In March last year, the day after the prime minister had announced the first national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I asked the chancellor of the exchequer to guarantee that no-one would become homeless as a consequence of coronavirus, writes Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes…
I asked that question because I was desperately worried that in our broken private rented sector, without strong protection from the government, many private renters could easily lose their homes.
The government’s furlough scheme, while welcome, only covers 80 per cent of pay and the cost of private renting in my constituency is so high that a 20 per cent loss in pay can easily result in rent arrears rapidly building up. Private renters in the UK have very little security of tenure because landlords are able to evict them for no reason. These are called ‘section 21’ or ‘no fault’ evictions because the tenant does not have to have done anything wrong for a landlord to serve notice. Lives can be turned completely upside down in an instant simply because a private landlord decides to serve an eviction notice.
In the end, the government did introduce a ban on evictions during the pandemic. But without any provision to deal with rent arrears this has simply left a cliff edge for many private renters who have been unable to make ends meet because their income has dropped. Appallingly, despite increasing cases of coronavirus in many parts of the country, and a decision to delay the easing of lockdown restrictions for another month, the Tories have refused to extend the eviction ban, which came to an end on 1st June.
Despite the government’s promise, in the words of the mousing minister Robert Jenrick that ‘no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home’, it is estimated that more than 150,000 private renters are now at imminent risk of homelessness.
In addition to the appalling human cost in distress and hardship that this will cause, it also makes no economic sense, because it could end up costing the government up to £2.2 billion in temporary accommodation. Why would any government spend billions of pounds of public money paying for poor quality, insecure temporary accommodation, when they could have taken steps to stop people from losing their homes in the first place?
We have long needed proper reform of private renting, with more security for tenants, action on spiralling rents and an end to ‘no fault’ evictions. The Tories have the power, if they choose, to stop the coronavirus crisis from resulting in an avalanche of homelessness, and to deliver a housing system based on affordability and security.
What was true in March 2020 is still true in June 2021 – no-one should face losing their home because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is time for the Tory government to make good on their promise.