Debbonaire’s local party urges Labour to adopt more radical housing policy

Sienna Rodgers

The local party of Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire has passed a motion urging Labour to adopt a more radical housing policy in support of renters during coronavirus, LabourList can reveal.

The motion drafted by group Labour Tenants United, and supported by Momentum as part of its eviction resistance campaign, passed on Tuesday evening with 52 votes in favour, three against and 12 abstentions.

The local party has resolved to write to Keir Starmer and Labour’s regional director expressing support for a “proactive campaign to cancel rental arrears as a part of the solution to the evictions crisis”.

The members of Bristol West have also asked their MP – shadow cabinet member Thangam Debbonaire – to undersign a letter that will ask letting agents in the constituency to do the following:

  • refrain from evicting tenants, either via a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction or a Section 8 eviction based on terms of tenancy being broken such as non-payment of rent;
  • and cancel rent arrears “where income has been affected during the crisis and there were no other means to pay rent”.

Sources say Debbonaire attended the online meeting last night but joined after the motion was debated. LabourList has contacted the MP about the policy proposals that were endorsed by her local party.

Commenting on the motion, local co-secretary Darran McLaughlin said: “Members in our CLP are pleased that Thangam and Labour have pressured the government to provide the level of housing support that they have.

“However it’s clear our members would like Labour to go further, and don’t think it is feasible that renters will be in a position to repay outstanding rent debt on top of their usual rent in an unprecedented economic crisis.”

Labour has not called for the cancellation of rent arrears during the pandemic, with Debbonaire as Shadow Housing Secretary instead supporting a plan under which renters would have two years to pay Covid-related arrears.

The opposition party had set out a five-point plan, which included outlawing evictions due to coronavirus-related arrears, improving Universal Credit and temporarily increasing Local Housing Allowance.

But the plan also said Labour would “grant renters at least two years to pay back any arrears accrued during this period”, which proved controversial among some party activists and backbench MPs.

An open letter calling on Keir Starmer to “cancel the rent” accused Labour of “failing renters”, and said its proposals were “not good enough”. Momentum said the plan would “see renters shoulder the cost of the crisis”.

During an online event in May, Debbonaire criticised the rent cancellation demand of activists, saying: “The policy called ‘cancel the rent’ is surprisingly un-Labour. It’s a really regressive policy.

“Because, for instance, there are people who are still in work, still able to pay their rent. And if you just cancelled rent, they would also benefit and they don’t need to.” She added that it would be “completely unnecessary”.

The Shadow Housing Secretary also expressed concern that landlords would have a legal case to make “against either the government or their tenants or quite possibly both” and that they would need to be compensated.

LabourList understands that Labour activists plan for the ‘Labour Tenants United Covid-19’ motion to be tabled at many more local party meetings in November, alongside efforts to peacefully resist bailiffs.

Below is the full text of the motion.

Labour Tenants United Covid-19 CLP Motion

This CLP notes:

  • That in a tenant-landlord relationship the tenant is almost always the more vulnerable party.
  • That 60% of renters have suffered a loss of income since the pandemic hit.
  • That while the evictions suspension has protected tenants from immediate evictions caused by Covid-19, this is not a long term solution.

This CLP believes:

  • That the Labour Party (including the Welsh Labour Government and Scottish Labour) should always serve to protect a tenant’s right to safe and decent housing before a landlord’s right to profit.
  • That the Labour Party should, as a matter of priority, advocate for the government to write off rental arrears that have accrued during the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • That a substantial package of renting reforms in response to the pandemic and the wider housing crisis – including rent controls, abolishing no-fault evictions and Right to Buy, and ending the hostile environment in renting – could control the narrative and help put tenants’ interests onto the agenda.

This CLP resolves:

  • To engage with and support any local tenant organising, including renters’ unions.
  • To instruct the CLP secretary to write to the Regional Director and the Leader of the Party (and the leader of Welsh and Scottish Labour parties) expressing the CLP’s support for a proactive campaign to cancel rental arrears as a part of the solution to the evictions crisis.
  • Call upon the English and Welsh governments to scrap Section 21.
  • To ask the MP, MS and MSP to undersign a letter that can be delivered to Letting Agents in this constituency demanding they:
    • refrain from Section 21 (In England and Wales) and Section 8 evictions of tenants whose incomes have been affected during the crisis.
    • cancel rent arrears where income has been affected during the crisis and there were no other means to pay rent, such as via uncapped housing benefit.

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