Ministers face calls to deliver on pledge no one should lose home as a result of Covid pandemic

Government accused of ‘wilfully’ walking into a crisis

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Saturday 29 May 2021 23:05 BST
Robert Jenrick says it is a' moral shame' that so many people are sleeping rough in the UK

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Ministers are facing calls to stop automatic evictions of those in rent arrears amid fears thousands could find themselves on the streets despite a pledge no one would lose their home as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Experts have predicted that about 150,000 households will be at risk when an emergency ban on evictions ends on Monday.

Labour said Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, had promised that no one would lose their home as a result of the global pandemic and “must make good on that pledge”.

The opposition also warned that a rise in homelessness could cost the taxpayer more than £2bn.

The government is due to lift a ban on evictions, which has been in place since the start of the crisis, at the end of this month, despite increasing fears a new strain of the virus first identified in India will mean cases continue to rise.

The government has already indicated that plans to further ease lockdown restrictions next month hang in the balance and could now be delayed.

Debt charity StepChange estimates half a million renters have built up arrears as a result of the pandemic, with 150,000 at risk of eviction when the ban ends.

Rehousing these families could cost the taxpayer an estimated £1.1bn if families were in temporary accommodation for six months and £2.2bn if they were homeless for a year.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said ministers had to act as she called on the government to extend the evictions ban and bring in emergency legislation to halt automatic evictions for rent arrears through the courts.

Ms Powell accused ministers of “wilfully walking into an evictions crisis”.

“The housing secretary promised that no one would lose their home as a result of the crisis and he must make good on that pledge,” she said.

“He must step up, he cannot in good conscience stand by and see people kicked out of their homes through no fault of their own.”

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of the charity Crisis, said there was no doubt that the protections put in place over the last year had prevented many people from facing homelessness during the pandemic.

But, he added: “We know that many renters have been battling with mounting financial pressures and arrears as a result of the pandemic. With the eviction ban ending on Monday, we risk seeing many people in the most vulnerable circumstances being pushed into homelessness.”

“We cannot forget renters at risk of homelessness right now though, which is why we urgently need to see commitments addressing the financial pressure many are currently facing. These include a financial package of support for renters in arrears and continuing the uplift of local housing allowance rates so they meet the cheapest third of rents.”

A government spokesperson said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken unprecedented action to support renters and help keep them in their homes including introducing a comprehensive £352bn support package, which has prevented widespread build-up of rent arrears.

“Thanks to the success of the vaccine programme, national restrictions are gradually being eased and it’s now the right time to start to lift the emergency measures we put in place.

“Tenants will continue to be supported with longer notice periods and financial help is still available such as the furlough scheme, which has been extended until the end of September. Evictions will not be carried out if a member of the home has Covid-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.”

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