The government must offer the private rental sector a coherent exit plan out of the COVID-19 lockdown, including helping tenants to pay their rent arrears, a cross-party group of MPs has said.
Developing a £200 to 300 million package of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) for tenants would be the best way to avoid evictions, support landlords, and save on homelessness expenditure, the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has argued in a new report.
The HCLG’s call for financial support for renters comes as the government’s ban on evictions, introduced during the first wave of the pandemic last March and since extended several times, is set to end in England on 31 May 2021.
Clive Betts MP, chair of the HCLG Committee, said: “The ban on evictions has ensured that people remain in their homes for now, but the debt will continue to increase. Landlords, many of whom only own one or two properties, will also be struggling with a loss of income.
“The government will have to find a solution that is workable for tenants and fair for landlords. The gravity of the situation means it should be treated just the same as other sectors of the economy and society that have a clear roadmap out of lockdown.
“Helping tenants pay their rent arrears would come at a cost, but would ultimately prevent significant expenditure on homelessness assistance further down the line.”
The HCLG’s Committee’s latest report is its second scrutinising the government’s actions to help rough sleepers, private renters, and landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commitee’s MPs have joined others in praising the success of the Everyone In programme, which saw the government work with local authorities and the charity sector to provide tens of thousands of rough sleepers with temporary accommodation last spring.
Researchers at University College London estimate that as of December 2020, 242 deaths were prevented by the scheme.
However, it has repeated criticisms of the government’s subsequent change in emphasis to councils about how they should treat non-UK nationals with “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF), which has created confusion among councils and led to people with NRPF being denied housing support.
Concluding that “Everyone In, by definition, has finished”, the Committee has urged the government to issue clear guidance to councils that they “can and should” use their legal powers to provide accommodation for rough sleepers with NRPF during a public health emergency.
This follows a recent High Court ruling which found that Brighton and Hove City Council could have used its powers under the Local Government Act 1972 and the NHS Act 2006 to find accommodation for a rough sleeper whose asylum claim had been refused.
“Individuals with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status need to be helped, especially during a national health emergency,” Betts added. “Relying on charities to step in is not good enough. The government needs to be clear with local authorities on their responsibilities, and provide sufficient funding to support them.
“They should also develop a task force to consider exactly how its policies on immigration, housing and elsewhere impact on homelessness and come up with solutions to address them. They have set a target of ending rough sleeping by 2024. We will hold them to this standard.”
The Committee has reiterated its call for 90,000 new social rented homes a year over the next decade to provide a long-term solution to the housing crisis.
An Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Everyone In is still ongoing and for the committee to suggest otherwise is misleading. We have spent over £700 million this year and are spending £750 million next year on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. We are also working with partners to learn any lessons from the pandemic and as part of our ambitious plans to end rough sleeping for good.
“We’ve acted to give renters robust protection during the pandemic, with longer notice periods of six months and banning bailiff enforcement of evictions for all but the most serious cases until 31 May.”
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