John McDonnell says coronavirus ban on evictions should stay in place for a year
The Labour MP said housing ‘should be a right for all, not an investment opportunity for a few’. (PA)
A ban on evictions introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic should stay in place for at least another year, Labour’s John McDonnell has said.
The former shadow chancellor is also calling for all rent arrears accumulated during the crisis to be cancelled.
The Government announced a ban on evictions at the start of the pandemic, with the curbs extended in June to prevent landlords from starting proceedings against tenants until August 23.
But ministers have confirmed that, from August 24, “the courts will begin to process possession cases again” in a move described as “an important step towards ending the lockdown” that would “protect landlords’ important right to regain their property”.
Mr McDonnell, who led Labour’s economic policy until April and is publishing a list of proposals for the post-Covid economy, told The Guardian: “Many people are becoming desperately worried that they will now face evictions.
“Many cannot rely upon the goodwill of their landlords to prevent them losing their homes.
“That’s why it is premature to end the ban on evictions, especially with so many jobs being lost and incomes drying up.”
And he told The Mirror: “Housing should be a right for all, not an investment opportunity for a few.”
The call comes amid warnings that the end of the ban could see a surge in evictions, with housing charity Shelter last month warning that 230,000 households were already behind with their rent.
The group said judges should be given the power to stop automatic evictions and urged ministers to guarantee that “the impact of coronavirus is always considered” in any decision.
Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire has previously called for “emergency legislation to protect renters from evictions”.
Meanwhile a cross-party group of MPs are urging ministers to do more to protect homeless people amid the coronavirus crisis.
In a letter to rough sleeping minister Luke Hall, the MPs — including nine from Labour, one from the DUP and 10 Liberal Democrats — call on the Government to ensure all councils in England can fund accommodation for the homeless "for at least a year" .
"Some local authorities are in the process of confirming and funding accommodation for rough sleepers for another year, however it is so important that all councils are able to provide this,” they said.
"We cannot put a cut-off on showing all those in need compassion at this time," the letter said.
The group is also urging the Government to scrap the Vagrancy Act — which allows police to arrest and fine people who beg in public — in England and Wales.
"We need to treat all rough sleepers with as much compassion as possible at any time, and especially in the present circumstances - there is no need for the Act to remain in place," they said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government said: "The Government has taken unprecedented action to support the most vulnerable people in our society during the pandemic.
"Nearly 15,000 rough sleepers have been housed in emergency accommodation since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We've also ensured no tenants have been evicted at the height of Covid.
"We will continue to provide appropriate support to those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus when court proceedings start again including the requirement for landlords to provide more information about their tenants' situation when seeking an eviction, with judges able to adjourn a case if this information isn't provided."