Suspend all rent, cancel all rent debt, and put in stronger measures to stop evictions, renters’ unions have urged the prime minister.
Acorn, Living Rent and the London Renters Union - with backing from academics, charities, and trade unions – sent the open letter to Boris Johnson today. They also sent it to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick.
Social security has been expanded and evictions suspended for three months in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and six months in Scotland – but campaigners say it does not go far enough.
One in five UK families live in private rented accommodation, with a similar number in social housing. While homeowners and landlords have been offered mortgage holidays, there is no provision for renters.
Renters unions point to polling carried out by Opinium on behalf of the Guardian that found that in the first three weeks of the lockdown, six in ten renters had lost income. They say not everyone is eligible for the government schemes available, and Johnson has already admitted that Universal Credit is not enough to live on.
Campaigners are concerned that millions of renters are having to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table, and at the same time face harassment from estate agents and landlords to continue to pay rent in full.
Living Rent member Carol McLafferty said: “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. ”
Acorn chair Tom Renhard said: “Urgent action must be taken to immediately and permanently end section 21 [so-called ‘no fault’] 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.”
The letter to the prime minister also quotes Leilani Farha, UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, who said: “Housing has become the frontline defence against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation”.