant to evict their tenants. In the whole of 2021, 83 outright orders were granted.

During the year’s first quarter, 20 homes were successfully repossessed – around a third of the total repossessed throughout last year.

Shelter is calling on the Government to urgently bring forward laws that would scrap Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, which see tenants given as little as eight weeks to leave their homes. Section 21 related eviction claims have risen in Cumbria – from four in the first quarter of 2021 to 17 in the first quarter of this year.

Cumbria Law Centre is available on 01228 515129.