Open letter to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP on evictions during the pandemic

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: Tenants facing historical eviction crisis during COVID-19 pandemic

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns about the growing inability of hundreds of thousands of private tenants across the country to meet their rent payments and keep a roof over their heads at this most precarious of times.

As the recession deepens and unemployment continues to rise, the threat of eviction looms ever larger for many private tenants. Soon, an unthinkable number of people will find themselves falling behind on rent payments. For some, these payments were in more normal times comfortably affordable; others, already out of work, will see their bleak situations take yet another turn for the worse as the gulf between their rent arrears and ability to pay widens further.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, Shelter estimates that of the 4.5 million households in the UK living in the private rented sector, 227,000 of these private tenants have already fallen into rental arrears since the onset of COVID-19. This is deeply troubling as the worse is yet to come. As the cold winter months set in and the pandemic continues to rage, it is of the greatest importance that more help is given to tenants who find themselves and their families in arrears and becoming increasingly exposed and vulnerable.

With that in mind, we bring to your attention below three key issues and ask that you give them your urgent attention.

1. Reinstatement of the eviction ban to 30 April 2021

We welcomed your decision on 21 August 2020 to protect renters during the pandemic by extending the eviction ban by a further four weeks to 20 September 2020. While we were bitterly disappointed that the ban wasn’t extended beyond that date, we could see the number of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths caused by COVID-19 were all reducing since the peak in the Spring allowing the economy to largely start up again.
However, since the date of that announcement to end the ban, the goalposts have shifted significantly. The Government’s delay and indecision over recent months around whether to commit to either an extension of the Job Retention Scheme or the introduction of the proposed Job Support Scheme has created huge uncertainly for employers and, in turn, put enormous strain on working households across the country. We are also now firmly in the grip of a second, potentially more deadly, wave of CVOID-19 which has once again returned the UK to a state of high alert, significantly impacting on many people’s ability to earn and, consequently, meet their rent payments.
While we understand that courts will not grant possession orders in areas which are subject to lockdowns, we strongly believe that, given the current economic circumstances, private renters across the whole country should be protected from the threat of evictions until 30 April 2021. We would therefore ask you to reinstate the ban on residential evictions to this date.

2. Increase Local Housing Allowance to the 50th percentile

As you know, the Local Housing Allowance (“LHA”) is a key lifeline for many private tenants. While this benefit has in recent times fallen drastically short of providing the level of support that claimants need to cover their rent payments, we were encouraged by the Government’s decision earlier this year to increase LHA to match the 30th percentile of rents in each local area.
This increase, however, was designed to make a positive impact on tenants’ ability to pay in a pre COVID-19 economy. We live now at an extraordinary time where the rate of unemployment and the number of Universal Credit (“UC”) claimants are rising at alarming rate. Given that 70% of private rented homes remain above the LHA rate, countless tenants who rely on LHA to pay a proportion of their rent now find themselves facing a shortfall due to redundancy or a reduction in pay, leaving them unable to pay the balance.
We would therefore ask for the Government to temporarily increase LHA to the 50th percentile for a period of 12 months and remove the caps for this period so that it covers average market rents across every local market. This would enable struggling private tenants to meet their rent commitments and prevent them from falling further into arrears, or even homelessness, during this period of enormous uncertainty.

3. Abolish Universal Credit’s five-week wait

The number of new claimants for UC has surged at an unprecedented rate over the past few months, many of whom are private tenants applying for LHA for the first time. These claimants, together with all other first time UC claimants, are forced to endure a period of five weeks before receiving their first payment.
The harm generally caused by the five-week wait was highlighted by the recent Economic Affairs Committee report which stated that: “the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is the main cause of insecurity for claimants. Many people have nothing to fall back on during this period when their needs are most acute. The wait entrenches debt, increases extreme poverty and harms vulnerable groups disproportionately”.
In addition, you will recognise that the five-week wait is of particular concern in the context of housing benefit due to the punitive nature of Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, as amended. This provision, which gives landlords the ability to commence eviction proceedings when their tenants are in 8 weeks’ in arrears, poses a clear threat to tenants working in sectors that have been worst hit by the coronavirus, such as hospitality, many of whom are on zero hours contracts with no statutory notice periods.
We would therefore ask that the Government address this widely accepted shortcoming of UC by abolishing the five-week wait and replace it with a non-repayable, two-week initial grant for all claimants in order to mitigate the anxiety and uncertainty caused by the current system.
In sum, we call upon you to proactively do more to protect vulnerable private tenants by:

  1. extending the ban on residential evictions until 30 April 2021, and
  2. increasing LHA to the 50th percentile and removing the caps for a period of 12 months, and
  3. replacing the five-week wait with a non-repayable, two-week initial grant.

We look forward to hearing from you in relation to this.

Yours sincerely,

James Bacon – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Steve Bell – Branch Secretary of UNISON Bucks Health and Community
Dan Carden MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for International Development (2018-20) and MP for Liverpool Walton
Tania Charman – Councillor on East Sussex County Council and Hastings Borough Council
Paul Barnett – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Andy Batsford – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Ann Black – Labour Party NEC Member
Paul Carpenter – Regional Political Secretary of CWU South East
Sarah Carpenter – Regional Secretary of Unite The Union South East Region
Peter Chowney – Former Leader of Hastings Borough Council (2015-20)
Hannah Coombs – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Alexa Collins – Chair of Bucks Labour Forum
Cal Corkery – Councillor on Portsmouth City Council and Labour Group spokesperson for Housing and Community Safety
Ruby Cox – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Isobel Craddock – Chair of Wycombe Labour CLP
Godfrey Daniel – Councillor on East Sussex County Council
Jim Deans – Founder and CEO of Sussex Homeless Support
Nina Dluzewska – Chair of Chesham & Amersham Labour CLP
Alex Down – Chair of Housing Campaign Group for Unite South East Community
Frances Duncan – CEO of The Clock Tower Sanctuary
Maya Evans – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Lorna Fielker – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Louise Gittins – Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council
Margaret Greenwood MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2018-20) and MP for Wirral West
Liane Groves – Head of Unite Community
Sam Gurney – Regional Secretary of TUC London, East and South East
Andrew Gwynne MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (2017-20) and MP for Denton and Reddish
Sarah Hallworth – Founder of Siam Boxing Camp
Keith Hamilton – Branch Political Officer of CWU South Central
Satvir Kaur – Councillor and Cabinet Member for Culture & Homes on Southampton City Council
Peter Lamb – Leader of Crawley Borough Council
Ian Lavery MP – Former Chair of the Labour Party (2017-20), President of the National Union of Mineworkers (2002-10), and MP for Wansbeck
Gordon Lean – Regional Chair of Unite the Union South East Region
Jonathan Lee – Secretary of Hastings & District Trades Union Council
Steve Leggett – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Leah Levane – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Tony Lloyd MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (2018-20) and MP for Rochdale
Barrie Margetts – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Alan Mathison – Chair of Hastings District Trades Council & Hasting District Secretary for Unite The Union
John McDonnell MP – Former Shadow Chancellor (2015-20) and MP for Hayes and Harlington
Cathie McEwing – Councillor on Southampton City Council
David Norris – Chair of Beaconsfield Labour CLP
Bobby Noyes – President of Southampton and South West Hampshire Trades Union Council
Margi O’Callaghan – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Steve Phillips – Branch Secretary of CWU Central Counties Thames Valley
Chris Reilly – President of Reading Trades Union Council
Judy Rogers – Former Mayor of Hastings (2016-2017) and Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Dominic Sabetian – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Nigel Sinden – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Trevor Snaith – Former Mayor of High Wycombe (2016-17)
Kelly Tomlinson – Coordinator at Unite South East Community
Nick Warren – Centre Manager of Christians Against Poverty
Brenda Warrington – Executive Leader and Councillor of Tameside Council
Matt Webb – General Secretary of Brighton & Hove District Trades Council
Trevor Webb – Councillor on East Sussex County Council and Hastings Borough Council
Vaughan West – Regional Political Officer of GMB London
Gill Williams – Councillor on Brighton & Hove City Council
Gina Williams – Hasting and St Leonard’s Community Help Group
Vivienne Windle – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Baroness Uddin – Life peer in the House of Lords

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