Labour calls for extension of evictions ban as 250,000 face homelessness

Elliot Chappell

Labour has called on the government to extend the evictions ban and warned that nearly a quarter of a million people across the UK are at risk of being made homeless when the suspension lifts.

Citing research carried out by the housing charity Shelter, which found that 174,000 renters have already been threatened with eviction, Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire wrote to Robert Jenrick today to urge him to “rethink” ending the ban.

In her letter to the minister, the Shadow Housing Secretary declared that “after the incompetent handling of the exams fiasco, the government must act now to avoid more chaos of its own making”.

Debbonaire also asked the following questions:

  • “What assessment has the government made of likely numbers of people facing homelessness if the ban is lifted?
  • “What consideration have they given to public health, with possibly thousands of households becoming homeless as we go into winter?
  • “Why has the government not taken steps to honour your 2019 manifesto pledge to end section 21?
  • “What steps is the government taking to prevent a rent debt crisis?”

Before Covid-19, there were over 1.15 million households on council housing waiting lists, and the number of families in insecure private-rented accommodation increased by 7% last year alone.

Shelter has estimated that 227,000 adult private renters have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic. Under current law, when the ban lifts, anyone who has accrued arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted.

This does not include those who can be made homeless as part of a ‘no fault’ eviction after the suspension lifts. Under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, landlords can ‘seek possession’ of their properties without a reason being given.

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.

Earlier this week, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell demanded that the government 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.

A cross-party group of MPs wrote to the government on Monday, also urging an extension, and warning that failure to do so would result in a “new wave of homelessness”. It was signed by nine Labour MPs, one DUP MP and ten Lib Dems.

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Thangam Debbonaire today.

Dear Robert

Extending the evictions ban

As you know, the ban on evictions is due to end on Sunday 23rd August. In March, you promised: “No renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.” I am writing today asking you to set out the steps you have taken to prevent a self-made homelessness crisis at the worst possible moment, as the furlough scheme winds up and we face the risk of growing infections of coronavirus.

Labour has consistently argued that the ban should not be lifted until the government has introduced changes to our broken housing system that will protect tenants.

What assessment has the government made of likely numbers of people facing homelessness if the ban is lifted? What consideration have they given to public health, with possibly thousands of households becoming homeless as we go into winter?

Why has the government not taken steps to honour your 2019 manifesto pledge to end section 21? Labour has called for the government to urgently introduce legislation that will abolish section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and reform Section eight to prevent automatic eviction for tenants whose incomes have been hit by Covid.

What steps is the government taking to prevent a rent debt crisis? More than half of private renters aged between 25 and 34 years had no savings in 2018-19. But the government has repeatedly ignored calls to address this through the social security system. Renters are harder hit by the crisis, but government support has so far focused on landlords and home-owners.

Shelter estimates that nearly a quarter of a million people are at risk of eviction because of Covid economic impact. Veering from crisis to crisis is no way to run a country. After the incompetent handling of the exams fiasco, the government must act now to avoid more chaos of its own making.

The situation is urgent, but there is still time for you to rethink, and extend the ban. I urge you to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West
Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

More from LabourList