Renters are today breathing a sigh of relief at the news that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has extended the evictions ban for a second time.
Jenrick himself promised in March that ‘no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.’ But as the clock was ticking down to the eviction ban lifting on Sunday, it was not clear what the government would do. Without action, we were facing a rising tide of ‘coronavirus evictions’ over the coming weeks and months, so today’s announcement is good news that will buy renters and the government more time.
The initial ban was announced in March, at the start of the pandemic. Despite extending the 90-day ban for a further two months, the government has not yet taken the actions necessary to give renters meaningful protection when the courts finally reopen. Their reluctance to pass emergency legislation meant that tens of thousands of people could have become homeless when the ban lifted.
This further extension – alongside a new six-month notice period – gives the government another chance to keep renters safe in their homes – but they must act swiftly to protect renters before the ban lifts in just four weeks’ time.
To do this, they need to protect renters now through legislation and emergency funding, and they need to reform our broken renting system for good.
If the government wants to stop people from being evicted because of coronavirus, they must legislate so that judges can prevent evictions from taking place where the renter has been impacted by the pandemic. Current housing laws mean that renters with serious arrears are automatically evicted, even if the arrears aren’t the renter’s fault or came about as a direct result of coronavirus. Not to mention that most of England’s 11 million private renters live under the constant threat of a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction.
Even legal experts who had been helping the government plan for the courts’ safe reopening have told Jenrick that he has to legislate to protect renters fully.
Clear renting debt
The government must do more to support those who have fallen into rent arrears as a result of the pandemic. Renters up and down the country are already struggling as our economy sits on a knife edge. Shelter research shows that there are 223,000 households who are now in rent arrears from the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s clear tenants are under a huge amount of financial pressure, and so far government support has not gone far enough. Increases to housing benefit for private renters have been welcome, but with incomes hit, many people have struggled to cover their rent during the pandemic. The benefits system needs to be robust enough to help people pay their rent going forward, but government must also go further to help renters clear the debts they have built up. One-off funding to help renters clear arrears must be made available to those who have accrued ‘Covid-arrears’, but who are likely to be back on their feet soon.
Reforming the system
Coronavirus has simply reminded us of what we already knew; that the private rented sector is not fit for purpose and urgently needs reform. Our Home Truths report has helped illustrate how peoples’ home lives are being affected by coronavirus. Set against the backdrop of an expensive, insecure, unfair and discriminatory private rented system, the pandemic has tipped huge numbers of people into crisis.
Our renting system is broken. But together we can fix it. As we begin to look to the future of renting in this country, we know that we can’t go back to normal, because normal was the problem. Now is the time to strengthen renters’ rights and make sure whatever the future holds, no one is put at risk of homelessness.
At the last election, Boris Johnson and the Conservatives promised to reform renting, and once in government they announced the Renters’ Reform Bill. This is our golden opportunity to change the way renting works, and, if done right, the Renters’ Reform Bill could make renting more secure and more accountable.
But we’ve got a fight on our hands. Other people don’t share the same vision as we do. We want renters to have more security and only by coming together as a movement, to demand better renters’ rights, will Shelter supporters be able to make sure our voices are heard. Together, we can make sure the government listens to our demands, and that they deliver the changes that renters so desperately need.
Today’s announcement has bought the government time to protect renters and fix the system. That’s why we’re kicking off our movement to fix renting and fight for a renting system that works for renters.
If you think the government needs to make sure everyone has access to a safe home during the coronavirus pandemic, add your voice today.