By Declan Carey
EVICTIONS are banned for a further two months in England and Wales – but renters are urging the government to guarantee further protections as research shows thousands are facing the possibility of severe financial hardship.
A report from the New Economics Foundation found that as many as 1.2 million renters are at risk of losing their jobs or work hours and face having to depend on Universal Credit.
Renters now demand that the Government do more to protect them.
Announcing the extension on the evictions ban, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Today, I am announcing that the Government’s ban on evictions will be extended for another two months. That takes the moratorium on evictions to a total of five months.
“Eviction hearings will not be heard in courts until the end of August and no-one will be evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus.
“We are also working with the judiciary on proposals to ensure that when evictions proceedings do recommence, arrangements, including rules, are in place to assist the court in giving appropriate protections for those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus – including those tenants who have been shielding.”
But Fraser Allardice, a volunteer at The London Renters Union, told Redaction Politics that while the two month extension has come as a sigh of relief, the prospect of an increase in homelessness remains a “massive possibility” without further Government support.
He said: “There’s widespread impact on people’s income due to the coronavirus and there are a lot of people already in quite precarious financial situations that rely on gig economy work and zero hours contracts.
“That’s led to a situation where only 48 per cent of the rent which is normally due was paid in May across England which is a staggering indication of how people are not able to cover their normal costs.
“One of the demands that the London Renters Union is making is that we make the eviction ban effectively permanent.
“That strikes some people as quite a radical ask but in actual fact the Tory manifesto in 2019 included a pledge to scrap Section 21 no fault evictions.
“There’s also no sign that the rent debt that people are accruing during the time is going to be written off which puts people in an extremely difficult position come the end of August.
“Homelessness is a massive possibility. At the moment there’s no reason to think that wouldn’t happen because there’s a massive backlog of evictions cases being built up over this time.”
While the ban on evictions prevents landlords from removing tenants from properties before August, landlords are still able to issue eviction notices for after the end of the ban.
Shelter, one of the biggest homelessness charities in the UK, has called on the Government to act to prevent a “tidal wave of homelessness” among people who are out of work and unable to pay the rent.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The government has reset the clock on the evictions ban, buying the families who were only weeks away from losing their homes, a vital stay of execution. But it’s only a stop-gap.
“The ban hasn’t stopped people who’ve lost their jobs during this pandemic from racking up rent arrears.
“Even if they have a plan to pay them back, these debts will throw struggling renters straight back into the firing line of an automatic eviction as soon as the ban does lift.
“It’s critical that Robert Jenrick uses this extension wisely to change the law and properly protect renters.
“Judges must be given the power to stop people losing their homes because of coronavirus, otherwise the country will face a tidal wave of homelessness after the summer. Sooner or later, the government has to stop kicking the can down the road.”
Figures from the charity published last December reported that homelessness has been on the rise in England, with 23,000 more people recorded as being homeless since 2016.
However, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government defends its record on protecting renters.
A spokesperson said: “The government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic, including providing protection from evictions until August 24.
“The government is helping prevent people getting into financial hardship by paying up to 80 per cent of their wages, increasing the amount available to welfare claimants and raising the Local Housing Allowance rate to the 30th percentile of market rents in each area.”
The UK is not the only nation gripped by fear of a homelessness crisis.
Across Europe, charities have struggled to support rising numbers of people who are facing the threat of homelessness, with Spanish organisation Casa Caridad distributing almost 6,000 food packages in Valencia in the first month of lockdown alone.
Similarly in the United States the National Alliance to End Homelessness has reported ‘widespread’ gaps in the capacity to test and screen staff and clients for Covid-19, complicating efforts to understand the rate of infection among people who are homeless.
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