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Housing

Eviction ban end risks ‘homelessness crisis of government’s own making’

RORA member Generation Rent warn that 55,000 households face action as court proceedings resume in England and Wales today

The end of the eviction ban has seen Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick “tear up his pledge to protect renters” warns Generation Rent (GR) as possession hearings resume in England and Wales from today.

The rent campaigners, who have been part of The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance since its inception, have found an estimated 55,000 households were given notice by private landlords during the pandemic but have not yet moved out of their homes.

They are now at risk of court action after the eviction ban lifted yesterday following a four-week extension to the August 20 deadline.

The rules had been in place since March when Jenrick promised that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”. GR says this promise has now been broken by the lifting of the ban.

The government also extended the notice period landlords must give tenants when they want to repossess a property to up to six months from August 28 – but GR are warning that this measure came too late for thousands of households who had already received three months’ notice.

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Generation Rent are now demanding the government stop evictions of tenants who face extreme hardship, boost support through the benefits system for tenants to cover their rent, and introduce legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions, known as “no fault” evictions.

Theresa May’s government had vowed to end Section 21 evictions but the current administration has, so far, indicated that the legislation will not be changed until after the Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control.

Government guidance publish last week indicates households who are in more than two months of rent arrears or have been served a Section 21 notice will only receive a six-week grace period if they are in “extreme hardship”.

Alicia Kennedy, GR director, said: “Robert Jenrick has torn up his pledge to protect renters. There is now nothing stopping tenants who have been given a Section 21 notice from being forced out of their home. Even renters in severe financial distress can only buy themselves an extra six weeks’ grace. These new rules provide no comfort and do nothing to prevent hardship and homelessness.

“Many of the eviction cases due to open up next week could be averted if the government increased the benefits available for people to cover their rent. But the government must also introduce legislation to stop renters being evicted for reasons beyond their control or when losing their home will make them destitute. Without urgent action now, the government’s negligence will create a homelessness crisis entirely of its own making.”

Tenants who are evicted are left in a difficult position. They face an impossible task to raise enough money for a deposit or find a landlord who will accept Universal Credit as a source of income. In a separate survey, GR found that 43 per cent of renters who are struggling financially are looking for a new home but 60 per cent of them are unable to find an affordable home or landlord who will accept them.

And without help for mounting arrears, debt charity StepChange is also warning that the end of the eviction ban could be the stimulus for a sharp rise in homelessness. They want the Housing Act to be tweaked to ensure no one faces a mandatory eviction order as well as a National Recovery fund to be setup to provide grants and loans to keep people in homes.

“The past month has seen little meaningful change, and the delay in lifting the ban appears to have been no more than a stay of execution,” said StepChange head of policy, research and public affairs, Peter Tutton. “New research from StepChange shows that up to 206,000 people who’ve been affected by coronavirus are currently behind on their rent in the UK and, with the economic fallout from the pandemic set to continue to devastate people’s finances, a sharp rise in homelessness is an all-too-real possibility unless renters are given the affordable options they need to address arrears.”

And the rush of cases that are set to flood the courts from today also identify an urgent need for tenants to access legal support.

The Law Society of England and Wales warned that changes to the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme do not ensure legal protections are available for all tenants and legal aid deserts persist in Cornwall and Telford, for example, which hit renters’ ability to battle eviction notices.

Law Society president Simon Davis said: “It is unacceptable that, in the face of a pandemic and difficult economic prospects, tenants are being left without representation during possession proceedings.

“The changes to the possessions procedures are a positive step, but they cannot replace legal advice in achieving access to justice. More needs to be done by government departments to support tenants at this time, to prevent them losing their homes and to stop an increase in homelessness

“Allowing judicial discretion in all current possession proceedings will help to reduce homelessness and encourage better relationships between tenants and landlords. This must be considered if these changes are going to have the intended impact.”

A government spokesperson insisted that, although the eviction ban has ended, protections for renters will include extended notice periods and a ‘winter truce’ that will mean evictions stop over Christmas or during a local lockdown.

They said: “We’ve taken unprecedented action to support renters by banning evictions for six months, preventing people getting into financial hardship and helping businesses to pay salaries.”

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