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In a letter to the Housing Secretary the Mayor has expressed his concern at the prospect of the current eviction ban coming to an end on August 23rd and the Government’s failure to protect those who have run up rental debts during the pandemic from eviction proceedings and homelessness.
Sadiq writes: “In a matter of weeks, local authority housing services could be overwhelmed, and we could see a flood of people onto the streets. Following the herculean effort to get rough sleepers off the streets and into hotels to self-isolate, it would be a tragedy if thousands more people find themselves homeless due to being evicted.”
The Mayor’s letter sets out a range of measures the Government could take to immediately improve the outlook for London’s renters including:
- Properly protecting renters from losing their homes by putting in place emergency legislation to prevent landlords serving eviction notices to any tenants affected by COVID-19 until the end of the pandemic;
- Introducing ‘triple lock’ protection for renters affected by COVID-19:
- Further increase the help the welfare benefits system provides with rents and cover any shortfall in rental payments of private tenants unable to pay them due to COVID-19, including arrears.
- Prevent private landlords from serving section 8 (arrears) notices where tenants have accrued arrears as a result of COVID-19.
- Scrap section 21 evictions to prevent landlords evicting tenants affected by COVID-19 using the so-called ‘no fault’ evictions route as an alternative to section 8.
- Provide additional funding and guidance for councils to accommodate all households presenting as homeless as a result of the pandemic, including those not covered under emergency legislation, such as lodgers;
- Implement urgent measures to tackle illegal evictions and other unlawful practices by rogue landlords and letting agents
- Take steps to ensure landlords offer flexibility to tenants whose ability to pay their rent is affected by COVID-19, including by requiring landlords in receipt of mortgage holidays to notify their tenants of this and to enable tenants to be exempt from rental payments for the duration of the holiday
- End the discriminatory ‘Right to Rent’ policy
The Mayor first wrote to the Housing Secretary about his concerns for private renters in March. Four months on, time is running out to help them and a once in a generation opportunity to reboot the rental market in favour of tenants is at risk of being missed.
Full text of the Mayor’s letter below.
I welcome the measures that the Government has taken to date to protect renters – including by preventing evictions during the crisis and by going some way towards reversing cuts to the welfare benefits system. However, I am deeply concerned that the evictions ban is due to come to an end on 23 August and that, despite having had four months to do so, the Government has still not put in place necessary additional measures to properly protect renters from the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
Over two million Londoners rent privately, and families with children make up a third of these renting households. Many are on lower incomes, while more than half have no savings. COVID-19 has underlined the precariousness of their situation. Research by the Resolution Foundation shows that one in eight private renters across England have fallen behind with their housing costs since the outbreak, with private renters in London more likely to have accumulated arrears. In addition, Shelter’s Home Truths report has revealed the devastating personal impact the virus continues to have on renters.
These pressures have been exacerbated by the failure of the welfare system to fully cover the rents of those unable to pay them because of the virus, not least because of the Government’s benefit cap. GLA-commissioned research shows that the number of lowincome households in London having their benefits capped has doubled to 44,300, and those renting households who were already at the benefit cap before COVID-19 are now missing out by an average £532 per month.
These renters are facing high rental debts, eviction proceedings and homelessness. It is vital that the Government acts now to protect them, but it appears that it has no robust plans to do so. In particular, I share the concerns raised by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee that, without amending existing legislation, your Ministry’s plans to introduce a pre-action protocol to possession proceedings in the private rented sector will be toothless and will fail to prevent a cliff edge in evictions once the eviction ban is lifted.
To properly protect renters, the Government must work closely with cities and regions that best understand local housing markets and housing needs. The imbalance of power between renters and landlords means that the Government’s reliance on them agreeing ‘affordable repayment plans’ is unrealistic, particularly in London where the shortage of housing creates competition amongst tenants and gives them little option but to agree to a landlord’s terms. The capital also faces the impending prospect of a tsunami of evictions. In a matter of weeks, local authority housing services could be overwhelmed, and we could see a flood of people being forced onto the streets. Following the herculean effort to get rough sleepers into hotels to self-isolate, it would be a tragedy if thousands more people find themselves homeless due to being evicted.
I therefore urge you to implement the full range of measures that I have set out so that no renter accrues arrears or faces the threat of eviction or homelessness as a result of the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. These measures will also mean that local authorities and advice organisations are supported to assist people facing or experiencing homelessness, including the many thousands of rough sleepers in hotels and other emergency accommodation in the capital. Until they are enacted, the ban on evictions must remain in place.
The measures set out below form part of a wider package of interventions required to address the impact of COVID-19 on the housing sector in London, which I first wrote to you about on 25 March. My team will soon be discussing with your officials the findings of the cross-sector COVID-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce, chaired by my Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development, Tom Copley, on how to address the substantial challenges facing London’s housing construction industry following the pandemic.
Sadiq Khan Mayor of London
cc Paul Scully MP, Minister for London Sir Edward Lister, 10 Downing Street