Coronavirus: We 'tried our best' to help renters, Ardern says, but still no payment holiday offered

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has "tried our best" to help out renters who've lost their jobs or had their incomes cut thanks to the coronavirus lockdown.

Economists are predicting as many as 200,000 Kiwis could end up jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen businesses close their doors and workers kept at home in an attempt to stop the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus from spreading.

While mortgage-holders who lose income have been offered payment holidays, renters fear they'll have to keep on shelling out regardless. The Government has banned rent increases and put most eviction criteria on hold, but not mandated any payment holidays.

Unite Union, which represents workers in low-paid industries, has put its support behind suspending rents, as well as other bills like water and electricity, for the duration of the crisis. And Renters United says any relief given to owners should be passed onto tenants "in full", fearing landlords will simply ask for the arrears in full once any payment holiday was over.

"The measures will help ensure that after the crisis renters aren't trapped in debt that makes it impossible for them to recover financially and fully contribute to the country's recovery," said organiser Robert Whitaker.

Workers without income thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown measures are entitled to up to $585 a week in subsidies from the Government, paid through their employer. But rents in many parts of the country would eat up most of that, if not all. 

Asked on Newshub Nation if renters would be offered a break, or at least a subsidy, she said the mortgage holidays were being facilitated by the banks. 

"But of course, those mortgage holidays, that does mean, of course, that those repayments do need to restart and that debt still exists," she explained.

"We're very mindful for people in rentals that we don't want them to be in a position where they ultimately are evicted because they are unable to meet the rental payments while they, for instance, may have reduced income. So we've said no evictions for this time, no rent increases. 

"And if arrears build up, evictions can occur for within a 60-day period of those of 60 days worth of arrears that we've tried our best to also protect them."

Pressed by host Simon Shepherd if that meant no rent holidays, she said "we've done our best to try and protect those who are in rentals", putting trust in landlords and property managers to "pass on the compassion that they might be experiencing from their bank with mortgage holidays".

"I would also hope for anyone, for anyone who is currently a landlord to to hear the message that is being sent by the Government with the measures we've put in place to protect renters."

The wage subsidy has already been paid to 428,000 workers, Ardern said, totalling $2.7 billion so far.