Jenrick faces evictions examPosted: August 20, 2020 | |
Originally published on insidehousing.co.uk on August 24 – before the extension of the evictions ban the following day. Post on that to come.
Just like with Coronavirus and the A levels fiasco, ministers cannot say they have not been warned.
As the clock counts down to the restart of evictions, they can turn a deaf ear to claims from Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent, the shadow housing secretary and now a range of public health organisations about the wave of evictions and homelessness that is about to hit them.
They can turn a blind eye to the action taken by their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and now Northern Ireland to get ahead of the situation and deliver more help for renters.
And they can choose to ignore what’s already happening in parts of the United States, where some cities have turned convention centres into huge court annexes to cope with the surge of cases there.
As I write this on Thursday morning, nothing, including a last-minute u-turn, can be ruled out with this government, but as it stands things will return to insecure normality for renters from the start of next week.
That will probably not mean an instant tsunami of evictions – the court system is too clogged up for that – but it will mean a remorseless wave of homes being lost through the Autumn and Winter.
Little wonder that the assurance from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) changed from one that nobody will lose their home because of Coronavirus when the ban was introduced in March to one that nobody will lose their home because of Coronavirus ‘this summer’ when it was extended in June.
Cases that were already in the system before the start of the moratorium will be first in line, followed by those who have fallen into arrears in the last five months.
But looming large on the horizon is the end of the furlough scheme for employees and income support scheme in October. If unemployment rises at anything like the levels forecast that will feed straight through into more arrears and court actions.
If ever there was a time to change outdated legislation that allows landlords to evict their tenants for no reason it was surely now – but the government has done nothing to deliver its 2019 manifesto pledge to scrap Section 21.
For all the cosmetic changes to court procedures to make landlords set out relevant information about their tenant’s circumstances, judges will still have no discretion to take them into account beyond adjourning the case.
The wave of possession actions will only be the start of the problems.
Figures out today shows that there were 93,000 homeless households in temporary accommodation at the end of March, just as the lockdown was starting. That is an increase of 9.4 per cent on March 2019.
And, despite temporary improvements in the welfare safety net, the benefit cap is waiting to catch anyone who falls through. Figures released earlier this month show that the number of newly capped claims rose an incredible 500 per cent between February and May.
Perhaps ministers are relying on landlords taking a pragmatic view and choosing to keep good tenants in temporary difficulties rather than run the risk of failing to find new ones.
Perhaps they think that it’s better to get the problems out of the way now rather than extend the moratorium for six months and face bigger problems then.
But that is not what the rest of the UK thinks: Scotland and Northern Ireland have extended the evictions ban until March 2021 while Wales has increased the notice period for an eviction from three to six months.
Perhaps England is right and the other three UK nations are wrong, but sitting on your hands while they act to protect their renters still seems like a hell of a gamble.
Because, as Gavin Williamson found to his cost this week, the blindingly obvious has a habit of catching up with you and in circumstances where there is no perfect option the least bad one is usually best.
The education secretary could have watched the way that negative media coverage forced the Scottish ministers into a hasty u-turn after the furore over Scottish Highers results and made an early retreat.
Instead he stuck to the A level algorithm and insisted there was no question of a u-turn before doing exactly that five days later and looking like he would be lucky to scrape a U in politics.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick will not be suddenly presented with thousands of bright and articulate kids whose lives he has ruined in quite the same way as the hapless Mr Williamson.
But he must be extremely confident that he will avoid the same fate to be acting – or not acting – as he is.