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Government’s emergency measures offer ‘no protection’ for renters

Labour leader Corbyn calls for ‘rent holiday’ in wake of concerns over financial impact of coronavirus crisis

20 March, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to provide a ‘rent holiday’ for tenants

THE government’s emergency measures to support renters are like throwing a “paper cup” to a man on a sinking ship, housing campaigners have said as the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis mounts up.

Measures were an­nounced this week by the Ministry of Housing as part of emergency legislation that would protect any “social or private” renters from new eviction cases for three months.

But spokesmen for Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) and Islington Homes for All have criticised this measure for not going far enough.

Islington has some of the highest rent rates in the UK with the average rate for a one-bedroom flat at £445 per week compared to the England average of £600 a month.

Meanwhile, housing associations and Islington Council have said they will try to help any of their tenants experiencing financial difficulty but they cannot halt rent collections without further support from government.

Jack Jeffery, a spokesman for SHAC who rents in Islington, said: “[The government’s proposals are] like throwing a paper cup to a man in a ship just after the iceberg hit. An ‘eviction holiday’ is no protection at all to a tenant who has lost their job or had their hours severely curtailed. It’s just a short delay to the inevitable pain.”

Islington North MP and Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to provide a “rent holiday” for tenants in line with the mortgage holiday he announced this week for homeowners.

Mr Corbyn added that in order to gain Labour’s support for new emergency legislation – which will give the government powers to arrest people they believe have the Covid-19 virus and shut down transport hubs like airports and ports – Mr Johnson must agree to rent suspensions and a ban on evictions for six months.

Andy Bain: ‘The government have not passed any laws yet, it’s just been statements’

Andy Bain, a spokes­man for the Islington Homes for All campaign group, said: “We completely back what Corbyn has been proposing. The government have not passed any laws yet, it’s just been statements. We must ensure there are no evictions.

“Rents should be shelved for a period of time in the same way that mortgages are shelved.”

He added: “On top of all this, landlords should be making positive statements and moves that will reassure tenants.”

SHAC is also calling on housing associations to “immediately waive rents and service charges” for anyone whose income is impacted by the coronavirus.

Mr Jeffery told the Tribune: “The government should put legislation in place to make this a requirement and to force energy and utility companies to waive their charges as well. At a time when we’re all supposed to be pulling together in a spirit of collaboration, the housing association sector and private landlords are sitting on their hands.”

The Tribune contacted Peabody, Clarion Housing Group, Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association and Barnsbury Housing Association (BHA) to ask for their policy on rent and service charge suspensions.

A BHA spokesman said that they would recommend anybody who has lost their job to sign up to Universal Credit and BHA will provide “on-hand support” to help them with their bills.

She added: “It remains to be seen what measures will be taken by the government to ensure small community-based housing associations, like BHA, can continue to deliver vital services in their communities at a time of a national emergency while potentially being unable to secure essential income via rent payments.”

An Islington council spokesman said: “No one should find themselves homeless at this difficult time and there will be no evictions from council properties during this public health crisis.

“The council relies on rents to deliver vital services for all council tenants; it is important for tenants to continue to pay their rent, but anyone who runs into difficulty should contact us so that we can help.”

Housing Secretary Robert 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.”


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