Renters reliant on sick pay are at risk of eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing activists in Greater Manchester are calling for more protection for those in the Private Rented Sector affected by the coronavirus and for the homeless to be housed during the crisis.
Dismayed at the lack of protection offered to private renters by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget, local housing activists are calling on national and local government to adopt policies that will help renters stricken by the coronavirus to keep a roof over their head when they most need it.
The Manchester branch of the community union Acorn are one of the many branches of the Union across the UK that are backing a petition, aimed at PM Boris Johnson, calling for a range of policies to be adopted that would protect private renters from building up substantial rent arrears or being evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition has already been signed by over 12,900 people and makes the following demands:
- Enact temporary rent freezes for renters suffering with the virus or self-isolating for the period of their self-isolation and recovery
- Announce an emergency freeze on all current section 21 or section 8 evictions
- Announce an emergency freeze on all applications for section 21 or 8 evictions
- Announce an emergency freeze on evictions of housing association and council tenants
- In line with the above, decree that any period of time spent in self isolation or ill with Coronavirus will be disregarded in section 8 hearings and not counted in the ‘over 2 months of arrears’ threshold.
Campaign group Greater Manchester Housing Action are also putting their support behind Acorn’s petition, which they say is particularly relevant to Manchester where nearly 30% of the population are living in the private rented sector PRS, across Greater Manchester and the UK the figure is closer to 20%.
Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday that whole households should observe 14 days of self-isolation if someone displays symptoms of COVID-19, adds extra pressure on private renters as all those sharing a house may be prevented from earning money to pay the rent.
In a statement released by GMHA, supporting the Acorn petition, they raise the concern that statutory sick pay (SSP) at £377 per month will not cover the average rent in Manchester (using 2018 figures) of £775 per month. GMHA say that this means PRS tenants are at risk of eviction during the coronavirus pandemic, and that. “It is vital that the security and safety of tenants is not dependent on their landlords goodwill.”
GMHA makes further calls for protection to tenants during the COVID-19 outbreak, including: a waiver on utility bills, emergency repairs to homes that are in a state of disrepair, an increase to statutory sick pay, an end to squat evictions and for extra measures to be adopted to house the homeless during the crisis.
One of the measures to help the homeless suggested by GMHA is the activation of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) during the Coronavirus outbreak. The SWEP usually comes into affect during very cold weather, and obliges local authorities to provide accommodation, for homeless people sleeping rough. They also call on local authorities in GM to consider using the SWEP powers to requisition the many empty rooms in hotels, due to the coronavirus out break. GMHA propose that these hotel rooms could be used to house the homeless as well as anyone living in unfit accommodation which could be detrimental to their health and recovery from COVID-19.
GMHA state: “This crisis is set to have a profound impact on a society already damaged by years of austerity. In the coming weeks and months we need to be there for one another and develop mutual aid across our communities… When we move past it, we need to ensure that our society does not go back, basing prosperity for some on the precarity of so many more.”
Acorn’s petition can be accessed here
Feature image: composite of Wikipedia Commons and The Meteor images