Ending "no DSS" discrimination is long overdue, but Government must do more to prevent the impending homelessness crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the underlying crisis in housing in our country, writes Thangam Debbonaire MP | PA Images
The government has failed to make adequate preparations ahead of the ban on evictions running out in August, emergency legislation must be tabled to prevent an evictions crisis.
The slogan ‘No DSS’ is now thankfully a thing of the past, taking its place alongside similarly grotesque discriminatory bans. It is shocking that landlords had until now been legally allowed to specify a group of people that they would not even consider renting to.
Change was long overdue. A YouGov survey commissioned by Shelter earlier this year found that six in ten private landlords either operated an outright ban or said they preferred not to let to people on benefits. Many online letting sites also excluded people on benefits.
It had a devastating and dehumanising effect. Not only did it hugely reduce the availability and, therefore affordability, of homes in the private rented sector to people on benefits, it made it much easier for landlords to exploit their vulnerability.
If someone was evicted – something landlords are able to do under existing law even if their tenant has been reliable and is not in arrears – they would be more likely to end up homeless and in need of council help.
Like so much else, the Covid crisis is highlighting the underlying crisis in housing in our country, and reminding us of the importance of ensuring everyone has a home they can afford, on a tenure that is secure, which is safe and with enough space. When people are homeless or living in overcrowded, expensive, damp or dangerous accommodation we are all at increased risk of transmission of Covid.
Beyond this, there are increased costs to the health service, to children’s education and to the ability of people to get back into work or recover from illness.
Through this crisis, we have shown we can solve aspects of the housing crisis with political will
Many people this year are discovering for the first time how tough life is on benefits.
The Local Housing Allowance element of their benefits is often not enough to cover rent. The ban on evictions runs out in August and the government has failed to make adequate preparations.
Shelter, Citizens Advice and renters’ unions have warned of an impending homelessness crisis this autumn, directly caused by the economic consequences of Covid and the government’s failure to take on the suggestions Labour and other organisations have made for how to prevent it.
This court ruling comes just in time to help some of these people, and I salute the campaigners and the brave tenants like ‘Jane’ who fought this case, took on the system and won, for themselves and many thousands of others.
But it will not be enough on its own.
The government committed to a Renters’ Rights Bill in its 2019 Queen’s Speech. Labour is urging ministers to bring forward at least emergency elements to prevent an evictions crisis. I hope they will bring the implications of this ruling into the draft Bill and present it to Parliament urgently.
Through this crisis, we have shown we can solve aspects of the housing crisis with political will. Working with councils, the government helped to get people off the streets. But that must not be allowed to become a short fix, we have to end rough sleeping for good.
All these issues must be tackled as we emerge from lockdown. We all want to return to some kind of ‘normal’, but there can be no return to business as usual.
Thangam Debbonaire is the MP for Bristol West and shadow secretary of state for housing.