Coronavirus crisis: Government confirms legislation on its way to stop renter evictions

But it looks like there's no help to cover rent payments.

The Prime Minister has signalled that legislation is on its way to stop evictions of renters affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Challenged to stop unfair evictions at Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said: “The House should expect further decisions to be taken imminently on housing” today. An announcement is expected at a Downing Street press conference around 5pm.

But housing campaigners are demanding the government goes further than simply stopping evictions during the crisis.

As well as halting Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and Section 8 evictions for rent arrears, campaign group Generation Rent are calling on the government to protect renters at risk of homelessness through:

  • Removing the 5-week wait for Housing Benefit, and ensuring Housing Benefit covers the cost of rents. 
  • Freezing rent increases for one year, to prevent landlords from raising rents to unaffordable levels.

Last night, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £330bn package of measures to support businesses, including a three-month mortgage holiday for homeowners.

Equivalent support for renters was missing – leading to widespread anger from renters on social media.

Activists at Generation Rent say private renters are particularly vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus. Two thirds (63%) of renters have no savings and renters typically spend 40% of their income on rent. And at least 2m private renters share houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) with other adults – putting them at higher risk of contracting the virus.

There are 1.1m self-employed heads of households who rent their homes, who are at a high risk of losing work as a result of coronavirus. These renters are often left with no way to pay the next month’s rent if their income is suddenly cut off through sickness.

Generation Rent estimates that 400,000 private renters in part-time employment do not earn enough to qualify for Statutory Sick Pay.

Renters who lose income can claim Universal Credit, which includes housing benefit, but the five-week wait leaves them vulnerable to rent arrears and eviction – something the PM is expected to address in today’s press conference at around 5pm.

Landlords currently have the power to evict tenants with two months’ of rent arrears or more, and can evict tenants without needing a reason under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. Renters are being advised to contact their landlord for a rent holiday, but there is no obligation for landlords to offer one at present.

Parts of Spain, and cities across the USA have halted evictions for the duration of the pandemic, with France making funds available to postpone rent payments altogether. 

Caitlin Wilkinson, Policy Manager at Generation Rent, told Left Foot Forward:

“The PM’s announcement looks like good news for renters. But we don’t know all the details and we need clarity. Protection from evictions is going to prevent homelessness in the short term, but renters still need support with the cost of rent.

“There’ll be thousands or millions who’ll be in significant debt once this crisis is over.”

She added: “One in five of us rents privately, and the silence so far from government about the months ahead is unacceptable. Without further protection, millions of renters will be unable to pay their rent and will be reliant on the goodwill of their landlord.

“We know that many landlords will take action to evict tenants, leaving them homeless in the midst of a pandemic. Renters should not have to choose between staying healthy and keeping a roof over their head.

Earlier today Labour renewed calls for emergency legislation to protect renters affected by coronavirus from eviction, publishing new analysis showing that six million households living in homes rented from a private or social landlord have no savings to fall back on.

Earlier this week, Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey published draft legislation which would ban evictions due to rent arrears built up as a result of coronavirus.

Labour’s John Healey MP said:

“Ministers must step up and give renters the confidence that they won’t lose their home as a result of falling ill or self-isolating because of coronavirus.

“Renters are more likely than home-owners to have no savings to fall back on so the need for clear, legal protection is particularly important.

“Labour has published draft legislation which would stop coronavirus evictions. Ministers must adopt this now.”

Labour’s analysis of the English Housing Survey shows that 2.8 million private renting households and 3.2 million social renting households have no savings.

The legislation published by Labour earlier this week can be seen here.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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