Labour is demanding emergency action from government to protect renters through the coronavirus pandemic by extending an eviction ban by six months and giving tenants at least two years to pay back arrears.
Describing current provisions introduced by ministers during the Covid-19 crisis as “woefully inadequate”, the party highlighted research suggesting thousands of tenants are at risk of losing their homes.
Prominent housing charity Shelter has already warned of an “onslaught” of people unable to afford their bills due to the impact of the virus on employment with many tenants with unexpectedly reduced incomes.
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It claimed 1.7 million renters also believed they would lose their jobs in the next three months as a result of the pandemic, pointing to spiralling debt and urging the government to prevent “needless evictions”.
Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow housing secretary, told The Independent: “Current protections for people renting their homes are woefully inadequate. Unless the government acts now, many thousands of tenants will be at risk of losing their homes”.
In response to the unprecedented crisis, the government said in April that no social or private renter in England or Wales will be evicted or forced out of their home, and introduced measures to force landlords to give all renters three months’ notice if they intend to seek possession of the property.
Ministers said this “extended buffer period” will apply in law until 30 September and will extended it if deemed necessary.
But critics have said ministers have not gone far enough to address concerns of the millions of renters in England. Unlike those who have purchased properties and can request a “mortgage holiday” from banks, individuals in the rental sector facing financial insecurity are forced to seek help from landlords on an individual basis.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party is now urging ministers to act urgently and extend the rental ban on evictions from three to nine months, “or however long is needed”, in a five-point plan Labour says protects tenants.
The party also calls on the government to bring forward proposals to scrap “no fault” eviction clauses for tenancies in England, and temporarily increase the Local Housing Allowance. “Once evictions are prevented, grant renters at least two years to pay back any arrears accrued during this period,” the party added.
“Give residential tenants the same protections as commercial tenants, by protecting them from being made bankrupt by their landlords for non-payment of rent.”
Ms Debbonaire added: “The government has paused evictions for three months and answered Labour’s call to increase the Local Housing Allowance. Both are welcome, but do not go far enough. It will take time for people to recover from this crisis and they need all the support we can give them to prevent what would be an unprecedented and devastating spike in homelessness.
“In the long term we need to fix the housing crisis – with stronger rent regulations and much more affordable and social housing – so that everyone has a home that is safe, secure, environmentally sustainable, and that they can afford to live in. What we need right now is an emergency package to set us on that path.”