Labour calls for evictions ban renewal in face of second lockdown

Andrew Kersley

Thangam Debbonaire has called on the government to renew the emergency coronavirus ban on evictions introduced earlier in the year as the country heads into a second lockdown later this week.

In a letter to Robert Jenrick this afternoon, the Shadow Housing Secretary urged the minister to reinstate the ban as new research found that 341,000 renters are at risk of falling into debt when the furlough scheme ends in December.

The party’s housing spokesperson wrote: “As we head into a second lockdown on Thursday, it is essential that renters and homeowners have a reassurance that they will be safe in their homes.

“Will you reinstate the evictions ban, as well as the ban on repossessions to protect homeowners, and come forward with a credible plan to keep your promise that no-one will lose their home due to coronavirus?”

The government introduced a ban on evictions to protect renters during the first lockdown earlier in the pandemic, but the suspension ended on September 20th. A ban on the repossession of homes ended on October 31st.

Tenant advocacy group Generation Rent has suggested that many renters will struggle to pay their rent and bills and as a result could end up in debt and being evicted by their landlords in the run-up to Christmas.

Although some renters will be able to access the Local Housing Allowance, it currently only offers support to the poorest 30% of private rented homes in an area, leaving thousands of other tenants without support.

A separate study by homelessness charity Shelter has found that 4% of private renters, or roughly 322,000 people, who were not in rent arrears before the pandemic began have since fallen behind on their rent.

The latest intervention by Debbonaire follows her call this morning for the government to urgently restart the ‘Everyone In’ scheme to protect rough sleepers during the second lockdown and over the rest of winter.

The ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which was launched by the government during the first wave of the pandemic and aimed to reduce the spread of the virus, took around 15,000 homeless people off the streets in March.

According to one study into the impact of the ‘Everyone In’ programme during the first round of Covid restrictions, the emergency accommodation provided with government funding saved an estimated 266 people from death.

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Debbonaire to Jenrick.

Dear Robert,

As we head into a second lockdown on Thursday, it is essential that renters and homeowners have a reassurance that they will be safe in their homes.

Will you reinstate the evictions ban, as well as the ban on repossessions to protect homeowners, and come forward with a credible plan to keep your promise that no-one will lose their home due to coronavirus?

The government clearly accepts the need for additional protections when additional public health measures are in place. During the first national lockdown, you imposed a ban on evictions, and when the previous evictions ban was lifted in September, you set out that “evictions will not be enforced in local lockdown areas and there will be a truce on enforcement over Christmas.”

Now that England is heading for a second national lockdown, will you ensure that renters across the country are protected from eviction?

Although landlords must now give six months’ notice for most eviction cases, this will not help those at most immediate risk of eviction, who were issued with eviction notices before August 29th and whose cases will be the first to go through the courts this winter. No-one should suffer lockdown with harassment or anti-social behaviour from neighbours but any exemption must be framed to prevent homelessness.

As well as immediate protection from evictions, the government must come forward with a credible long-term plan to ensure that no-one loses their home as a result of coronavirus. Many renters have struggled to keep up with payments, through no fault of their own. Shelter has estimated that 322,000 private renters have fallen into arrears as a result of the pandemic. Will you raise Local Housing Allowance to average rents, and bring forward a plan to address the arrears crisis which is putting hundreds of thousands of renters at risk of losing their home?

During the first national lockdown, the ban prevented many evictions but there was a worrying rise in illegal evictions. The charity Safer Renting has estimated that illegal evictions are up by 60% since March. What steps are you taking to ensure that renters are not illegally evicted over winter and have access to advice and support where it is needed?

The Prime Minister announced a second national lockdown on the very same day as the ban on repossessions came to an end. The Financial Conduct Authority’s extension of the six-month mortgage deferral is welcome but may be insufficient to protect mortgage holders from lenders who are concerned about the long-term viability of the mortgage. The mortgage interest loan scheme is not available until nine months have passed, by which time many homeowners may have been assessed as unable to pay by their lender and at risk of repossession. This further puts homeowners at risk of turning to more unscrupulous lenders.

Will you now clarify the position for those borrowers who have already taken a six-month mortgage holiday, restart the ban on repossessions and update the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme to ensure it provides adequate support to homeowners?

I look forward to an urgent response.

Best wishes,
Thangam

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