The government’s new end date for the eviction ban is fast-approaching amid a growing housing crisis, now’s the time to resist argues Norbert Lawrie
As the new deadline for the end of the eviction ban looms, hundreds of thousands of private tenants who are in rent arrears could lose their homes in the weeks and the months that lead into winter and the new year.
A ban on landlords kicking out renters if they fall behind on bills was put in place in March 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown.
The ban was extended by a further two months in June and then again at the last minute for a miserable 4 more weeks in August with a fast-approaching end date of September 20th. The extensions have only come about from public pressure, and in reality the government is just kicking the ball further down the street.
According to the housing charity Shelter, 227,000 people fallen into rent arrears since the start of the pandemic and are at risk of eviction when the ban is lifted. The District Councils Network, which represents some local authorities, has put the estimate at 500,000 people.
Under current legislation, anyone who accrues rent arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted. So despite the ban, more than 170,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction and will likely find proceedings filed against them as soon as the ban is lifted.
If the ban is lifted, tenants in England will have less protection than those in Scotland or Wales. The Welsh government extended the notice landlords are required to give tenants before evicting them from three to six months, as it is in Scotland. The ban on evictions had already been extended until March 2021 in Northern Ireland and Scotland has proposed doing the same.
If there is a surge in evictions after the ban is lifted as expected, it will likely be followed by a spike in homelessness, which is especially dangerous during a pandemic.
In a letter to ministers before the extension in August, leaders of Greater Manchester combined authority said homelessness could return to the streets of Greater Manchester on a scale not seen since the 1930s.
On top of a likely post-eviction ban surge, there is the already existing problem of homelessness which the government has shown is completely possible to fix and yet have failed to do so.
With the imposition of lockdown at the end of March, in what was dubbed the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, the government asked local authorities in England to find emergency accommodation for all rough sleepers. This was part of an effort to repress the virus spreading among a group of people who, for obvious reasons, are often in poor health. Indeed, homeless people have been found to be particularly susceptible to the virus.
The scheme took rough sleepers off the streets and housed them in accommodations like hotels, increasing the number of people in temporary accommodation. The government claims that almost 15,000 rough sleepers (90%) have been housed in hotels or emergency accommodation since the lockdown began under the scheme, though housing charities have criticised the lack of transparency on these figures.
Freedom of information requests to a number of councils suggests that only 11% of those temporarily accommodated during the scheme have gone on to be rehoused, and up to 25% are back on the streets. There have also been a significant number of people forced into rough sleeping since the lockdown began because of the loss of jobs and illegal evictions and among foreign nationals with no recourse to public funds.
The amount of displaced children has hit a 14 year high with approximately 130,000 stuck in B&Bs and temporary shelters and devastating new figures reveal there were 129,380 children living in temporary accommodation in England on March 31.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced this increase was mainly motivated by single households and may be connected to the ‘Everyone In' scheme.
This is a crisis
Critics and housing commentators have long been calling for changes to the housing system to give more protection to renters’ rights when it comes to being evicted. Public health bodies and housing charities have warned of a potential rise in coronavirus infections if the government refuses to extend a ban on residential evictions.
While the mortgage holiday and stamp duty cut have helped to drive house prices up, there has been no real relief for tenants.
A fifth of the UK population now lives in privately rented accommodation, according to the English Housing Survey’s latest report for 2016/2017, accounting for 4.7 million households. This figure has doubled from 10% back in 1996/1997 and is a huge leap over the past decade from 12% in 2006/2007.
Meanwhile, since 2010, the proportion of landlords with just one property has declined from 78% to 45% according to some figures and from 40% to 21% according to others. Meanwhile, the proportion of landlords with five or more properties increased from 5% to 17% or from 39% to 48% respectively.
Despite the legal victory in July that has made housing benefit discrimination illegal, landlords remain less willing to let property to those in receipt of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, and thanks to the ongoing hostile environment, non-UK passport holders.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the growing housing crisis in this country. Housing continues to be used as a commodity for investors and speculators while rents continue to become less and less affordable.
The crisis has laid out in plain sight the level of inequality in society and just how unfair the system really is. From who the real essential workers are and how low their paid, to how precarious employment has become and how little people on Universal Credit are forced to live on.
But it has also shown that we can do something about it. Since the pandemic began, the government has gone from u-turn to u-turn as a result of public pressure. The victory in extending the eviction ban at the end of August is an example of how people getting organised can force change.
Ahead of the end of the eviction ban on 20 September, we must continue to get organised with groups like the London Renters Union and voice our demands.
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Norbert Lawrie is a former homeless advice worker and campaigner of many years standing. He has been an executive member of CHAR the former campaign for single homeless people, and has been instrumental in gaining council tenancies for hundreds of homeless people including children living in hostel accommodation. Norbert maintains an ongoing relationship with the London street homeless and the squatting movement.
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