Tens of thousands of tenants across Greater Manchester at risk of losing their homes during the Covid-19 crisis, once the ban on evictions is raised on 23 August.
Tenants Union UK, ACORN Manchester and the Greater Manchester Law Centre are joining forces to offer training and information to help renters resist eviction. Full details below.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis has fallen most heavily on those least able to deal with it. One group disproportionately affected by the economic shock has been people renting their homes from private landlords. According to recent research from the housing charity Shelter nearly 230,000 adult private renters, a number equivalent to the population of Oldham, have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic, meaning they could be at risk of losing their homes.
When the virus first hit in March, the government instructed the courts to ban evictions – keeping people in their homes regardless of economic factors – but on 23 August that ban will be lifted.
As the law currently stands, from 24 August onwards, landlords can file applications for possession hearings, the first step in the eviction process, and anyone with rent arrears of eight weeks or more satisfies the grounds for a potential eviction under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988. This is in addition to a parallel risk of the Section 21 “no-fault eviction”, which affects many more renters and has become so controversial that even this government had pledged to abolish it. The Renters’ Reform Bill 2019-20 was announced in the Queen’s Speech last year but has yet to be presented to Parliament, despite the heightened need for reform as a result of the pandemic.
Housing organisations, politicians and academics are warning of what mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has called an “impending tsunami of evictions” and appealed for the government to act decisively to protect tenants.
The Ministry for Housing, Community & Local Government has said in a statement that the government has taken “unprecedented action” to support renters during the pandemic but those working in the sector are unconvinced. They accuse the government of simply attempting to smooth the curve of the impending wave rather than acting to prevent it.
Greater Manchester renters
In Greater Manchester, Shelter estimates that around 12,000 people are at risk of losing their homes, snared in the totally unforeseeable economic impact of Covid-19 through no fault of their own.
To meet these converging crises – in housing and in justice – and support tenants through what may be an extremely challenging time for them, three of Manchester’s frontline tenants’ and legal rights organisations – Tenants Union UK, ACORN Manchester and the Greater Manchester Law Centre – are coming together under the banner of “Greater Manchester Against Evictions” in a series of coordinated actions. Pledging to “fight evictions in the courts and in the streets” they’re working on several fronts to try and ensure that nobody in Greater Manchester loses their home due to Covid-19.
Tenants Union UK, who are headquartered in Manchester, are a “tenants support” organisation. As Ben Clay, who is also a Manchester City Councillor, explains:
“We believe nobody should lose their homes due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has added to the burden of a broken, unfair system which makes safe and secure homes unaffordable to most renters in our communities.
“Many tenants are unclear on their rights, and even during the eviction ban, some have been evicted illegally by criminal landlords, while others leave their homes voluntarily, mistakenly believing they are obliged to move out if they cannot pay rent. That is why we are teaming up with the Greater Manchester Law Centre to ensure renters, and our members, understand their rights, and are equipped with the knowledge to help each other.”
“Our tenant solidarity and eviction defence team are holding a series of training events to help concerned renters understand their rights, signpost people to appropriate legal advice, deal with arrears, disrepair and other issues by negotiating with landlords, and resist evictions with collective action.”
ACORN Manchester aim to be “a union for the community”, bringing tenants together for support, training and to organise direct action. “It is not right that a quarter of a million people risk losing the roof over their head because of a global pandemic” says Nancy Hughes, chair of ACORN Manchester. “When the evictions ban is lifted we’re facing a terrifying homelessness crisis, and we need to be prepared to protect each other. ACORN’s Community Protection Teams are empowering ordinary people to fight evictions and defend their neighbours. Anyone can get involved.”
Justice system degraded by austerity
As well as the direct impact of this current crisis on tenants there is a second, indirect impact due to the strain that these unprecedented numbers will put on the courts and the legal system. A system struggling even before the Covid-19 crisis after years of government cuts, equalling a 25% reduction to the budget of The Ministry of Justice between 2010-11 and 2019-20.
If courts are not able to function as they should, tenants’ ability to access justice is adversely affected; particularly so for those on low incomes, which will include many tenants. Savage cuts to Legal Aid due to austerity have been identified by former president of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, as causing “serious difficulty” to the justice system.
The impact of legal aid cuts on the housing sector specifically – including the creation of what The Law Society has dubbed “Legal Aid deserts”, areas of the country that lack any legal aid provision at all – was examined earlier this year by the social housing sector magazine Inside Housing, it makes for sobering reading:
- 52% of the district and unitary authorities in England and Wales did not have any legal aid providers within their boundaries (including several areas in Greater Manchester)
- 49% (224) of all the country’s 455 providers are in London
“Outside London, travel times and public transport make it incredibly difficult for people to cross their borough or district and find the legal aid service”. Said Jo Underwood, head of strategic litigation at Shelter.
In a normal year, there are around 45,000 evictions of private tenants. Since the Covid-19 crisis began, Shelter’s research reveals that 174,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent – numbers likely to increase as the furlough scheme draws to a close, threatening millions more jobs. It is a situation raising profound and urgent questions for which, so far, there are few answers.
- Do the courts have the capacity to hear hugely increased numbers of cases within a reasonable time?
- If there are significantly greater numbers of evictions, where will the additional numbers of newly homeless be housed?
- What will this sudden influx of potential renters do to rental costs across the country, and here in Greater Manchester specifically?
- Who will give advice to tens of thousands more renters in crisis after years of cuts to the legal sector?
Training to resist evictions
Jason Tetley, director of Greater Manchester Law Centre explains their role. “We’re here to support tenants who are at risk of eviction or homelessness as a result of Covid-19, including support regarding evictions, rent arrears or issues with landlords. This would include help with benefits, casework and representation at court hearings and to landlords.”
The three organisations’ training sessions begin this week on Zoom and will continue though the month. All sessions are free to attend but prior registration on the event’s webpage is needed. Full details on how to sign-up are given below.
As the date the eviction ban is lifted approaches, there will also be coordinated “Days of Action” to mark the event and publicise the help that the three organisations are offering to tenants. More details are to be announced nearer the time.
By James Doheny
Information on five upcoming events and contact details for the organisations involved are included below:
How to defend against Section 8
Wednesday, 12 August 2020, 18:00 – 19:00 BST
Tenants Union UK, webinar (via Zoom)
- If you get into arrears, your landlord may issue a Section 8, Ground 8 eviction notice. What do you do if it happens?
- Join Tenants Union and the Greater Manchester Law Centre for an informative webinar about how to deal with a Section 8, Ground 8 eviction notice.
No COVID Evictions! Community Protection Team Training
Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020, 18:00 – 19:45
ACORN Manchester webinar (via Zoom)
- We’re training up members of the community around Manchester on how to stand up for each other and resist evictions together, to protect our communities by keeping families in their homes, and win proper fair treatment from landlords
- Everyone is welcome – members and non-members!
Defending our homes against evictions
Tuesday, 18 August 2020, 18:00 – 19:00 BST
Tenants Union UK webinar (via Zoom)
- Across Greater Manchester tens of thousands of renters are in rent arrears due to loss of income, and are now vulnerable to eviction.
- We’ll be running a training session on how we fight member solidarity cases. Sign up, and join our member solidarity team. When we stick together, we win.
National Day of Action
Saturday, 22 August 2020 – time TBA
ACORN Rally – location TBA
Event information: ACORN groups across the country are planning a second national day of action for our ‘Housing Is Health’ campaign to stop Covid evictions.
How to block a Bailiff
Sunday, 23 August 2020, 11:00-12:00
Tenants Union UK webinar (via Zoom)
Event information: Join this session on how we can block a bailiff, if a landlord is ordering an illegal eviction.
Greater Manchester Law Centre
This article is part of the ‘Raising the Roof on Housing‘ series. The housing investigation theme for this series was voted as the winner of a shortlist by Meteor Community Members. To find out more about becoming a member – click here