THE National Housing Federation (NHF) has sought to reassure millions of social tenants they will not lose their home if they fall foul of coronavirus, but without concrete safeguards in place it is likely cold comfort.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson told the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) that emergency legislation will be introduced to “protect private renters from eviction”. But as yet it’s a case of waiting for the details to emerge.
Millions of renters – in the social and private rented sectors alike – have been left feeling out in the cold, as the Government takes steps to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on businesses, vulnerable groups and mortgage payers. Measures are also being introduced to help rough sleepers who need to self-isolate.
Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rushi Sunak announced a staggering £330 billion ‘coronavirus budget’ package to limit the likely social and economic damage, including mortgage ‘holidays’ for homeowners. But renters have been waiting in the wings for news of where they sit in the Government’s emergency planning.
In its statement, issued ahead of today’s PMQs, the NHF declared that nobody should lose their home because of the coronavirus.
“As charitable organisations housing associations recognise that a number of people living in social housing work for low or irregular wages in insecure employment and may be placed in serious difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.
“We urge anyone living in a housing association home who is worried about financial difficulties to get in touch with their housing association. Housing associations offer extensive financial help and support for people, including help claiming benefits. They are putting in extra support measures during this challenging time and will be doing everything they can to support residents.
“We welcome the steps taken so far by government and its commitment to do whatever it takes to support jobs and incomes. However, we urge that the Government goes even further to strengthen the welfare system to ensure that everyone who needs it can quickly get help if their income drops.”
The NHF, however, as the representative body for housing associations, is not itself a landlord, so it’s not in a position to offer the kind of assurances and safeguard that many tenants crave; these can only come from individual organisations.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s announcement of emergency legislation for private renters takes some sting out of shadow housing secretary John Healey’s call earlier today for such legislative protections to be put in place.
Earlier this week, Healey published draft legislation which would ban evictions due to rent arrears built up as a result of coronavirus. And today, ahead of PMQs, he renewed his call to ban such evictions, claiming millions of social and private renters have little or no savings to fall back on.
“Ministers must step up and give renters the confidence that they won’t lose their home as a result of falling ill or self-isolating because of coronavirus,” Healey said. “Renters are more likely than home-owners to have no savings to fall back on so the need for clear, legal protection is particularly important.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the Government’s pledge to introduce emergency protections for private renters, but was waiting for the details of this will work.
“Councils are leading local efforts to support communities as they try and cope with the coronavirus outbreak. They will be working with tenants who are experiencing financial challenges as a result to support them to stay in their homes. Many are already suspending debt recovery and will try and use discretionary funding to support struggling households as quickly and effectively as possible,” said Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s resources board.
“Councils need the flexibility to ensure hardship funding announced by the Government is best-used to support economically vulnerable people and households and are also seeking clarity on how it can be integrated with other financial hardship support that is being provided locally and through the benefits system.
“We are pleased the Government has committed to bringing forward measures to protect tenants from eviction and look forward to seeing the details. This needs to include urgently addressing the growing shortfall before housing benefit and private sector rents that has opened up.”
Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, the campaigning organisation Generation Rent pointed out that renters face particular problems, and urged the Government to recognise their plight.
“As the situation has escalated, renters have got in touch with us to express concern over self-isolating safely in a shared house, and how they will pay their rent if they are forced to stay home, or lose their job,” the organisation said.
“It’s not just those who fall ill with coronavirus who are affected – many renters who are self-employed or on zero-hours contracts have already lost work, and many more are nervous about redundancy, unpaid leave or losing hours. Renters spend over 40% of their earnings on rent, and as a result, two thirds of renters have no savings.”
Generation Rent is calling for:
- An immediate end to Section 8 evictions for rent arrears and Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions
- A benefits system that protects renters from debt and homelessness: the five-week wait for Housing Benefit must be scrapped, it says, and Housing Benefit must actually pay the rent, so the Government should raise it from the levels frozen since 2016 to the median local rent
- A freeze on “rent hikes”
“Currently, renters’ situations are largely dictated by the personal goodwill and financial situation of their landlord,” the organisation added. “The five-week wait for housing benefit as part of Universal Credit leaves many renters vulnerable to rent arrears… [I]n a national public health crisis, renters need the certainty of a safe and secure place to live. Renters’ security should not be left to the whim of individuals, and the Government needs to step in now.”