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Unions rally for renters' rights

‘Loophole’ leaves 1000s facing eviction if Sunak doesn't act, activists say

TENS of thousands of renters are at imminent risk of losing their homes due to a loophole in the eviction ban, campaigners warned today.

In a joint letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, trade unions and tenant organisations said that an estimated 840,000 people who owe more than six months’ rent could be kicked out as they struggle to make ends meet during the current Covid-19 lockdown.

The warning came as councils expressed fears of a spike in homelessness when protective measures end. A survey published today found that 10 local authorities in England expect to see a wave of evictions soon.

The letter, signed by the leaders of Unite, Unison and GMB as well as tenant groups including the London Renters Union, contrasted the government’s generous financial support for landlords — a reduction in stamp duty land tax for buy-to-let investments and mortgage holidays — with its failure to give renters adequate protection from homelessness.

The signatories, who also included the IWGB and CWU unions and housing-policy think tank the New Economics Foundation, urged ministers to ban evictions for rent arrears, scrap section 21 “no fault” evictions and ensure that any taxpayer support to help clear rent debt is not handed to millionaire landlords.

London Renters Union’s Amina Gichinga said that handouts to wealthy landlords would make the problems in the “rigged housing system” worse.

“Government-backed loans would help underwrite landlord profits but would leave renters pressured to take on massive debt repayments they can’t afford,” she said. “If you can’t afford your rent, how can you afford loan repayments?”

New Economics Foundation chief executive Miatta Fahnbulleh said: “Tens of thousands of renters are living with the misery of impossible rent-debt burdens, denying them a secure place to sleep, eat and stay.

“It’s not too late for [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak to change course with measures in [tomorrow’s] Budget that will allow him to look the UK’s nine million renters in the eye.”

More than eight in 10 councils surveyed for the annual Homelessness Monitor: England 2021 reported that making housing benefit available to more by raising the local housing allowance (LHA) rate had been important in tackling homelessness during the Covid-19 crisis and 87 per cent said that the suspension of evictions from social and private properties had been “very important” in preventing homelessness.

The report, commissioned by homelessness charity Crisis and led by Heriot-Watt University, also found that 76 per cent of councils said the same of the Everyone In scheme, which has provided emergency accommodation to 33,000 people sleeping rough or at risk of doing so.

But with LHA rates set to be frozen again in April, “devastating numbers” of people could be pushed to the brink, according to Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes, who is calling for a one-off package of financial support for renters in the Budget.

“But to make real, lasting change, we need [ministers] to ensure the urgency and commitment to tackling homelessness this last year becomes permanent,” he said, calling for a long-term strategy.

An estimated 2,688 people were sleeping rough in England in autumn last year, a third fewer than in 2019, according to government figures. But the figure remains 52 per cent higher than the estimate in 2010, when the Conservatives come to power.

The Scottish government said that over 31,000 households north of the border were homeless or at risk of becoming so in 2019-20, while the figure in Wales was 12,339.

A government spokesperson said: “We’ve put households at the heart of our decision-making throughout the pandemic, with a £280 billion package keeping millions in work [and] temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net.”

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