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Tories have just days to avert ‘homelessness emergency’

Quarter of a million people at risk unless landlords are prevented from evicting renters due to arrears accrued due to the coronavirus crisis

A QUARTER of a million people could be at risk of homelessness if the government doesn’t bring forward key legislation by Thursday, Labour has warned. 

Shadow housing secretary Thangham Debonnaire warned today that the Tories have until July 16 to avert a “homelessness emergency” when a temporary ban on evictions expires on August 24. 

With just under two weeks to go before Parliament breaks up for its summer recess on July 22, time is rapidly running out to implement crucial legislation that would protect renters from eviction. 

Labour wants new legislation to ensure landlords cannot use rent arrears accrued due to the coronavirus crisis as legal ground for evictions. Instead the courts should be empowered to use their discretion. 

The party says the new protections would cover more than 20 million people who rent their homes from private, council or housing association landlords.

The party is also calling on the government to follow through on its pledge made over one year ago to scrap section 21 evictions, which give short-term tenants as little as eight weeks to leave their property.

The government admitted at the time that the rule had become one of the leading causes of family homelessness. 

Labour’s stark warning follows calls from charities and tenants’ unions that renters face a “cliff edge” when the temporary eviction ban is lifted. 

Recent figures from Shelter suggest almost 230,000 private renters — 3 per cent of the sector — have already fallen into arrears since March while 174,000 have been threatened with eviction. 

Ms Debonnaire said: “There are a quarter of a million people at risk of eviction from financial pressures caused by the Covid crisis. 

“The government’s policies have helped property developers, second home-owners and landlords make money from housing. But they are doing nothing to help thousands in rented accommodation, who may find themselves without anywhere to live later this year.”

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the government has introduced measures to prevent people falling into rent arrears including the furlough scheme, additional funds for universal credit and higher Local Housing Allowance rates. 

“The government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic and we are working with the judiciary to ensure that arrangements are in place to give protections for those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus when proceedings start again,” an MHCLG spokesperson said. 

Despite the measures, 60 per cent of renters have suffered losses to their incomes, according to a poll by the Guardian, while 1.2m are at high risk of losing their jobs.

Shelter warned that the government must “act now” to prevent a “wave of Covid evictions.” 

The charity’s campaigns director Greg Beales said: “Our services hear on a daily basis that many families don’t have savings to fall back on and that young renters have been particularly badly hit.  

“Government can protect these renters, but with just a handful of sitting days left before Parliament breaks for summer on July 22, it must act now. 

“Some small changes to the law would give judges the power they need to make sure no renter is automatically evicted and prevent a wave of Covid evictions.”

On July 2 the government confirmed that it would end the eviction suspension on August 24, six months after it was implemented. 

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “As it currently stands, the future for renters in this country is incredibly precarious — with mounting financial pressure and job insecurity caused by the pandemic leaving many struggling to pay rent.

“With significant progress made to help protect rough sleepers and people in crowded hostels and night shelters from coronavirus over the last few months, it would be such a step backwards to see renters forced into homelessness.”

Greater Manchester Law Centre, which has been lobbying the government for these changes during lockdown, also called for urgent legislation today. 

“The government has a clear choice — to allow Parliament to go on holiday on July 22, content to leave renters to their fate when the stay ends on August 23 2020, or introduce urgent legislation this week to ensure that renters are treated justly,” the centre said in a statement. 

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