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Mon, 28 September 2020

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Quarter of a million renters could lose their homes when coronavirus eviction ban ends, ministers are warned

Quarter of a million renters could lose their homes when coronavirus eviction ban ends, ministers are warned

Labour say ‘many thousands of people will find themselves sleeping on the streets this winter’.

3 min read

Almost a quarter of a million private renters in England could be at risk of eviction when a government ban on the practice comes to an end next month, a major housing charity is warning.

A survey by Shelter found that 3% of adults renting in England’s private sector have fallen into arrears since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

They estimate that 227,000 people across the country could therefore be at risk of action from their landlord when the ban on evictions expires on August 23.

Labour said “emergency legislation” was needed to protect renters during the downturn.

Under Section 21 of the Housing Act, tenants can be evicted by a landlord without providing any grounds for doing so.

A separate part of the Act also allows landlords to seek repossession if a tenant is eight weeks in arrears.

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 Housing Minister Lord Greenhalgh last week confirmed that from August 24, “the courts will begin to process possession cases again” in a move he described as “an important step towards ending the lockdown” that would “protect landlords’ important right to regain their property”.

Shelter is warning that without the ban, judges will be “powerless” to stop people from losing their homes.

Its survey found that nearly a third (31%) of renters felt more depressed and anxious about their housing situation, with the same proportion saying they were having sleepless nights.

The organisation’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said: “The minute the evictions ban lifts, the 230,000 already behind with their rent could be up for automatic eviction if they’ve built up eight weeks worth of arrears. And judges will be powerless to help them.

“That’s more than the entire population of Portsmouth at risk of losing their homes. And let’s not forget: this pandemic is not over.”

Ms Neate is calling for judges to be given the power to stop automatic evictions and said ministers should guarantee that “the impact of coronavirus is always considered” in any decision.

Seizing on the report, Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire said: “We need emergency legislation to protect renters from evictions. 

“But the Government seems to be more interested in protecting landlords’ incomes than preventing families from losing their homes in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

"Rough sleeping had more than doubled under the Tories before coronavirus. If we go back to business as usual, many thousands of people will find themselves sleeping on the streets this winter.”

TENANTS ‘WILFULLY’ BUILDING ARREARS

But Chris Norris, police director for the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said: “Throughout the lockdown, our surveys show that the vast majority of landlords have been doing all they can to keep people in their homes. 

“Our recently published guidance supports tenants and landlords to hold discussions about how to address rent arrears and sustain tenancies.

“It is important though to distinguish between tenants affected by Covid-19 and those who were building rent arrears before lockdown, sometimes for several months and sometimes wilfully.

“When the courts restart hearing possession cases the latter should be the priority along with instances where tenants are committing anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The Government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic and prevent people from getting into financial hardship.

“We have introduced the furlough scheme to protect jobs, provided over £6.5 billion to strengthen the welfare safety net, and introduced higher Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents.

“We have also provided protections to renters that have meant no-one has been forced from their home as a result of the pandemic.

“We’re working with the judiciary to provide appropriate protection to those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus when proceedings start again.”

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