The government is being urged to increase housing benefits and remove the benefit cap to help support more tenants, especially in London.
Labour’s London Assembly housing spokesperson, Murad Qureshi AM, has warned that unless the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is increased, tenant evictions are likely to soar in the capital.
Qureshi’s intervention comes ahead of the scheduled lifting of the government’s three-month ban on evictions later this month.
The government has paused eviction proceedings until 25 June and has also temporarily extended notice periods for some tenancy types to three months. It is not yet clear what, if any, alternative measures will be put in place.
In a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, Qureshi has urged the government to restore LHA to the median (50th percentile) level, so that it covers average rents in a local area. LHA was previously set at this level from its introduction in 2008 until 2011.
Figures published by the housing charity, Shelter, suggest that the current gap between LHA rates and rents could be more than £1,200 for some households in the capital.
Qureshi is also calling for the removal of the benefit cap on Universal Credit, so more Londoners struggling with mounting rent arrears can access extra government support.
Qureshi said: “This pandemic has already made life hard for people, without having the threat of eviction looming over them.
“Reforms to housing benefits were already long overdue, but now they are needed urgently. Increasing housing benefit and removing the benefit cap would make a significant difference to Londoners who, by far, pay the highest rents in the country.
“At the beginning of the outbreak, the government repeated the mantra that they would do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect people from the worst impacts of the pandemic. It’s time to show that they meant it.
“I have now written to the Work and Pensions Secretary to suggest just two vital measures the Government could take to help renters at this time, and prevent a deluge of evictions.”
MPs on parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government last month called for greater financial support to be provided to all tenants during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The committee wants the LHA to be set at a rate that reflects real market rents, which is something landlords have long been calling for.
Research carried out by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) shows that the vast majority of landlords approached for help by tenants struggling as a result of coronavirus are responding positively.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the NRLA, said: “We want to see that [housing benefits] continue to ensure tenancies can be sustained. We have long called for benefits to cover rents which would be by far best option for tenants and landlords alike.”
Responding to the Committee’s recommendations to the procedures around property repossessions, Beadle added: “We support the government’s efforts to ensure that landlords and tenants seek first to reach a mutually agreeable solution where rent arrears have built up as a result of coronavirus. These ‘pre-action protocols’ balance the needs of landlords and tenants and contain genuine, compelling sanctions to ensure good practice.
“The NRLA will continue to work with the government to ensure that its plans are meaningful and workable for both tenants and landlords.”