Coronavirus response: The government’s plans for renters are a total betrayal

The ‘ban on evictions’ is nothing of the sort, writes Kevin Gulliver.

Almost as soon as they were announced, the cracks in the government’s policy for renters started to appear.

The government pledged to introduce a complete ban on evictions across the nine million rented homes in England, of which 54% are in the private rented sector. But this has now been exposed as just a one month extension to the usual two month notice period for eviction orders.

It’s unclear whether the government’s ‘ban’ takes account of eviction proceedings that were already in the pipeline before the pandemic hit.

And like much of government guidance on the pandemic from the Ministry of Communities and Local Government, which covers the housing brief, it is pretty vague.

Merely extending the eviction notice period will provide very little comfort to those faced with losing their homes in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

There could be a glut of evictions once the virus outbreak recedes, adding to the already 22,000 per quarter – eviction being the main cause of homelessness at over 1 in 4 of all homeless acceptances by local councils.  

Nor do the government’s measures take account of rent arrears that accumulate because of the financial problems of many renters – even as their buy-to-let landlords take advantage of the three months mortgage holiday.

While the social housing sector has put in place a comprehensive support package, the MCLG merely suggests that private renters and landlords will need to “work together” to design an arrears repayment plan; hardly reassuring.

The unfairness of the plans is underscored by the fact that the average monthly mortgage is already lower than the average monthly private rent. (Some private renters do receive support from the local housing allowance system, but this tends not to cover all the rent even for the minority of private tenants who are eligible.)

The pandemic has laid bare the paucity of the Tories’ austerity policies that resulted in an under-funded NHS and social care system, rundown emergency services, threadbare local council services and a housing strategy that has seen homelessness and housing need surge. Social house-building has plunged while the private rented sector has grown by 50% over the last decade, driven by a but-to-let boom.

It’s worth noting that the last tally of the outside Parliamentary interests of MPs following the 2017 general election revealed that 123 MPs, or almost 1 in 5 are buy-to-let landlords.

Rent freeze anyone?

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign. He writes in a personal capacity.  

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