More must be done to safeguard private renters and rough sleepers from Covid-19 risks

THE potential impact of coronavirus on private renters has provoked calls for action from homelessness charities and landlords alike.

Landlords are being urged to show more flexibility towards tenants who may need to self-isolate, or who are facing difficulties because of the economic impact of the outbreak. Meanwhile, the Government is being urged to do more to help mitigate the threat of homelessness for those affected.

And more needs to be done to help those who are already homeless, especially rough sleepers and the people who work with them.

In a joint statement, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and the National Landlords Association (NLA) have called for a package of measures from the Government and mortgage lenders to support tenants and landlords.

“We are encouraging all landlords to work positively with tenants to provide support where needed throughout this difficult period. Landlords should be as flexible as they can to help tenants facing payment difficulties resulting from the impact of the coronavirus,” the two organisations said in the statement.

“To support landlords in this we are calling for a package of measures from Government and mortgage providers. This includes a temporary scrapping of the five week wait before Universal Credit claimants get their first payment, pausing the final phase of restricting mortgage interest relief to the basic rate of income tax, and ensuring lenders look sympathetically on requests by landlords for mortgage payment holidays where their income is being affected through reduced or non-payment of rent.”

Homelessness charity Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, has urged landlords to take a light touch on any tenants affected by the public health crisis.

“The situation with coronavirus is serious and developing daily,” she said. “While the country faces unprecedented times, we’re asking landlords to be sensitive to any tenants affected by coronavirus or self-isolating who could lose out on income and temporarily struggle with their rent.

“If you’re a tenant who is having trouble keeping up with your rent payments because of coronavirus you should speak to your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible, as they may be willing to agree a repayment plan. Some people may also be able to claim benefits like universal credit to help with housing costs, so if you’re struggling don’t be afraid to ask for help and find out your options. Paying off rent arrears should be a top priority before any other non-urgent debts.

“Shelter is here so that no-one has to face bad housing or homelessness on their own. Anyone worried about their housing situation can get in touch for free, expert advice by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help.”

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey MP is taking things a step further, with a call to ban evictions for people who fall behind on their rent due to the coronavirus – enshrined in law.

Healey says he is publishing a draft bill – Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill 2020 – and is urging the Government to adopt it immediately.

The new law would mean any non-payment of rent due to coronavirus would not count as legal grounds for eviction. Healey says if would cover the more than 20 million people – eight and a half million households – who rent their homes from private, council or housing association landlords, including three million households with children.

The move would bar landlords from evicting tenants who are off work and not getting paid due to coronavirus, by changing the legal basis on which landlords can seize possession of a rented property to exclude arrears which have built up due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

It would initially cover any arrears that accumulate between 1 March 2020 and 1 September 2020, with the option to be extended as necessary.

It follows Labour’s call at the weekend for emergency financial protection for people affected by the coronavirus, including rent deferrals and mortgage holidays, higher statutory sick pay, and income protection for insecure, low-paid and self-employed workers.

“The coronavirus pandemic requires a rapid response from the government to protect families,” Healey said. “Our current threadbare legal safety net means renters are vulnerable to eviction if they get ill and fall behind on their rent. The fear of being evicted may also mean workers are reluctant stay off work and self-isolate.

“Our emergency legislation would protect renters from eviction and we urge the Government to work with us to adopt it and implement it at the earliest opportunity. This is an essential first step in public reassurance, giving people confidence they can follow official health advice in responding to coronavirus without putting their home at risk.”

Meanwhile, Crisis has called on the Government to do more to help rough sleepers. The charity has expressed concern that guidelines published yesterday for hostels or day centres providing services for people sleeping rough don’t go far enough.

The organisation is “deeply concerned” that the guidance fails to include measure to enable rough sleepers, or those living in shelters and hostels to self-isolate. As the charity points, this group is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, as they are three times more likely to have a chronic health condition such as asthma or COPD.

The charity is calling on national governments and local councils to take emergency measures to ensure people experiencing homelessness can access self-contained accommodation with private bathrooms.

This should include assistance from national governments to secure hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need.

“The guidance we have received to-date is inadequate. It fails to set out a plan for how people experiencing homelessness can self-isolate in this outbreak,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis.

“We need emergency action to protect people in this very vulnerable situation – this must include testing and access to housing. Let’s not forget that the average age of death of someone who is homeless is 45, substantially lower than the general population. Given the obvious vulnerability, the only answer can be to provide housing that allows people to self-isolate.”

Crisis said it is calling for the following measures to be taken as a matter of urgency:

  • People sleeping rough and living in hostel and shelter accommodation to have rapid access to healthcare assistance and appropriate housing
  • Assistance from national governments to secure hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need
  • Removal of legal barriers so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation
  • Provide additional financial support through the Universal Credit system to ensure people are not pushed to the brink of homelessness
  • Protect renters from evictions by temporarily suspending the use of Section 21 and Section 8 evictions

Furthermore, the charity says the Government should ringfence a proportion of the £5 billion fund announced in the Budget last week to fight Covid-19 for local authorities to help deliver these measures.

Crisis is also calling for national governments and local councils to ensure that frontline workers in homelessness organisations are recognised as an emergency service as part of their response to Covid-19.

NH

 

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