Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire has called on the government to extend the emergency evictions ban put in place to protect renters in the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the measure ending on September 20th.
Commenting just days before the suspension is due to be lifted, the Shadow Housing Secretary accused the Conservative government of “prioritising reopening old wounds on Brexit above protecting renters”.
The intervention comes after Labour warned last week that the government had failed to set aside time in parliament to consider extending the measure before its ends, as called for by charities, housing organisations and councils.
Commenting on the crisis facing renters, Debbonaire said: “Coronavirus cases are rising, vast swathes of the country are set to be under local lockdown, and the Covid jobs crisis is set to get worse. This is no time for the government to restart evictions.
“The government is walking right into a homelessness crisis this winter. They’ve wasted the short time they bought themselves by extending the ban in August, prioritising reopening old wounds on Brexit above protecting renters.”
The government introduced legislation in March that stopped landlords from taking court proceedings to evict people during the pandemic. The initial rule change was intended to last for three months but has since been extended.
The Shadow Housing Secretary added: “The ban must be extended before Sunday, and the government needs to come forward with a credible plan to keep their promise that no renter will lose their home because of coronavirus.”
Following pressure from charities, Labour and other MPs from other parties, the government extended the original ban to end on August 23rd. The government then made a second, last-minute U-turn to provide renters protection for another month.
Think tank IPPR at the time called on the government to extend the ban for another six months, rather than just four weeks, and to offer more financial assistance to those in the private rented sector.
The organisation advised that local housing allowance should be increased to cover 50% of market rates, as the current 30% of market-rate level means there are too few properties attainable for people needing to move.
The leading housing charity Shelter warned earlier this year 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.
London Renters Union organiser Ghazal Haqani reacted to the reports of the government’s U-turn last month by pointing out that Tory ministers were simply “kicking the can down the road”.
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, Debbonaire and shadow minister for legal aid Karl Turner also wrote to Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland last month to warn that English County Courts could be overwhelmed.
They predicted that 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”.
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.
Labour has highlighted that instead of bringing forward legislation to protect renters in the health crisis, the government chose to introduce its controversial internal market bill to make arrangements for the end of the Brexit transition period.