The government has extended its ban on enforcing evictions during the coronavirus pandemic until “at least” 21 February, ministers have announced.
The emergency measure, which has been extended before, had been due to expire in just three days, on Monday 11 January.
Boris Johnson had told MPs on Wednesday that the end date of the ban was under review.
While courts will be able to process cases and eviction notices can be issued, bailiffs will not be able to enact them until 22 February at the earliest, except as now in extreme cases such as anti-social behaviour.
During the first national lockdown the government legislated to stop courts hearing possession cases, effectively banning evictions outright for any reason.
This was extended until 20 September 2020, when it was replaced by a weaker ban that allows cases to proceed through courts – but not to be enforced by bailiffs.
Exemptions for extreme rent arrears and anti-social behaviour were also introduced.
Some housing campaigners and charities have warned that the latest six-week extension will be inadequate to protect tenants.
“Sadly, a six week extension just isn’t good enough,” said Harriet Protheroe Sultani, vice chair of campaign group Momentum.
“We have around a million people currently in rental arrears and facing eviction in the middle of a pandemic.
“The ability of landlords to extract rent cannot be valued above the lives of working people. The ban needs to be extended and pandemic rent debt needs to be forgiven.”
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of the charity Citizens Advice, said: “The government has made the right decision to extend this protection. Renters who are struggling with arrears shouldn’t face the prospect of losing the roof over their head when everyone is being asked to stay at home.
“However, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in arrears and this debt will continue to hang over them. The government should put in place targeted financial support for tenants in England who’ve fallen behind on their rent.”
The Citizens Advice estimates that around half a million tenants are in arrears, with the average amount owed being £730.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said the ban was “a sticking plaster” and called for support to help tenants pay their rent arrears.
“[The eviction ban] means tenants’ debts will continue to mount to the point where they have no hope of paying them off leading eventually to them having to leave their home,” he said.
“Instead the Government should recognise the crisis facing many tenants and take immediate action to enable them to pay their debts as is happening in Scotland and Wales. The objective should be to sustain tenancies in the long term and not just the short term.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “You cannot follow the order to stay at home if you don’t have one – making the government’s decision to stop bailiffs from physically evicting people this winter the right call. While this ban doesn’t halt the evictions process entirely, it is the minimum required to keep more people safe in their homes.”
Debt charity StepChange, said the government needed to “start building the longer-term recovery framework that will be needed to tackle household debt once the pandemic eventually ends”.
The government has also announced an extra £10 million in funding to help councils accommodate rough sleepers.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “At the start of this pandemic we made sure that the most vulnerable in society were protected. This winter, we are continuing in this vein and redoubling our efforts to help those most in need.
“Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind in the world, ensuring 33,000 people are safe in accommodation. We are now going further and focusing on GP registration of rough sleepers.
“We are also extending the ban on bailiff evictions – helping to protect the most vulnerable renters.”