Evictions rising in Covid-19 crisis, warns shadow housing secretary | World news

Landlords appear to be evicting tenants at record levels despite the government’s promise that no one will lose their home because of coronavirus, Labour has warned, as the party called for an urgent package of housing benefit support.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said he had received a whistleblowing email from a property management company that evictions were at a record high in their region of the UK.

The company told him that there was anecdotal evidence this was happening across the country, and warned that it was having to recruit more bailiffs to deal with demand.

“We have appointed new agents to cope with the rapid increase in evictions,” it said. “We have not seen any HM Government restrictions or official advice since the Covid-19 pandemic was announced.

“Estate agents, property management agents and landlords are very keen to evict tenants as they need the rent paid in full during these difficult times. Buy to let lenders have not offered any assistance to landlords from our experience. Essential workers are not exempt from such evictions.”

The government’s new emergency legislation includes measures to stop eviction for the next three months, and the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, said last week: “The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”

However, Labour and other critics pointed out that this only extends the notice required for possession from two months to three. Shelter, the housing charity, has warned that 20,000 evictions are currently going through the system, with people likely to be left homeless while ill or trying to isolate because of vulnerabilities during the pandemic.

To deal with the problems, Healey said Labour was calling for a guaranteed extra safety net for renters to ensure that no-one loses their home as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

He said the party’s own analysis shows that 6 million of the country’s 8.5 million renting households have no savings to fall back on, and are particularly vulnerable to loss of income during the crisis.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced that the government would raise housing benefit to cover those in the cheapest 30% of private rented properties, but Labour said this did not go far enough.

In addition to calling for a six month ban on evictions and rent suspensions, Healey called for a doubling in the funding for discretionary housing payments to allow councils to cover rent shortfalls in around 300,000 additional cases, and a relaxation of property size restrictions on housing benefit for private renters.

He said the government should also raise benefit rates for private renters to at least cover average rents in each area, and relax the current cap on benefit payments which hits families facing high housing costs.

“After a decade of cuts, our housing safety net is already letting renters slip through the gaps,” Healey said. “It is not fit for purpose for the period we now face when family finances will be under extra pressure.

“The chancellor’s commitments so far only partly row back on these cuts, and government action falls well short of what renters need. The government must now urgently give renters a guarantee they will not lose their home as a result of coronavirus, by strengthening the safety net for households who have their hours cut or lose their job.”

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