London boroughs have welcomed the government’s commitment to suspend evictions but warn that additional measures must be swiftly implemented to tackle housing insecurity during the coronavirus emergency.
Yesterday the government announced that no renter in social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home for at least a three-month period. While boroughs acknowledge this as a positive step, they say more must be done to support those currently without a home and to avoid a spike in homelessness resulting from the pandemic’s economic impact.
The capital faces both the highest number of coronavirus cases and the worst homelessness crisis in the country, accounting for two-thirds of homelessness in England. More than 57,000 London households – including 88,000 children – live in temporary accommodation.
London Councils, which represents the 32 boroughs and City of London Corporation, is concerned that potential job losses and drops in income mean many Londoners will build up unsustainable rent arrears, which could lead to a rapid rise in homelessness once the temporary ban on evictions is lifted.
The cross-party group also highlights the difficulty rough sleepers and others without a permanent home face in following self-isolation guidance, with a severe shortage of facilities and accommodation in the capital.
While boroughs are taking local action to support their residents as best they can – including organising volunteers and assistance for those in self-isolation and finding safe places for rough sleepers to stay – London Councils is calling for ministers to:
- Provide a rent guarantee for all residents losing jobs and income due to Covid-19, which enables rent to be paid to councils and housing associations.
- Raise Local Housing Allowance entitlements to help the 200,000 housing benefit claimants living in London’s private rented sector maintain their tenancies.
- Remove the five-week wait for new claimants to start receiving Universal Credit. This could be achieved by replacing ‘advance payments’ to claimants (effectively, repayable loans that may contribute to claimants’ debt problems) with a non-repayable grant.
- Increase council budgets for Local Welfare Assistance and Discretionary Housing Payments to boost crisis support for Londoners facing financial hardship.
- Deliver further public health guidance for dealing with coronavirus in rough sleeping services – for example, supporting service users who exhibit symptoms. Bespoke guidance is also needed for protecting individuals and families within temporary accommodation units with shared facilities.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said: “This is an emergency situation that requires a bold and decisive response. Boroughs are working flat out to help our residents, including homeless Londoners, but we need further action at a national level.
“Although the government’s commitment to ending evictions is a good first step, much more needs to be done to address London’s chronic housing insecurity. Boroughs are concerned that a temporary eviction ban may simply store up pressures that later lead to a spike in homelessness, unless the welfare system is used to stabilise household finances and deliver immediate support for those struggling with housing costs.
“High rates of homelessness in the capital also risk undermining London’s public health response to coronavirus. We urgently need more guidance and resources for rough sleepers and others who don’t have anywhere to self-isolate.”