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Housing :: Tenants
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At the last minute, on 22 August, the government announced the eviction ban would continue for another four weeks, along with a temporary extension of the notice period to six months. Although this was welcome news to those at risk, it should be extended for a much longer period.
It also does little to address the underlying issues. Years of ever-increasing rents have left many tenants stretched and living month to month, with Office for National Statistics figures showing rents hitting a record high just before lockdown.
Research by Shelter has exposed the crippling financial impact of the pandemic. It has put 230,000 tenants at risk of eviction due to arrears, with 174,000 threatened with eviction by their agent or landlord.
This is only likely to increase as the furlough scheme unwinds, with a survey by the British Chamber of Commerce showing a third of companies are planning to make redundancies. If cash-strapped renters are already struggling to afford rents, there is no way they will be able to pay back arrears.
That is what Jeremy Corbyn realised when he argued that all rent arrears during the pandemic should be forgiven. Unfortunately, as soon as Keir Starmer took over, he scrapped this policy, replacing it with one to allow tenants to pay back their arrears over two years.
When challenged, Labour's shadow housing minister Thangam Debbonaire said any policy to forgive arrears would be "un-Labour" as it places landlords at risk of "going bust"! But a quick look at this approach reveals it does nothing to support tenants. A tenant who has fallen just three months behind with rent would have to pay 12% more each month, on top of already unaffordable rent!
All arrears accrued during the pandemic should be forgiven, with compensation only to small landlords, on the basis of proven need. Housing should be a right, not a privilege, and tenants should not have to pay for a housing crisis they didn't cause.
The Social Housing Action Campaign (Shac) protested on 23 August, just before the government's climbdown. A four-week extension to the eviction ban was won by action and protest. But it's not enough.
The impact of Covid and the economic crisis is going to last much longer. This Tory government has bailed out big business. If there is money for big business, then there can be money to build council homes, keep people in their homes, fight homelessness and keep housing co-ops above water.
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Article dated 2 September 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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