Government faces calls for further extension to evictions ban

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Labour politicians have called for a further extension of the current ban on evictions over fears that thousands of people could become homeless once the ban ends this weekend.

Writing to the housing secretary Robert Jenrick earlier this week, Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debonnaire warned that the government risks a ‘self-made homelessness crisis’ if it does not take further steps to ensure that tenants can stay in their homes.

The call follows research by the charity Shelter, which found that around 227,000 people have fallen into rent arrears since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of eviction.

The current moratorium on evictions of social and private tenants on England and Wales, launched in March when COVID-19 hit the UK, is set to end this Sunday (23 August).

Debonnaire wrote: “In March, you promised: ‘No renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.’

“I am writing today asking you to set out the steps you have taken to prevent a self-made homelessness crisis at the worst possible moment, as the furlough scheme winds up and we face the risk of growing infections of coronavirus.”

The government initially agreed a two-month extension to the evictions ban in June despite calls by campaigners to extend it until at least the end of this year.

Under current laws, anyone who has accrued rent arrears of up to eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted once the ban comes to an end, not including section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions.

While the British government has not yet hinted a further extension to the ban, the Scottish government are considering an extension until March 2021, while the Welsh government have extended notice periods up to six months until this September.

In her letter, Debonnaire asked the government to outline what assessment it has made of the numbers of people facing homelessness if they do end up being evicted, and the knock-on impact a rise in homelessness could have on public health in the run-up to winter.

“The government must act now to avoid more chaos of its own making,” Debonnaire concluded. “The situation is urgent, but there is still time for you to rethink, and extend the ban.”

The call to extend the ban has been echoed by Northern leaders such as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, who cited fears that ‘homelessness could return to the streets of Greater Manchester on a scale not seen since the 1930s’ unless the government takes decisive action.

In its own letter to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the GMCA said the evictions ban must be extended further until the government offers further provisions for those affected.

Paul Dennett, the GMCA’s lead on housing and homelessness, said: “It is vital the government extends the temporary ban on evictions and protects renters to avoid a housing crisis in Greater Manchester.

“They should consider steps such as writing off rent arrears for those affected by the consequences of COVID-19, suspending the benefit cap and ensuring the courts enforce pre-action protocols for landlords. It will make a huge difference and help prevent a spike in rough sleeping.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been approached for comment.

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