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Keir Starmer defends Labour's coronavirus renters' policy amid backlash from party's left

Keir Starmer has defended his policy on renters

3 min read

Keir Starmer has defended Labour’s policy on help for renters during the coronavirus crisis amid mounting criticism from MPs and campaigners on the left of the party.

The Labour leader had already backed plans for an extension to the three month ban on evictions, saying people who fall into rent arrears because of Covid-19 should be given two years to repay the cash.

But a petition, signed by over 4,000 party members and supported by left-wing campaign group, Momentum, urged Sir Keir to push for a halt to all evictions for failing to pay rent until "employment stabilises".

The group also said tenants should be allowed to request a cancellation of rent payments if their income is impacted by the virus, with the Government stepping in to pay utility bills.

Meanwhile, MPs on the left of the party called for Sir Keir to go further in his support for renters, with Coventry South's Zarah Sultana saying: "When the ban on evictions ends, renters whose incomes have been hit shouldn't be made to pay-off huge debts.

"Let's cancel their rents instead."

Former shadow minister Clive Lewis, added: "In a post-Covid19 era, Labour has everything to gain from being bold & putting transformative change on the political agenda.

"That doesnt mean stacks of fully worked up policy. Its way too soon. But we do need to start shaping that debate.

"The window of opportunity will fade quick enough."

But, pressed on the policy by a Labour member during an LBC call-in, Sir Keir said the plans would lead to taxpayers bailing out private landlords.

"If all rents are suspended full stop then the Government will have to pay to compensate landlords - there’s no question about that," he said.

"And therefore public money will be paid to landlords to compensate for the fact they haven’t got rent even where people don’t lost their jobs.

"So what we’ve said: the better option is if somebody does lose their job, which is tragic and I certainly hope you don’t, then the benefit system should be paying the rent at a better rate.

"So in other words if you carry on and you’re still in your job and you can pay your rent, then there’s no reason for the Government to pay the landlord.

"If unfortunately you lose your job the state can then step in with benefits to pay the rent. But I don’t want anybody to be put in the position you’ve described.

He added: "But at the moment to simply say all rent is suspended - and that means there’s no income to landlords for two years or whatever it may be - it is inevitably, we’ve looked at this before that the state will then have to compensate all landlords.

"So then we’ll be paying out to landlords, in some cases for people who’ve kept their jobs and should have paid their rent. “

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