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Government acts to protect renters and rough sleepers during coronavirus outbreak

Words: Laura Edgar
Renting / iStock-96306617

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak renters and landlords will be protected from losing their homes and unmanageable debts. He has also committed funds to protect those who are sleeping rough.

The government says emergency legislation forbidding landlords in England to evict tenants for at least a three-month period is an “urgent priority”. This will protect both social and private renters.

As the virus may also put pressure on landlords, the government’s plan for the three-month mortgage payment holiday announced earlier this week (external link) will be extended to landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of Covid-19.

After this period, the government would expect landlords and tenants to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, welcomed this support for renters. 

“Housing associations will continue to work closely with residents to help them manage their rent and ensure they can access all benefits they are entitled to. We want to work with government to ensure there is support in place for housing associations dealing with any loss of income from rent.”

The government is also offering interest payment holidays for those who have benefited from the Help to Buy equity loan if they are struggling to pay owing to the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

Jenrick said: “The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.

“These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. Which is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.

“These changes will protect all renters and private landlords, ensuring everyone gets the support they need at this very difficult time.”

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “News the government is to legislate to stop renters being evicted from their homes during the coronavirus crisis will come as a great relief to many people. Without this decisive action tens of thousands of renters would have faced eviction in the coming months, while potentially trying to isolate and protect themselves and others. 

“At Shelter we’d already heard horror stories from terrified renters threatened with eviction by irresponsible landlords, including vital NHS workers. Now this shocking behaviour will be stopped in its tracks.

“The government has done the right thing. There are 20 million renters in England who will benefit from this protection – which is a vital emergency measure to keep people safe and in their homes.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive at the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “Landlord groups welcome government support. We recognise the exceptional circumstances and we will work collaboratively with government to ensure these measures protect both landlords and tenants.”

£3.2m support for homelessness

Also this week, Jenrick announced £3.2 million in emergency funding to help those who sleep rough or who are at risk of homelessness to self-isolate during the spread of Covid-19.

The funding will be available to all local authorities in England. It will reimburse them for the cost of providing accommodation and services to those sleeping on the streets to self-isolate.

This funding is in addition to the £492 million committed for 2020 to 202 to support the government’s aim to end rough sleeping during this Parliament, which is part of the £643 million intended to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next four years.

Jenrick said: “Public safety and protecting the most vulnerable people in society from coronavirus is this government’s top priority. We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need throughout this period.”

He added that this funding would “ensure councils are able to put emergency measures in place to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society to successfully self-isolate”.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Council staff continue to work day and night to support national efforts to minimise the spread of the coronavirus and protect and support communities, including our most vulnerable.

“We are pleased that the government has announced that councils will receive emergency funding to support rough sleepers to self-isolate as part of a wider package of support, and we look forward to working with the government on the detail to ensure councils costs are fully covered.”

Image credit | iStock