MPs call for action on rough sleeping and renting

The government will miss a ‘golden opportunity’ to end rough sleeping once and for all if it fails to turn temporary measures into something more permanent.

And ministers must beef up ‘toothless’ plans to protect renters in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis or risk a new wave of homelessness.

Those are the top-line messages from an all-party group of MPs today. But an interim report on protecting rough sleepers and renters from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee also goes much further in endorsing calls by campaigners for wider changes to the housing system.

They recommend:

  • A dedicated funding stream to end rough sleeping, likely to be at least £100 million a year
  • Improved support for councils to help people with no recourse to public funds who will otherwise end up back on the streets
  • Boosting the supply of suitable housing by re-establishing the National Clearing House Scheme set up after the financial crisis for unsold homes and giving councils more flexibility to buy them
  • Turning the increase in the Local Housing Allowance to the 30th percentile from a temporary into a long-term measure and looking at the impact of raising rents further.

Significantly, given that this comes from a committee with a Conservative majority, they also warn ministers against obfuscation about social and affordable homes:

‘We are not convinced the housing need, which identified the need for 90,000 social rented homes every year, would be satiated by low cost home ownership. The need for social housing, already high, is only likely to increase even more as the economic impact of coronavirus becomes clear.’

On protecting renters, they warn that housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s plan for a pre-action protocol for possession actions to ensure that landlords act in good faith is ‘toothless’ and will not work while the law remains at it stands. The MPs say:

‘We are wary of the Government reliance on conversations between landlords and tenants which have little legal force. Housing security for renters should not rest with individuals.’

They say the law should be changed to give judges discretion in Section 21 and Ground 8 actions for at least the next 12 months and that the government should ensure the legislation receives Royal Assent before the three-month moratorium on evictions ends on June 25.

The government should also accelerate its plans to abolish Section 21 no-fault evictions completely within the next 12 months, they say.

That represents pretty much a full house of what housing sector campaigners have been calling for, although the MPs reject calls for rent to be cancelled on the grounds that it would undermine social landlords’ plans to build affordable homes and lead to human rights challenges from private landlords.

That means they do not really address the issue of what should happen to arrears built up during the crisis. At this interim stage, they say the government should look at other options like the long-term interest-free loans to cover rent arrears introduced in Spain but they will take further evidence on ways to tackle arrears as the inquiry continues.

The Financial Times reported this week that ministers are expected to extend the three-month moratorium on evictions beyond the end of June. That seems logical if they plan to  extend the mortgage payment holiday.

The central message from the MPs about rough sleeping is that there is ‘not yet an exit plan from what is a temporary measure’.

Explicitly rejecting the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government’s attacks on media reporting of the issue, the MPs say:

‘We do not find the Government’s goal ambitious enough. It would be extraordinary, if, after taking this courageous action, the Government does not do everything in its power to ensure every single person taken from the streets does not return to rough sleeping.’

True, ministers have made a habit of ignoring reports like this over the last decade but they would do well to listen this time.

Virtually all of the government’s responses to the housing end of the Coronavirus crisis so far are temporary. The clock is counting down to the time when ministers will have to decide whether to return to the pre-crisis status quo or opt for something more permanent.

UPDATE: The Treasury confirmed this morning  plans to extend the mortgage payment holiday by three months.

Guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority that the extension also applies to possession actions by mortgage lenders:

‘Firms should not commence or continue repossession proceedings against customers before 31 October 2020, given the unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval they face, and Government advice on social distancing and self-isolation. This applies irrespective of the stage that repossession proceedings have reached and to any step taken in pursuit of repossession. Where a possession order has already been obtained, firms should refrain from enforcing it.’




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