Cancel rent arrears and extend evictions ban by a year, says McDonnell

Elliot Chappell

John McDonnell has told the government to extend the evictions ban by at least another year and called for rent arrears to be cancelled to prevent a “torrent of people” becoming homeless.

Speaking at a Claim the Future event on Sunday – a group launched by the former Shadow Chancellor last month campaigning for a socialist vision for a post-Covid economy – McDonnell discussed the ban due to end on August 23rd.

The ex-Labour frontbencher said that “many people are becoming desperately worried that they will now face evictions”, and warned that they “cannot rely upon the goodwill of their landlords to prevent them losing their homes”.

He also discussed the urgent need for wider housing reform to “end landlordism and restore housing as a right” and to “end the ease by which landlords can deprive a family of their home”.

McDonnell said: “Many people are becoming desperately worried that they will now face evictions. Many cannot rely upon the goodwill of their landlords to prevent them losing their homes.

“That’s why it is premature to end the ban on evictions, especially with so many jobs being lost and incomes drying up. Councils will face a torrent of people turning up on their doorstep as homeless.

“The ban on evictions must be extended for as long as the risk of Covid persists. The reality is at least another year but we also need a reform of the law to end the ease by which landlords can deprive a family of their home.”

The government introduced legislation in March that stopped landlords from taking court proceedings to evict people during Covid. The initial rule change was intended to last for three months but the government extended it into August.

Housing charity Shelter warned last month that 230,000 renters have fallen into arrears in the pandemic and are at risk of being evicted when the ban ends on August 23rd.

While the ban is set to end in England and Wales next week, the Scottish government announced last week that the evictions ban in Scotland – which was due to end in September – will now run until March 2021.

The UK government recently changed the rules to mean that landlords must now provide information about their tenants’ situation when seeking an eviction – but this does not prevent them from proceeding with ‘no-fault’ evictions.

Under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, landlords can ‘seek possession’ of their properties and tenants can be evicted from their homes without a reason being given. The notice period for this has been extended to three months in Covid.

Boris Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May both pledged to end no-fault evictions, promising to bring forward a new ‘renters’ reform bill’. But the Conservatives have failed to act on this pledge.

McDonnell added: “Questions also have to be asked about why companies should be allowed to make large scale profits from people’s need for a roof over their heads. Housing should be a right for all, not an investment opportunity for a few.”

A cross-party group of MPs has written to the government today to urge it to extend the eviction ban or warned the UK would see a “new wave of homelessness”. It was signed by nine Labour MPs, one DUP MP and ten Lib Dems.

Labour’s Thangam Debonnaire has described how people across the country are “living in fear” with existing evictions cases currently on hold but set to resume in the courts imminently.

She said: “The situation can’t be more urgent. The government has just seven days to prevent a wave of automatic evictions and homelessness at the worst possible time, as the furlough scheme winds up and we enter a potential second wave this winter.”

The Shadow Housing Secretary added: “They need to extend the ban and introduce emergency legislation as soon as parliament is back in September to prevent a wave of automatic evictions.”

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