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22 May, 2020 Open access

MPs recommend greater protection from eviction for renters during the coronavirus crisis to prevent homelessness when freeze on eviction proceedings ends

Interim report on impact of COVID-19 also calls on government to establish £100m housing support fund or risk losing ‘golden opportunity' to end rough sleeping

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has called on the government to provide greater protection for renters during the coronavirus crisis to prevent homelessness when the freeze on eviction proceedings ends.

In an interim report on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on homeless people and those in the private rented sector, the Committee highlights that unless the government amends existing housing legislation, its plans to introduce a pre-action protocol in the private rented sector will be toothless and will fail to prevent a cliff edge of evictions once the moratorium on possession cases ends. The Committee therefore recommends that -

‘… the government amends the 1985 Housing Act to allow judges to use discretion under section 21 and mandatory ground 8 of section 8 where a tenant is in rent arrears due to the coronavirus crisis. The Government should introduce a short Bill as soon as possible, such as we have proposed in the Appendix.'

In addition, the Committee sets out further measures that the government should adopt to support those in the private rented sector, including to -

With regard to the impact of coronavirus on rough sleepers, and acknowledging that the government’s response to the pandemic has led to nine in ten people getting off the streets and being housed in temporary accommodation, the Committee calls for comprehensive funding - including for councils that are supporting people with no recourse to public funds - to ensure rough sleepers housed during the crisis don’t end up back on the streets -

‘This is a golden opportunity to end rough sleeping in England once and for all. The Government’s taskforce must estimate the cost of a housing-led solution with appropriate wrap-around support, using the expertise of charitable organisations and local councils. We received evidence that this is likely to be £100 million a year at a minimum. The Government must provide this as a dedicated funding stream to councils to ensure these people are accommodated safely and securely.’

Commenting on the report, Committee chair Clive Betts said  -

'As it stands there are two main risks that need to be addressed if the current low levels of rough sleeping are to continue. Firstly, the Government needs to fund a comprehensive housing-led exit strategy for those currently being housed in short term accommodation during the Covid-19 crisis, which we estimate will cost around £100m a year. Secondly, the Government needs to amend legislation to ensure those in the private rented sector who have been caught up in the economic fallout of the pandemic are not evicted when the freeze on eviction proceedings ends. on the report.

In our interim report we have set out what the Government will need to do immediately in terms of funding, policy and legislation. There can be no question that we have to ensure no one is forced to live on the streets, we now expect the Government to put this achievable goal into long-term reality. We will continue our inquiry to explore how to deal with other long-term issues, such as the crucial issue of rent arrears.'

For more information, see Government must establish £100m housing support fund or risk losing ‘golden opportunity to end rough sleeping from