‘URGENT’ help is needed in Barnsley to protect hundreds of local residents’ tenancies who are at risk of homelessness due to the knock-on financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders have warned.

At the start of lockdown in March, legislation was introduced that extended the notice period for evictions from two to three months - with the government able to add a further three months if necessary.

The legislation does not stop landlords serving eviction notices on tenants - something which has happened locally - leading the town’s MPs to appeal to the government to bring in urgent measures to stop already rising cases of homelessness in the borough.

The government’s ban on landlords taking action on cash-strapped tenants ended on Monday, leading to fears over spiralling cases.

While anyone served with an eviction notice since the end of August has been given a six-month notice period, anyone who was served a notice from March to August has not been given that protection.

The Rucksack Project, dedicated to supporting rough sleepers in Barnsley, has raised concerns that the lifted ban will see an increase in ‘sofa surfers’ and property sharing.

Adie Flute, who runs the scheme, told the Chronicle: “The lifting of the ban this week will have a detrimental effect on the borough.

“In my view, it has not been well managed by the government. The last-minute extension last month left tenants dangling by a thread.

“Tenants will have concerns of where they’ll find themselves if unable to keep up with rent. Everything has been last-minute which will also see an impact on people’s mental health.

“I fully expect more cases of sofa surfing and people sharing properties now that legislation are no longer in place.

“I have no doubt that we will see more people out on the streets of Barnsley. All we can hope is that this number is small.”

Adie believes the lifting of the ban could leave tenants with no choice but to sleep rough during the winter months and is concerned the demand for accommodation will be greater than usual.

“I’m not sure whether Barnsley will be able to cope with the demand if this does spiral.

“I know there are some provisions in place which will hopefully offer long term support which is a positive thing.

“Homelessness in Barnsley is not performing well compared to areas of a similar size, so when the ban is lifted this is a big concern.

“With Covid-19 and the closure of the drop-in, we have had to make some changes this year. We have a slightly longer list of items we need to help those sleeping rough.

“We’re still desperate for essentials such as rucksacks, sleeping bags and camping mats, waterproof coats, hats, gloves and hand warmers.

“As the winter months approach, it is much tougher for those who have nowhere else to turn.

“The lifting of the ban could see the numbers of people needing support grow substantially.

“I worry the demand will be even greater.”

Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock - whose constituency is one of the worst-hit areas locally - added: “The rental evictions ban must be extended to protect renters.

“Thousands of tenants could lose their homes through no fault of their own as this crisis has pushed too many families into working poverty.

“I will keep pressing the government to prevent unnecessary evictions and support vulnerable renters.”

There are more than 88,000 privately rented properties in Barnsley, with two-thirds of tenants having no savings - while 80 per cent of council and housing association tenants have no savings, according to the government’s English Housing Survey.

Private renting is one of the leading causes of homelessness, according to housing charity Shelter.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Ever since this pandemic gripped hold of the country, causing chaos for hundreds of thousands of renters, our services have been deluged with calls from worried families and workers plunged unexpectedly into debt.

“When the ban lifts, their ability to clear coronavirus-related arrears will be critical if they are to stay safe in their homes.

“We simply cannot afford to lurch into another devastating homelessness crisis now that will ruin countless lives and undermine the country’s economic recovery.

“This one-off opportunity to provide emergency relief to those renters most in need must not be missed.”