Some of the UK’s largest tenants unions have joined forces to heap pressure on the government to suspend all rent immediately, cancel all rent debt, and to put in place stronger protections against tenant evictions.
ACORN, Living Rent and London Renters have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick.
In the letter, backed by academics, civil society and union leaders, the groups make three staggering demands that would leave most BTL landlords facing financial ruin.
On 18 March 2020, the British and Scottish governments announced a suspension of evictions for three months in the UK and six months in Scotland, but it is not yet clear if these will be extended.
Unless there is a strong government intervention to protect tenants from eviction and to support them to face their housing costs, Tom Renhard, Chair of ACORN, fears that this will set up many problems for the future.
He said: “We are deeply concerned by the situation that millions of people find themselves in through no fault of their own. Urgent action must be taken to immediately and permanently end section 21 evictions in England and Wales and cancel rent debt accrued during the COVID-19 crisis. Without taking these decisive steps, millions of people will potentially face being homeless and mounting debts.
“We must be clear that housing is health. We need to support people to ensure they can focus on other priorities without the risk of losing their home looming over their heads. With the UK heading for the worst recession in 300 years, it is vital that renters are sufficiently protected.”
Amina Gichinga of the London Renters Union said: “Many renters feel they have no choice but to break social distancing guidelines and go out to work, just so their landlords can continue to profit. This downturn will continue for a long time and many renters are already in arrears. So without greater protections for renters, we’re heading for a rent debt and evictions crisis.
“Rents must be suspended during this crisis, rent debt should be cancelled, and the evictions ban has to be permanent so that no one else is made homeless because of the pandemic.”
Carol McLafferty, Living Rent member, commented: “We’re supporting members to negotiate rent reductions with their landlords on a daily basis.
“The number of individuals struggling every month shows that the government’s call for landlords to be ‘compassionate’ has not worked. It does not go far enough. Individuals and families are being forced to choose between rent and food. Rent is not essential.”
“The government’s eviction ban is nothing more than a plaster; simply postponing a tidal wave of evictions that will engulf tenants when the lockdown is lifted. We need to ensure that everyone is protected and that housing remains the government’s priority in defence against the pandemic. Our society is only as healthy as its most vulnerable members.
“The government must recognise the needs of renters — working people and families across the country. They must act to protect us now.”