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Housing

Renters ‘forgotten’ in Budget as campaigners warn of homelessness spike

Sunak announced no new measures to help renters clear Covid-19 debts at the Budget despite unveiling a stamp duty holiday extension and five per cent mortgages to boost home owners

Renters are facing homelessness in “a matter of weeks”, campaigners have warned, after Rishi Sunak’s Budget failed to answer calls for tenants to be given cash to clear their arrears and stave off eviction.

The Chancellor spoke of turning “generation rent into generation buy” as he announced five per cent mortgages and a stamp duty holiday extension at the Budget.

But there was no mention of any support for renters with 840,000 now in arrears due to the pandemic, according to a National Residential Landlords Association survey.

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Campaigners had urged the Chancellor to provide renters with cash to clear rent debts, warning that mounting arrears could lead to a surge in evictions and drive homelessness.

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Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “It is very disappointing to see the housing support announced today is limited to home buyers. Hundreds of thousands of renters in arrears are facing eviction in a matter of weeks and must not be forgotten. We also desperately need more social housing, while a lack of further investment in housing benefit will push more people into poverty and put them at risk of homelessness.

“Last year the UK government’s bold emergency action showed homelessness is not inevitable, but that progress is at risk of being undone if further action is not taken now.”

Bailiff-enforced evictions are currently banned in England until March 31 after Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced an extension from February 21 last month.

But that does not prevent eviction court hearings from taking place with the most egregious anti-social behaviour cases receiving priority while landlords can still issue eviction orders with a six-month notice period.

This is in contrast to the total eviction ban in place between March and September 2020.

With tenants accumulating arrears that leave them still vulnerable to facing court action, campaigners have accused the Chancellor of “abandoning renters”.

By contrast, Sunak announced a new mortgage guarantee scheme that will enable homebuyers to secure a mortgage up to £600,000 with a five per cent deposit, and an extension to the temporary cut in stamp duty up until September.

A spokesperson for the ACORN union told The Big Issue: “It is a disgrace that the Budget has set out no support for renters.

“Without action from the government it will be impossible for so many to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Covid, and will lead to a wave of evictions that will no doubt spike homelessness levels.

“The government has abandoned tenants since the start of this crisis and the Budget continues in this spirit but they need to get real – the rent debt crisis isn’t going to go away if they pretend it isn’t there, and renters have been organising and are now a political force to be reckoned with – we won’t let this slide.”

The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance “urged the Chancellor to help avoid renters being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing” on February 18 in a joint-statement alongside Crisis, Shelter, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the National Residential Landlords Association.

Ahead of the Budget this week, Generation Rent (GR) made similar calls in an open letter to the Chancellor asking the Westminster Government to “resolve debt rent debt in a way that shares costs fairly between landlords and taxpayers”.

The letter, which was signed by tenants group London Renter’s Union, think tank New Economics Foundation and more, also asked for a full eviction ban to return in England as well as a Renters Reform Bill to evictions where landlords do not have to give a reason.

In response to the Sunak’s announcement, Alicia Kennedy, GR director, said: “Today the Chancellor ignored the very real rent debt crisis and without government action renters will have no protection from eviction and homelessness. ”

Shelter’s Polly Neate described the Budget announcements as delivering “no hope of turning generation rent into generation buy’”.

Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowtree Foundation director, added: “With billions going into propping up already high house prices through the stamp duty holiday and the mortgage guarantee scheme, it’s galling to see the government choose to ignore millions of renters who are already worried about mounting arrears.”

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