Time is running out to halt evictions and prevent homelessness
In three weeks’ time, unless the government imposes a further delay, courts will be able to start dealing with eviction cases again. There are mounting fears that many tenants have built up arrears and, without forbearance by landlords, there could be a huge increase in evictions and homelessness. That’s why here at CIH, we decided to make this issue a priority when developing our response to the coronavirus crisis.
There is plenty of evidence about the potential scale of the problem. Citizens Advice reports that 2.6 million tenants have missed at least one rent payment during the crisis. The Resolution Foundation showed that working tenants are more likely to be in jobs vulnerable to the crisis than are owner-occupiers. We have shown that local housing allowance (LHA) still falls short of rent levels in many areas. While the government has taken positive steps like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furloughing) and improving LHA rates, it’s obvious that many people might fall through the gaps because they lose their jobs and simply find that – for many different reasons – universal credit isn’t available or doesn’t cover their rent. The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has shown that, so far, many private landlords have been in a position to help tenants, but there must be uncertainty about how long this can continue.
That’s why we have put forward a comprehensive package of measures, urging the government to take on our proposals to prevent arrears where possible and avoid evictions if these relate purely to arrears due to the pandemic (unless there is no plan in place to repay them or the tenant is not complying with a plan). As well as details for England, we have published similar proposals for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The essence is simple: first, aim to fill the gaps in the support from government that enables tenants to pay their rents if they lose their jobs during the crisis; second, where tenants fall behind, require both sides to reach agreement to spread the payments over up to two years, and only allow evictions if the agreement fails.
The key points are these:
· Evictions – temporary protection. Extend the current ban until evictions can take place safely and the pre-action protocol is in place.
· Evictions – post-COVID. Put a temporary ban on evictions solely arising from COVID-related arrears; end section 21 evictions and suspend those under Ground 8.
· Arrears payments. Require that payment plans for COVID-related arrears will not result in eviction provided the tenant agrees with and complies with the plan over up to two years.
· Reforms to universal credit. End the five-week wait; temporarily suspend the benefit cap and the two-child limit; increase LHA to the 50th percentile of rents for a limited period; reinstate three-month protection for claimants who could afford their rent when they entered into their agreement; end the ‘shared accommodation rate’ for under 35s.
· Rent arrears outside scope of universal credit. Increase emergency funds for discretionary housing payments and ensure they are more widely available.
· No access to universal credit because of immigration status. One-year lifting of ‘no recourse to public funds’ and other restrictions on claiming benefits.
· Private landlords’ loss of rental income. Similar interest-free loan scheme to that proposed in Scotland; landlords given mortgage holidays on rented properties to pass relief onto tenants.
· Local authorities’ and housing associations’ loss of rental income. Consider one-off payments to stabilise social landlords’ accounts where these can be shown to be needed.
Since producing the plan we have engaged with Government on the detail and are continuing to liaise with stakeholders and partners from across the sector to develop broad support for our proposals.
Feedback from CIH members is of course very welcome: you can email us (at email@example.com) with your views or suggestions. We’re especially keen to hear from those who are facing decisions about how their organisation deals with rent arrears or who are dealing with the consequences of evictions and homelessness due to arrears.