Housing

Ending unfair evictions could slash homelessness and save £160m a year

Generation Rent want renters to be compensated when a landlord sells a property to halt 'unfair evictions' as protections are due to end

unfair evictions

Generation Rent say making landlords compensate renters when selling a property could help prevent homelessness through costly 'unfair evictions'. Image credit: Maria Ziegler/Unsplash

Protecting renters from ‘unfair evictions’ could reduce homelessness by almost a tenth and save the taxpayer £160m a year, warned tenants’ campaigners Generation Rent just days before eviction protections are due to end in England.

Generation Rent’s analysis of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) statistics found that 68,430 households faced eviction between April 2018 and December 2020 following a complaint from the tenant about the property or due to their landlord selling a property.

The renters’ group said reforming renting laws to make landlords pay compensation to tenants when they decide to sell up or banning evictions where a landlord “wishes to avoid a complaint” could prevent homelessness and save public money. Scrapping so-called no-fault evictions – known as section 21 evictions – as the government has vowed to do in its Better Deal for renters, would also help.

“The government’s commitment to abolishing section 21 means that landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants just for requesting repairs or on other spurious grounds,” said Alicia Kennedy, director at Generation Rent (GR). 

“But without further protections tenants could still face hardship and homelessness if their landlord decides to sell up. It cannot be right for a housing provider to leave their customer in the lurch and expect tenants and taxpayers to pick up the bill.”

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GR found nine per cent of the 755,250 households made homeless or threatened with homelessness over the same period faced an “unfair eviction”. 

The group’s analysis also revealed that failing to prevent such evictions has added to the financial burden local authorities are facing.

Councils in England spent £543m on prevention, administration and support activities around homelessness in 2019/20. That amounted to a cost of £1,874 for each of the 289,810 homelessness cases which councils responded to. Meanwhile the families living in temporary accommodation cost councils £1.1bn collectively, leading to a cost of £13,410 per household. 

As a result, GR estimated councils faced a bill of £161m in dealing with ‘unfair evictions’ as they were tasked with responding to 28,150 homelessness cases and 8,057 households evicted into temporary accommodation. 

The data, taken from MHCLG’s statutory homelessness statistics and local authority revenue and expenditure data, only partly showed the impact of the pandemic. But renters are about to see eviction protections disappear as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted across the majority of England.

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Bailiff-enforced evictions will return from June 1 with eviction notice periods set at four months after the Westminster government introduced six-month notice periods earlier in the pandemic.

The protections had been in place throughout the lockdown in place during the start of 2021. The Westminster government originally enforced a full eviction ban in England between March and September 2020.

On May 24 ministers responded to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report into their efforts to prevent homelessness and protect people in private renting during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for MHCLG said the department had taken “decisive action to protect the 8.4 million households across the social and private rented sectors by introducing legislation to delay when landlords could evict tenants”.

We believe the targeted interventions this government already has in place, which are all forms of non-repayable support, offer an appropriate and sustainable form of help for vulnerable rentersA Westminster government spokesperson

After the full eviction ban ended, the government had “struck the right balance between protecting public health, supporting the most vulnerable and ensuring access to justice for landlords”, they continued.

The HCLG Committee’s report, released in March, asked ministers to introduce a “specific financial package to support tenants to repay rent arrears caused by Covid-19”, insisting the action should be “one of the department’s top priorities”.

The MPs also urged the government to boost discretionary housing payments, which allow councils to give people cash to help with housing costs, as well as reconsidering a freeze on local housing allowance (LHA) to prevent evictions once protections lift.

In response, MHCLG said: “We believe the targeted interventions this government already has in place, which are all forms of non-repayable support, offer an appropriate and sustainable form of help for vulnerable renters, avoiding tenants taking on further debt to cover arrears.”

The government pointed to the £20 increase in Universal Credit and a one-off £500 working tax credit payment alongside increasing LHA in areas where the 30th percentile of local rents has gone down as a financial package to help renters hit by the pandemic.

In addition, ministers said they had issued £140 million in discretionary housing payments funding for local authorities in England and Wales to distribute to help support vulnerable people with housing costs.

The department added: “We spend around £30 billion a year on housing benefits – more than any other OECD country as a proportion of GDP on housing support.”

But that has not stopped GR, and other groups including housing charity Shelter and the Residential Landlords Association, from warning of rising homelessness when eviction protections are lifted for good on June 1.

Generation Rent has launched a petition asking Chancellor Rishi Sunak to create a £288m Covid rent debt fund to prevent people who have fallen into rent arrears during the pandemic from facing eviction. The petition has already attracted more than 20,000 signatures and can be signed here.

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