The government’s freeze on evictions for 90 days came after intense lobbying by housing campaigners for greater protection for private renters. A ‘Stop the Evictions’ guide, produced by a collaboration of housing campaign groups may well come into play when the freeze ends on 30 September.
The government’s three month freeze on eviction proceedings during the coronavirus crisis has given private renters some breathing space during the coronavirus pandemic. But the Tenants Union warns that this hiatus could just delay the threat of eviction, unless more help is offered.
Initially announcing a “complete ban” on evictions in response to the pandemic on 18 March, the government came under heavy criticism from housing campaigners when it turned out that the draft Coronavirus Bill published earlier this week only extended the notice required for possession of a property from two months to three and that there was no “complete ban” on evictions.
This initial proposed legislation left an estimated 20,000 renters subject to being evicted during the pandemic crisis, according to Shelter.
Under intense pressure from campaigners the government issued an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill, on 26 March, which made the following changes that affect renters:
- Tenants are entitled to three months’ notice from 26 March to 30 September
- Court proceedings for eviction are now suspended for 90 days
- If a landlord has already applied to court, the case is delayed until after the 90 days
Housing campaigners who have been lobbying government for greater protection for private renters during the coronavirus pandemic have hailed this change as a positive move. The Tenants Union is one of the campaign groups who have been fighting for greater protection of tenants during the pandemic. Alongside Greater Manchester Housing Action and the Greater Manchester Law Centre, they produced a “Stop The Evictions” guide to help renters during the Covid-19 crisis.
Ben Clay a spokesperson for the Tenants Union, and Labour councillor for Burnage in Manchester, welcomes the latest changes in favour of renters but is critical of the governments initial plan, saying:
“Despite the Prime Minister making big promises, the emergency legislation passed by the government was not a freeze to evictions. Tenants Union UK and our allies had to fight to get the courts to impose this, by delisting eviction hearings, and withdrawing all current eviction warrants.”
Clay is keen that the pressure on government to do the right
thing by renters is maintained, and warns that temporary rent freeze may just
be delaying the problem, saying:
“We know that without active pressure, this three month respite will just delay the threats of eviction for tenants who have built up rent arrears and have faced loss of earnings, from landlords who have been offered mortgage holidays, but have tried to exploit their tenants, at a time of national crisis. The government has been dragged kicking and screaming to live up to its rhetoric, with concrete changes that would defend renters.”
With more than 500,000 people applying for Universal Credit in the nine days up to Wednesday, the potential for rent arrears to develop for new claimants is considerable. The all in one benefit, which includes a housing benefit component is notorious for its late payments. The government have promised to speed payment sup during the crisis. However new claimants during the pandemic have reported that it is “almost impossible” to complete a claim online or get through to the Department of Work and Pensions on the phone.
To reduce the risk of evictions and sky high rent arrears after the current eviction freeze, Clay is calling on the government to provide extra help to renters including rent holidays, rent controls and an end to no fault evictions. Clay says that GMHA, GMLC and the tenants Union are working alongside each other to:
“Ensure nobody is evicted during the crisis, or in the time after the epidemic. That is why we have produced advice on what to do if you are threatened with eviction, or if a landlord starts the legal process required.
“We cannot allow a return to no fault evictions, tolerance of disrepair, and lack of accountability for landlords after the crisis, we need to create a housing system that tackles injustice and inequality, protects tenants from the power of landlords, and insists on decent safety standards and conditions in any home that is rented out.”