U-turn on evictions ban “necessary” – but extension too brief, says Starmer

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer has slammed the government’s latest U-turn – a new month-long extension of the coronavirus evictions ban that was due to be lifted on Sunday – as “necessary” but too brief.

Labour had called for this extension in the run-up to this weekend, with metro mayors and council leaders from across the country writing to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday.

It has now been confirmed that the ban on evictions will be extended by four weeks to September 20th, after plans were urgently worked up to protect tenants still affected by Covid.

The UK government will also be extending the notice period required from landlords to six months in England – a move that the Welsh Labour government made at the start of the month.

Responding to the last-minute intervention, Starmer said: “This eleventh hour U-turn was necessary, but such a brief extension means there is a real risk that this will simply give renters a few more weeks to pack their bags.

“Boris Johnson has been warned for months about the looming evictions crisis, but stuck his head in the sand. People living in rented accommodation should not be paying the price for this government’s incompetence.”

As well as reiterating Labour’s message on competence, the Labour leader put forward some of the demands being made by the opposition party to remedy the difficult situation for many renters.

Starmer said: “Section 21 evictions must be scrapped and renters must be given proper support. The ban should not be lifted until the government has a credible plan to ensure that no-one loses their home as a result of coronavirus.”

Think tank IPPR has called on the UK government to extend the ban for another six months, rather than just four weeks, and to offer more financial help to those in the private rented sector.

Local housing allowance should be increased to cover 50% of market rates, IPPR has advised, as the current 30% of market rate level means there are too few properties if people need to move.

The leading housing charity Shelter has warned that 227,000 private renters will be at risk of eviction when the ban is lifted, and campaigners are urging the government to put further measures in place

A London Renters Union organiser, Ghazal Haqani, reacted to the reports of a fresh government U-turn today by pointing out that that the government is “kicking the can down the road”.

Haqani added: “Because so many of us are in arrears, we have been constantly worried for months that we are about to become totally defenceless against landlords who want to kick us out of our homes. It looks like that could happen all over again in September.

“Rents have been sky high for decades, the pandemic has cut our incomes and this recession has only just begun. Of course we’re in arrears, and of course we’re not going to be able to pay off our rent debt for a very long time.”

Labour’s David Lammy, Thangam Debbonaire and Karl Turner wrote to Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland this morning to warn that English County Courts could be overwhelmed.

The stay on eviction proceedings coming to an end “risks unleashing a tsunami of cases, which could leave tens of thousands of people homeless and overwhelm our courts”, the letter read.

A number of Labour MPs on the left, such as Zarah Sultana and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, are demanding a cancellation of rent debt. But the party as a whole has not backed the idea so far.

It is thought that the government will use the following four weeks as a temporary measure while deciding on new legislation that can be brought forward once parliament returns in September.

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