“As we emerge from this crisis, let’s make sure everyone has a decent place they can call home as part of a better society.”Jeremy Corbyn MP
As Britain falls into the worst recession in Europe, housing campaigners and tenants’ groups are warning that the Government must act to ensure there is not a catastrophic spike in evictions and homelessness.
The ban on landlords evicting tenants in England expires on 23 August. The end of the ban is extremely concerning for tenants unable to pay rent, as from 24 August private landlords will be able to start eviction proceedings. This means anyone who has accrued rent arrears of eight weeks or more can once again be automatically evicted; and polling done for the housing charity Shelter estimates that a huge 226,785 people could be at risk
The Covid-19 pandemic has already plunged hundreds of thousands of renters into debt. The tenants’ union London Renters Union reports that six in ten renters have lost income. Several tenants’ unions have accused the Government of siding with landlords over tenants; and of doing little to alleviate the fears of those now at risk of eviction. According to Shelter, the total number of private renters in arrears in 2020 reached 442,000 adults – double what it was in 2019.
This number stands to increase with the winding down of the furlough scheme, which is set to stop entirely at the end of October. Research done by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests that unemployment could subsequently grow as high as 10%, meaning many more people will likely fall into arrears as their incomes are heavily reduced.
Labour MPs have again and again warned the Government about the high number of evictions that will take place if the ban is lifted.
In an Early Day motion earlier this year, a group of left Labour MPs including Richard Burgon called on the Government to suspend rent for tenants affected by the crisis, cancel rent arrears accrued during the crisis and protect renters from eviction so no one becomes homeless during a pandemic.
And this week, John McDonnell MP has called for the ban on evictions introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to stay in place for at least another year.
The Scottish and Welsh Governments have already taken some actions; Wales introduced new legislation mandating many private landlords to give six months’ notice prior to eviction. Scotland went further, and rightly extended the eviction ban until March 2021, giving tenants much needed breathing space.
It is clear that the English Government must follow the Scottish and Welsh Governments by taking similar actions. In order to prevent a crisis of homelessness amidst an unprecedented global pandemic, the Government could follow the Scottish government in extending the moratorium on evictions, banning ‘no fault evictions’ and developing a scheme to write off rent arrears accrued. Tenants must be protected from the threat of eviction when so many are facing a loss of income and employment through no fault of their own. It is also vital we do not force vulnerable people into employment that has a high risk of exposure to Covid-19 by making them seek further income to avoid evictions.
Labour, in cooperation with groups like Acorn, London Renter’s Union and Living Rent, has to be firmly on the side of the tenant in these times, and indeed all times.
As Jeremy Corbyn recently said, “The Coronavirus crisis has highlighted how eradicating homelessness is possible almost overnight if the political choice is made and will is there. The same is true of fixing the wider housing crisis by giving renters’ proper rights and building council housing,” and as “we emerge from this crisis, let’s make sure everyone has a decent place they can call home as part of a better society.”
- Anyone facing homelessness can get free, expert advice from Shelter by visiting http://www.shelter.org.uk/get_help or by calling their emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444 (calls are free on mobile phones and landlines).
- Follow the London Renters’ Union on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LDNRentersUnion
- Claim the Future are hosting a discussion with John McDonnell at 7pm on Friday September 21 on ‘An end to Landlordism.’ You can register here.